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.
On Monday we talked to co-chair of Manchester Lesbian and Gay Chorus, Kath Fox about her choir’s response to December’s homophobic tram attack and how she regards Manchester as a ‘beacon of hope’ for the LGBT community.
Taking over today is Adam Zane, Artistic Director of the Hope Theatre Company. The Broadbottom-based actor, scriptwriter and lecturer set up his agency in 2004 and has since seen his work taken to the stage everywhere from The Lowry to the Fringe.
The MMU graduate is now Arts Patron for Manchester Pride and is heavily involved with LGBT education in schools across the North West.
How old were you when you first realised you were L/G/B or T?
I think to some extent I always knew I was gay but growing up in the eighties was a difficult time. There was homophobia in school and a lot of name-calling and I think that made me hide and deny it.
Could you tell us your ‘coming out’ story?
I was still denying I was gay when I arrived at university in Manchester. Then I started to meet gay people and realise I was the same and that you could be happy and gay. Then I fell in love with a long-haired American and had to come out!
I first told my Mum and she was in shock I think – especially when I said that my American boyfriend was arriving the next day! It took her time to accept that I was gay but when I married my husband, she walked me down the aisle.
From coming out to now, what lessons have you learnt about yourself with regards to you and your sexuality?
I’ve learnt that until you are truly honest with yourself you live half a life. When I came out I got a real sense of who I was as a person and I realised that the fear and denial had been a way of life.
To live honestly and openly totally changes you – and everyone should have the right to live their life like that.
What are the biggest challenges still to overcome in the UK for the LGBT community?
Homophobia is still happening in UK schools on a daily basis – whether it’s calling something ‘gay’ to mean rubbish or verbal and physical bullying.
Some schools treat homophobia as seriously as racism – especially some of the Manchester schools that I have worked with through Hope Theatre Company’s anti-homophobia work, but some schools are still not doing enough to tackle homophobia and hate crime.
And what about for the rest of the world?
I was involved in the To Russia With Love project last year and I was horrified to see the level of homophobia happening. But it’s not just Russia – people are suffering discrimination and hate across the Middle East, Africa and other places in the world today.
There will always be homophobia and people who hate – we all just have to speak out and demand equality and freedom.
What would you say to your young self or a young LGBT person with the knowledge you have now about coming out?
I’d tell the young Adam that it’s a big world out there and you aren’t the only gay in the village! (No really – that boy up the road? You’ll meet him at Pride and still fancy him!).
I’d tell him about the fabulous adventures ahead and the big gay wedding he will have with his gorgeous husband. (I’d also tell him to stop wearing leg-warmers…)
I’d want to say to any young LGBT person that is struggling that there is a community out there that will support you. It may sound clichéd, but it does get better.
How does being gay impact on your job/career?
When I was an actor in the nineties it was still unusual to be out if you were gay and I was encouraged not to tell people. Then I got a part on Queer as Folk and there was no way I was going to be a part of that show and not tell people I was gay!
It was a fantastic time to be out and proud on Canal Street! Now I run Hope Theatre Company. A lot of our work is LGBT focused and I get to work with lots of young LGBT actors who are out – which shows how the industry has changed.
What are your thoughts on Manchester’s LGBT scene? Is the Village still the heart of it in your mind?
I think the LGBT community are a part of the whole of Manchester now – you can start off in the Northern Quarter, have a meal in Spinningfields and then pop to the Village for drink.
It’s great that there is more visability nowadays but I think there will always be a place for the Gay Village. It’s still a place that I feel safe to hold my husband’s hand, but I don’t feel like that in every area of the city.
What makes Manchester a good place to live in for members of the LGBT community?
I think Manchester is an incredibly diverse and welcoming city. I arrived here and felt part of a strong, vibrant LGBT community. The Village has grown from a few bars and pubs to LGBT businesses, charities, sports and social groups.
As the Arts Patron for Manchester Pride, I meet people from across the world who come to the city and I am incredibly proud of how Manchester celebrates difference and promotes equality.
Image courtesy of Neil Howard, with thanks