LGBT History Month - Marcus Littlejohn
LGBTI History Month February 2021 – Interview PC Marcus Littlejohn Safer Communities Equality and Diversity Unit
I have been an ally since before I knew what the word ‘Ally’ was and way before I had any real understanding of what LGBTI+ meant.
I am the 9th child of 9 in my family. In fairness we were a blended family, my parents had 4 children each to their previous marriages and when they got together they had me. My oldest brother, Terry – his name was Walter but that was also my Dad’s name so we changed it for him to make it easier to know which one we were talking to – was 17 when I was born in 1973. We lived in Drumchapel in ‘the fives’ - rented accommodation with 5 bedrooms, I think they’re still known locally as the Fives. Terry was always different. He spoke politely with clipped consonants, grew his hair out like Freddy Mercury and took to wearing caftans, platform shoes and make-up…. Around the streets of Drumchapel in 1973!
Probably because of the fashions at the time he had a fascination with hair and my mother encouraged him to take up hair dressing which he excelled in. He also found a community that understood him there and soon left home to study his craft in London.
I vividly remember Christmas Day 1978. We had gathered around the table and my Mum had ‘presented the bird’ (a Capon) for my Dad to carve up. As we were getting into the ritual passing of plates for meat, wee chipolatas – always a fight, I soon learned to maintain a space big enough for the chipolata bowl to go as near to me as possible or risk getting none! – and then Terry stood up.
“I think you should all know that I am homosexual. This is my life and if you can’t accept me for who I am then I can’t be part of this family!”
My Dad, his hand still outstretched looked up at him and said, “That’s great son but could you pass the potatoes like I asked you to?”
And that was pretty much it. There was an awkward silence for a while. One of my brothers got quite angry but bit it back until the next day and the tension was broken by one of my sisters sarcastically saying, “Really? You’ve been hiding that really well!” which caused a lot of laughter and “Sit doon, ya tube!” to float around the table. And that was it. Terry was a bit crestfallen, I think he was expecting a bit more drama.
I was 5 years old and I didn’t really understand what had just happened. I asked my Mum, “What does ‘homosexual’ mean?”
Her answer has stayed with me, “You know how sometimes men and ladies like to get married? Well Terry would rather marry another boy.”
And that made perfect sense so off I went to play with my new Evel Knievel stunt bike quite happy that the whole incident had been resolved and everything was right with the world.
Except it wasn’t really. A 5 year old had managed to grasp sexual politics better than the government of the time.
The Sexual Offences Act of 1967 had decriminalised sex between two men, in private, who had attained the age of 21 years in England and Wales but it would be February 1981 before the same protection applied in Scotland. Why? Apparently the people of Scotland didn’t approve of that sort of thing! There was nowhere for him to be himself at home. There was no internet, no gay clubs or bars or even ‘gay nights’ in clubs. Pretty much the only way for gay men to meet other gay men were in the cruising grounds. It’s frightening to think about it now. If you were a man attracted to other men, the only way you could meet likeminded people was to go to public parks or toilets late at night and hope the person you were talking to wasn’t a plain clothes police officer or a “Gay basher” so you were, effectively twice as likely to get arrested or beaten up as you were to meet someone…. That’s pretty high stakes dating there!
So Terry went back to London. And that’s where he stayed until 1988.
The Law had changed but attitudes hadn’t. It wasn’t considered ‘normal’ to be gay. The tabloids threw slurs like ‘poofters’ ‘benders, ‘Shirtlifters’ and ‘Queers’ with alacrity; sure in the knowledge that their readers would agree.
When the AIDS epidemic hit the slurs got worse. AIDS was falsely seen, and still is to a certain extent, as a ‘Gay Disease.’ Tabloids ramped up their rhetoric now to say that Gay people were ‘predatory,’ ‘evil’ and effectively classed them as ‘Plague Spreaders’. The distinction between ‘gay’ and ‘paedophile’ was also lost with many believing that one was identical to the other. So it was legal but it was still dangerous. Even today to donate blood, if you are gay, you have to sign a statement saying you haven’t had sex in 12 months! There’s no such restriction on straight people.
In 1987 the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher gave a speech where she stated,
“Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay. All of those children are being cheated of a sound start in life. Yes, cheated”
And in 1988, just in time for my brother to come home, Article 28 was enacted making it illegal for schools and local authorities to ‘promote’ homosexuality. It was, effectively, erasure of gay people from society. Schools couldn’t even acknowledge the existence of gay people and public libraries were banned from stocking gay literature and films. Think about that for a second. You could BE gay, if you liked, but you couldn’t read about it. You couldn’t study it. You couldn’t talk about it. My Dad had retired from the Fire Brigade by this time and had become a teacher. Article 28 was a sticking point. My dad didn’t agree with it and protested against it prior to its enactment but once it was law, that was it, as far as Dad was concerned. What more can be done? It, amongst other more personal and family things at the time created a rift between my Dad and Terry that was never really resolved.
And so, Terry became a gay rights activist. He actually attended ‘Lark in the Park’ in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh, a precursor to Pride – an action I am incredibly proud of him for. This was true bravery.
The fight went on for 12 years. It was only in the year 2000 that article 28 was repealed in Scotland – it wasn’t until 2003 that the same was applied in England and Wales. I joined the police in 1995 and the attitude both inside and outside the service was still very hostile towards gay people. I remember being casually informed by my tutor (long since retired, thankfully) that we had to check the public toilets at Dunn’s Square in Paisley regularly because “The poofs hang about there touching up wee boys” I asked what ‘wee boys’ were expected to be there at 2am on a Saturday morning and got a derisory grunt in response. We didn’t get on, me and him.
By the time it was finally repealed my brother was 44 years old and had his own problems. Alcoholism was one of them. It is generally accepted that up to 25% of the general LGBTI Community have moderate alcohol dependency compared to 5 to 10 percent of the general population. When you consider the tough road he was on, it’s not hard to see where these problems stemmed from.
We always thought that Terry’s death would be conveyed to us by a knock on the door from the police. And so it came to pass in August 2016 when I was asked to go and identify his body along with another of my brothers, Gerald.
We were shown into the viewing room at the QEUH Mortuary and they put his lifeless image on a TV screen. Gerald turned to me and said, “Is it me or does he look like he’s had a real kicking?”
When we came out this was confirmed. The man he had been living with had beaten him unconscious at his home address in the south side of Glasgow and had then helped himself to my brothers wallet and gone off to buy a carry out. He came home, drank it, fell asleep and only then did he notice that Terry hadn’t moved. He phoned the police and came up with a story that he had been beaten up by the local young team for being gay but it all came to light later.
A few years before we had been called to say that Terry was in hospital. He had stepped in front of a bus while drunk, he told us. That was a lie. The same guy had seriously assaulted him and left him with injuries so severe we actually believed that he had indeed been hit by a bus. Terry wrote a letter to the Procurator Fiscal denying any sexual relationship between the two and asking for the charges to be dropped and so they were. Because of this we couldn’t prosecute the murder as a Domestic incident and we also couldn’t prove that the accused had intended to kill him… It was just another in a series of regular beatings. He plead guilty to manslaughter and got just 2 ½ years for my brothers murder. He’s back out on the street now. Terry is still dead.
Criminalisation, Prejudice, Erasure, Alcoholism and Domestic violence. My brother suffered all of these in his relatively short life. But he lived long enough and campaigned hard enough to see the law changed to give LGBT people the same basic human rights as everyone else had always had up to and including marriage.
As a cis gen, straight, white man I’ll never fully appreciate what he went through in his life but now, in the role that I am in within Safer Communities E&D with the portfolio for LGBTI and HIV. I owe it to my brother to make sure that all those things he fought so hard for all of his life are respected and upheld.
Love is love. As long as it is between consenting adults it shouldn’t matter to anyone else. Everyone deserves a little happiness in their lives and shout it from the rooftops if they feel so inclined. That’s why people like my brother went through all of the strife that they did.
I knew Terry pretty well, he’d have seen it all as worth it.