Plymouth has an incredible gay history that dates back hundreds of years but Plymouth hasn’t been able to tell its full story in the way it would like to as the history has always been obscured or hidden by legal persecution or through not wanting to embarrass or hinder. Only until very recently, in the past 40-50 years, we have been able to begin to tell the story of our gay history in Plymouth.
Pride month in Plymouth not only celebrates the successes within the community from the first LGBTQ+ bookshop on Mutley plain through to those who ran the early gay nightclubs and bars on union street but so much of the history has been of sadness such as the murder of Terry Sweet and the attack on Bernard Hawkin in Central Park, 25 years ago. The brutal murder and the appalling homophobic graffiti that accompanied it, threatening further violence to gay people, was a changing point that brought people together and raised the visibility and the determination to fight for nothing more than equality.
Luke is currently working with Pride in Plymouth to have a memorial for Terry and to be able to unveil it this summer. They organised a crowd funder for Terry’s memorial and it was so successful, they raised well above what they needed to have a fitting memorial in the park. The memorial will be a moment to reflect not just on the murder but on Terry and Bernards life and to be able to reflect on the progress that has been made from those events 25 years ago.
Plymouth has changed drastically recently by moving OMG, GOSSIP and The Swallow onto the same street to create not only a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community but also shows visibility. We have had gay bars in Plymouth for decades but they haven’t always been in the same place so having the gay village is a really good thing and a positive nod to the future of the LGBTQ+ community within Plymouth.
Luke tells us that the real challenge is not that we have a safe space for the community but that every bar, club and pub in the city should be a safe space for LGBTQ+ people. It shouldn’t necessarily require a rainbow flag in the window to determine whether it is safe or not.
The rainbow flag has been commercialised over recent years, however, Luke tells us that if he thinks back to when he was a teenager, afraid to come out and saw this celebration of pride with the whole of Drake’s Circus lit up with pride flags, it would have helped him to see it as a celebration rather than an attack which creates a safe space for other people to come out too.
For many people in the LGBTQ+ community, Plymouth isn’t a safe city and we need to recognise this. Not just unsafe for LGBTQ+ people but for women too as we have heard too many examples recently of women being attacked and abused on the streets for nothing more than being themselves. In celebrating how far we have come; it is important not to lull ourselves into a false sense of security because things can turn around just as fast as we have seen by Donald Trump in America. People are still being killed across the world in places like Iran and some African countries for simply being who they are.
For our trans friends, we have a lot more progress to be made which can be helped by using the LGB communities’ privileges by lending their voices and supporting them. Luke Pollard encourages you to speak out about your experiences with abuse to raise awareness of the issue, not only in terms of the LGBTQ+ community but also your gender, the colour of your skin, your disability, if we can all become more confident at calling out hate comments and abuse, it will make Plymouth and the world a happier and safer place to live in.
Luke has a very simple vision and it is for people to be able to be themselves and be safe. To be able to walk down the street, holding hands with the person you love, free from abuse.
This is such a simple act but requires an enormous amount of effort and action. It is something you don’t need to change the law to do, you don’t need an act of parliament or a big budget, it is something that each and every one of us can help create through our own actions and our own approaches. – Luke Pollard MP