LGBT History Month Q&A: Gay choir chair says Manchester is beacon of hope

To celebrate LGBT History Month, MM talk to LGBT figures from across Greater Manchester about their experiences of coming out and what progress they think the city still has to make towards equality.

Last week we spoke to 56-year-old Dean Deakin from Bury, pub landlord at The Goose on Bloom Street in the Village and DJ favourite Danny Beard.

Next up is Kath Fox, 42, co-Chair of Manchester Lesbian and Gay Chorus. The Wirral-born soprano moved from Liverpool to Manchester in 2000 to continue working as an ITV producer.

After building a successful career in television, working on shows such as Loose Women and Children’s BBC, Kath joined Manchester’s The Voiceover Gallery and began working as the company’s associate director.

In February 2012, she joined the Manchester Lesbian and Gay Chorus, a non-audition community choir which welcomes members of all ages from within the LGBT community.

MLGC now has 100 members and is one of the biggest LGBT choirs in the country. In December 2014, the group received national coverage by staging a heart warming event entitled ‘Safe to sing’ following a homophobic attack on a Piccadilly Gardens tram.

Hundreds took part in a mass sing-along, organised by Kath, who says it was a ‘fantastic, creative protest’.

The chorus rehearse every Monday in the Town Hall and to find out how to get involved, follow @MLGCOnline on Twitter.

How old were you when you first realised you were L/G/B or T?

I was aware from a very young age that I didn’t have the same interest in boys as my peers did although I did end up ‘trying’ out a heterosexual lifestyle, but it just didn’t fit. I remember always feeling that the husband/children path in life was just something I could not imagine for myself, even though I did not know why.

I became very aware of where I didn’t fit from quite young and really struggled personally to find a place where I did.

Could you tell us your ‘coming out’ story?

I started my coming out journey slowly, first mentioning it to others in the final year at university, and then when I got my first job, I happened to be in a small team with two gay women and that’s when things started to fall into place. I came out to my mum when I was 25 and I didn’t want to hide any longer.

I never told my father directly as I couldn’t bring myself to face the idea of his being disappointed in me. Thankfully, though older in years, my parents supported me in their own way. I was dragged out of the closet at work 15 years ago by my now civil partner! It felt very exposing, but was a huge relief. The fear of rejection is a powerful thing.

From coming out to now, what are lessons you have learnt about yourself with regards to you and your sexuality?

The big lesson I have learned is that sexuality is the cornerstone of who you are. You cannot truly reach your full personal potential without first putting it centre stage. I also hadn’t acknowledged the deep and chronic loneliness that comes from sensing you are different, and how important it is to have supportive and optimistic friends and family who not only love you for who you are, but positively celebrate you as a person.

I never truly understood what it felt like to be with people who understood until I joined Manchester Lesbian and Gay Chorus 3 years ago. I can step out into a heteronormative world and know that I will come together and sing with my dear LGBT friends every week and be me again.

It helps me cope with the pressures of being an LGBT person to know I have this amazing support network and unconditional love from precious friends.

What are the biggest challenges still to overcome in the UK for the LGBT community?

The rise of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools is one of the biggest challenges of all. The havoc wreaked by then-Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles and his casual use of the word ‘gay’ as a pejorative term continues on its seemingly-endless journey of misery through the lives of LGBT young people.

Acceptance of LGBT people must start A) at home and B) at school before we can make any lasting change in society.

And what about for the rest of the world?

Global themes of tolerance, acceptance and the politics of hope are cyclical things and we are at a critical moment, especially in the UK as the election approaches. This is a frightening time as the spectre of the far-right looms large.

Since the bankers spent the world’s money, austerity has opened to door to right-wing regimes and as powerful right-wing media organisations negatively report on ‘people of difference’ (immigrants, gay people, the disabled) resulting in their being treated like lesser human beings.

As politics of hate take root, the inevitable ‘freedom of speech’ arguments ensue, but the consequence is diminishing empathy and minority groups as fair game. The treatment of gay people continues to be a struggle – in a significant number of countries around the world, being gay often has violent and even murderous consequences.

This has been seen most recently seen in the case of IS throwing gay men to their deaths, and in Russia of course with their anti-gay politics and penchant for locking people up for expressing otherwise.  

What would you say to your young self or a young LGBT person with the knowledge you have now about coming out?

It is lonelier and more frightening not to be yourself, than it will ever be to be yourself.

How does being gay impact on your job/career?

I have worked in the media for the majority of my working life, which has on the whole been a far more tolerant and accepting environment for LGBT people. One could argue that in certain quarters in the media, being gay is viewed particularly positively. There was a saying I heard often ‘gay for pay’.

What are your thoughts on Manchester’s LGBT scene? Is the Village still the heart of it in your mind?

Manchester is a tolerant and accepting city with a great deal to offer the LGBT community. I think it can be easy to dismiss it or criticise the scene but to many people, Manchester stands as a beacon of hope and is the reason for many of us choosing to live and work here.

The resources available to LGBT people are something to be proud of, although of course there is always more work to do. Manchester City Council is progressive and forward-thinking and very supportive of us.

The Village is a unique place in the hearts of the LGBT community locally, nationally and internationally, and rightfully so. I am particularly excited about what 2015 has to hold for Canal Street and the area as a whole.

What makes Manchester a good place to live in for members of the LGBT community?

Because we belong here. We are part of what makes Manchester great.

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