Graham Calvert is an alumnus of Nower Hill School and a Future First alumni volunteer who has run sessions with students to talk about LGBT issues, mental health and confidence building. For LGBT History Month, we asked Graham about what it was like being at school during a time of greater discrimination, and what he wished he could tell his school-boy self.
I left Nower Hill School in what for many will seem like centuries ago. Back then, in 1981, the first cases of what was to become known as AIDS were recorded in America followed in 1982, when I was just 17, by one of the first deaths in this country of Terrence Higgins.
Back then it was actually illegal for me to have a relationship or for anyone to have a relationship with me: it was a potentially imprisonable offence. So, when, in the words of a famous song, I look back upon my life it is tinged with a sense of shame – a shame imposed on me by the school and its view of what was ‘normal’, the emergence of this new disease and the law which criminalised my feelings. And so the one thing I would tell my younger self – and the one thing I wish I had known then – is that there is no shame in being gay.
Things may have changed but there are still many forces acting to make us as LGBTQ+ people feel ashamed of the feelings we have, the love we wish to express openly, and the joy we have in just being ourselves.
In the years since then, I have learned that the greatest power comes in being a group of people. We have decriminalised gay relationships, we have fought and begun to win the battle against AIDS, we got rid of Section 28 and we can even get married if we chose to.
The thing I have learned is that these gains are fragile and can easily be lost if we do not remember that many still see us as ‘outcasts’, but together I know that great things can be achieved. The rule is to learn to enjoy being you in whatever way you can be you.
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