Rainbow Day – the 2013 Manchester Celebration event

Sally Mason reflects on the 2013 Manchester QLGF Celebration event commemorating 50 years since the publication of Towards a Quaker View of Sex and 40 years since the beginning of Friends Homosexual Fellowship

Well, I’m here! Which is to say that I’ve managed successfully to negotiate the Manchester Metro Link from Piccadilly to St Peter’s Square. Nothing so simple as a ticket machine! I’m confronted by a touch screen of bewildering complexity and have to ask a friendly local to help me procure a ticket. Once there, I notice a woman of about my (late middle) age comfortably dressed and in sensible shoes who is consulting an A4 sheet -perhaps a map? Another half-lost soul trying to find Mount Street Friends Meeting House? I decide to risk it: “Um…excuse me; are you going to Mount Street?” “Er…yes.” “Oh; well”; I say, with more brightness than I feel, “We can go together. I have directions.” It is all easier than I had anticipated and five minutes later, we are there.

Once inside the door, I am momentarily taken aback by the flood of people and noise of post-Meeting for Worship chatter. Are all these Friends here for the day? However, the vestibule slowly clears as Manchester Friends depart for Sunday lunch. The remaining forty or so of us queue for tea/coffee and greet one another. I am relieved and my spirits soar as I see one QLGF friend after another – mostly the “golden oldies” of Friends Homosexual Fellowship / QLGF’s 1970s/1980s past. In some cases, we haven’t met for years so there are smiles, handshakes and hugs all round.

Lunch is a cold buffet, courtesy of Waitrose (and very good, it is, too). Fifty of us by now, all engaged in catch-up conversations, smiles, hand-waving and excited chatter. We seem to be fairly evenly split between the genders and although most of us are probably fifty-plus, there is an encouraging sprinkling of younger Friends around too.

As this is mainly a commemorative event – 50 years since the publication of Towards a Quaker View of Sex and 40 years since the beginning of FHF/QLGF, it is likely that most of us will have adulthoods stretching back to 1963 – that momentous year when, you remember, sexual intercourse began: well, for Philip Larkin though not for John Profumo and presumably not for four young men from Liverpool. Round the buffet area is a line of little flags, each one marking a significant date on which the Religious Society of Friends made an important move in the discussion, acceptance or rejection of aspects of social and sexual relationships. These jolt me, sometimes painfully, sometimes joyfully.

It is now two o’clock, numbers have swelled and some 65 of us settle into gathered silence before we embark on the afternoon programme.

Our first speaker, Rosie Bailey, recalls how it was to be a child/young adult growing up gay in the 1930s -1950s, not understanding, knowing only that she was different, unacceptable and that she didn’t fit. Her tale is bittersweet for me because the situation for my partner and me in the 1960s – 70s was not that much different. Fortunately, life for her and her partner improved radically once they could share a home and everything else, just as it did for Jacquie and me by the late 70s/early80s. It wasn’t thus for many others.

Michael Hutchinson gives us a potted history of FHF/QLGF, with his own personal experiences, from its inception in 1973 onwards, thus giving those of us who were around in the group’s early days a chance to remember, reflect and relive those times: a blend of panic, uncertainty and pure joy. He mentions our first publication in 1981/2: Meeting Gay Friends – a collection of essays about how it was to be gay in a straight world. I have since re-read it and I note now that the list of contributors provide a roll-call of those no longer with us and yet who were the backbone of every gathering. These, during the 1970s/80s especially, were the only places where we could relax and be ourselves the emotional current was considerable and the Meetings for Worship some of the deepest I have ever experienced. Current QLGF members will know of our more recent history so I shall not recall that here.

Chris Skidmore rounds off the afternoon with an excellent timeline history from 1954 to 2013 of the Quaker’s involvement with social and sexual relationships on a much broader front (see timeline elsewhere in this website). it is by turns a joyful and sobering account as Friends seemed to tie themselves in knots over what they could and could not accept and at times, progress seemed very slow.

There is reflection in worship-sharing mode between and after each contribution. We close with a period of worship and then repair to the buffet space for more tea/coffee and to share a wonderful celebration cake iced in rainbow stripes. It has been a very special day and I thank all Friends in Manchester and beyond who enabled it to happen.

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