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LBGT+ History Month - Personal Perspectives - Hastings Tarrant

Posted on February 2021

A young man smiles to camera with pride flag to the left

Tell us about yourself and your background.

I am Hastings, I’m 23 and a gay man. I had a pretty standard middle-class background growing up. My Dad was in the Navy, so because of the constant house moving I was sent to boarding school at the age of 7. This already presented challenges as from the off you are an outsider. You are not there because your parents are wealthy, you are there because you are a ‘military brat’. I was bullied for being ‘gay’ from the off, I am not sure if the bullying was worse at a boarding school than it would have been at other schools, but I lost count of the number of times I was told to ‘grow a thicker skin’. The difference, I suppose, was that I did not go home every day, so I shared class, playground, sport field, dining hall, bathroom and bedroom, every day, with my bullies. I could not talk to anyone, and my parents did not know I was being bullied for a very long time.

Something important to note is that I was7 in 2004 (when the bullying started). It was only in November 2003, that Thatcher’s Section 28 clause was repealed. This law prohibited teachers from addressing homophobic bullying, at best they could ignore it, and at worst, encourage it. The clause reads, “a local authority shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship".

Please look out for Tom Rees’ piece on the history of LGBT+ rights.

Why is it important to celebrate LGBT+ History month?

First of all, I think education is a really crucial element for both LGBT and non-LGBT people. People need to understand that although laws change, attitudes and treatment can stay the same. I want to use this month to help people learn about the shame that LGBT+ are infected with and carry all their lives and then how others can see it, understand it and prevent it. The recent Channel 4 hit series ‘It’s A Sin’ (look out for my review), set in 1980s London around the AIDS pandemic, beautifully addresses the issue of shame in the gay community. A quote from the series that really stood out is:

“[Gay men] grow up so ashamed of themselves. That’s what shame does. It makes you think you deserve it. The HIV wards are full of men who think they deserve it. They are dying and a little bit of them thinks ‘Yes, this is right, I brought this on myself, it’s my fault because the sex that I love is killing me’.”

It might not be criminal to be gay anymore, but our experience teaches us shame. You are ashamed to be gay because you think it is wrong, or perverted, because ignorant people have told you what it means to be gay and the ‘sad and lonely’ life you are destined for, as is the fate of a gay man. Every time you substitute gay for bad, someone is listening, many times it is a child listening, and that is what they learn. Shame will always echo throughout the lives of LGBT+ people. For example, when someone says “You don’t act gay” – what does that mean?? It is nonsense, nothing, but so damaging. It instils shame in gay people, and makes not seeming gay something to be proud of. We have this internalised homophobia in the gay community; that if you’re acting feminine or you seem gay that it is a negative thing. It all contributes to shame.

I think LGBT+ history is vital to show that though the laws may have changed, and though I may feel lucky enough to work at Venn Group where I feel safe enough to mince up and down the corridors like a catwalk, that is not the end, and there are still stories that need to be told. It builds on what Kim said – I too cannot hold my partner’s hand in public a lot of the time – some of that is to do with personal safety, but a lot of it is to do with shame. So, shining a light on LGBT+ experiences, on any minority experience – celebrating the good, the gay and the fabulous and learning about the past, and how that affects us today is so important.

To again quote the legend Kim – it is all about love. We need people to learn, listen and empathise through fantastic initiatives like this – to help LGBT+ people everywhere feel a bit less ashamed, and a bit more ready to accept the love they deserve.

I know a lot of people see me as positive, happy and confident – they also see there is marriage equality and laws that protect me, so it’s all good. But what I hope I am sharing here, which is something non-LGBT people cannot know but can listen to, is lived experience. The baggage we carry around every day. The things we normalise and internalise. Ken touched on this in his BHM piece, when he discussed how you just accept that as a black man you will be followed around the shop by security. You have to make an extra effort, dance these performative nods to let the majority know that ‘you’re fine’. I know I will go out of my way to show I am ‘gay and harmless’ or ‘gay but only at the level YOU are comfortable with’. I am always aware of the environment I am in and that I will need to put straight people at ease a lot of the time. Minorities have to be so aware of everything we are doing. When you are a minority, someone’s perception of you can actually inform their entire opinion about your minority group, it’s a responsibility.

I will always remember when leaving a university lecture and I was walking and talking with a friend, one of his friends who I did not know was walking with us, but did not say anything and then left. My friend came up to me the next day, as it turns out the person walking with us was from a strict Muslim background and country, he had never met a gay person (that he knew of), he told my friend that he ‘thought gay people were weird and sinful and awful, [he] had no idea gay people could be normal and nice like [me]’. I was shocked because his whole opinion on gay people has been informed by his experience with me, so you have to be so aware of how you present yourself.

Who has been an inspiration to you on a personal note?

This is a very special person indeed. This is the individual every gay person needed at school. She is none other than Jo Morgan, my former Philosophy teacher and Sex Education teacher. She is a ‘Shero’, a warrior, an ally and an absolute champion of the gays. To help explain why I will read an excerpt from the letter I wrote when nominating her for Honours. 

“To be the first adult in my life, besides my mother, who discussed gay sex and relationships with me, that wasn’t in a tone that other adults and children used, in a shameful and isolating manner, it changed my life. They told me not to change in the boys changing rooms, [Jo] told me that just because a partner tells you to do and accept certain things that does not mean they are okay or necessary.

It started me on the journey of realising that actually there are those individuals who don’t treat you differently, so you don’t have you try and act differently or shockingly to be noticed. You are like everyone else, valid and recognised. You can have ‘normal’ issues that can be discussed like everyone else's. [Jo] didn’t make me feel different. Whether one goes on to experience that difference as shame or a badge of honour later in life, at that crucial school age, sadly difference is not so celebrated, least of all by peers, at best it is a spectacle. So, in those formative years it is vital that all topics of sex and love are discussed on an equal platform, that all versions of love are normalised. 

Most importantly, a child should not have to be the one fighting for an equal platform or normalisation. [Jo] took up that fight and helped me begin my journey into accepting myself, that I am normal, and the things that make me different and special should not revolve around my sex life, but my emotional validity and intellect.”

Today, Jo is still fighting the good fight, as Head of Pastoral curriculum and has won awards for her work. She has helped to write a new inclusive and positive SexEd curriculum that is now used by various schools across the country. She is one of the main reasons I am the gay man I am today. Without her I would have grown up in ignorance, instead I was educated, and learned about a love that I fit into.

 Are there any unknown, untold or underrated stories or people that everyone should know about.

It’s technically not unknown as there was a film made about it called ‘Pride’. It’s a wonderful British film about how gay rights came to be in the UK. It was about solidarity with the miners. In 1984, Thatcher’s top targets were gay people and miners. And there was a group started called ‘Lesbians and gays support the miners’ (LGSM).You have to understand these miners were from small mining towns in Wales and did not know anything about gay people and had the natural prejudice of the time. But these wonderful gay activists just refused to stop helping and even though their help was rejected so many times, they raised money in London by throwing concerts and benefits to help fund miners whilst they were on strike. All that happened and the miners never forgot the generosity of the LGBT community, and when the first big pride event took place the miners came in bus loads. Unions in the 80’s were big and had a lot of power and you needed a certain amount of support to get legislation on the table. So the first piece of gay rights legislation was brought in because the mining unions unanimously upheld it. It is a beautiful story I would really recommend it.

Link to the film trailer here.

Link to a fantastic article about the film and the true story here.

If you could go back and speak to 15 year old Hastings what would you tell yourself.

This is a difficult thing to discuss. So, I came out to my mum on my 15th birthday and accidentally my sister, who was listening in as she was worried about me. It was nice to come out to my Mum but at the same time I was in my 8th year (since 7) of homophobic bullying, and I mean dangerous, physical and verbal. I was very alone and isolated, and this all ties back to shame; addressing and eradicating shame. I had it instilled in me that the life of a gay person is an unhappy one. For more than half of my life being gay was a bad thing, gays were treated badly and it was a shame t be gay. I believed it about myself, and I believed that I wasn’t worth anything.

At 15, I was about to change schools for 6th form, and there were some really nice kids there. But sadly because I’d been shaped by my life before I didn’t trust anyone or invest in anyone there for a long time. I didn’t think I deserved love, so I didn’t seek or accept it from anyone, instead I sought thrills, often risky or dangerous things to distract me from the shame and loneliness.

So, what I would say to 15 year old Hastings is, “you are worthy of love, and you can be kind to others, and importantly let them be kind to you. Be careful and be safe, but try to trust and believe in the love and kindness of others. If nothing else, remember to base your worth off your ability to love, rather than others’ love for you.

 Oh, and get a haircut NOW! That Justin Bieber fringe is ******* awful!

Who are the 5 people you are bringing to your pride party celebration?

 

Graham Norton - obviously, love him, he used to be a massive scene queen, and is so funny, I love him on his show, I think its brilliant the way engages everyone in the room.

Katya Zamolodchikova – A drag queen from Boston who is funny, kooky and just brilliantly weird.

Stephen Fry – Witty, fun and gay.

Michaela Coel- She’s a fantastic ally, and a brilliant creative mind, she wrote the recent BBC smash hit ‘I May Destoy You’, and one of my favourite series ‘Chewing Gum’. She celebrates all forms of positivity and has such a powerful voice and I just think would be buckets of fun.

Dolly Parton -A legend, brings the Southern charm, and you can get in anywhere if you have her with you.