Alan was born in 1939, and grew up whilst homosexuality was still illegal. He experienced the hostility and rejection of both church and society, and lived most of his childhood and youth in closeted fear. Outed to his mother by a friend, he received little in the way of support or acceptance until, at a very dark time in his life, a chance encounter with someone who was both a Samaritan volunteer and himself gay, led him to Harrow Gay Unity in the mid 1970’s. As Alan began to regain a sense of himself as a person loved and unconditionally accepted by God, he has gone on to be a visible and vocal advocate for LGBT people in both the Methodist church, and his local community.
“By the time I was 16, I knew what that ‘difference’ was. I realised that I was as we’d now say, a homosexual. As my parents would have said at that time, I was ‘one of them’. Not that they knew until many years later that that was the case. I found my teenage years quite difficult really because when everybody else was running around talking about their girlfriends, I didn’t have a girlfriend. It’s an odd situation.
At that time it was actually quite difficult for gay people. Being a homosexual was still defying the forces of nature, as we used to say. Was not acceptable. It was something you didn’t talk about. In my case it was something I preferred not to think about. And it was really quite nasty because you were regarded at that time as either being very sinful, if you came from a religious background, or seriously mentally deranged if you didn’t. I came from a religions background, so I was both deranged and ill. I don’t know whether I thought my doctor had got x-ray eyes, but I always used to be petrified about going to see the doctor, because I thought that somehow or another he was going to realise that I was ‘one of them’ and then there’d be trouble. Fortunately, it never actually happened!”
“The church I went to at that time, which was Dorset Gardens Methodist church…wasn’t very keen on people who were gay, let’s put it that way. I remember one famous occasion when we had a visiting preacher. I don’t know who he was but I certainly didn’t like him. It was just about time the Wolfenden Report recommending the legalisation of homosexuality, came out. He obviously didn’t agree with this at all, and he thundered away in good Bible-bashing form, which I found a bit difficult at the age of 15. So obviously this was something you didn’t talk about, to anyone, and I decided it was something you could ignore, and perhaps it might go away at some point, I spent quite a lot of time praying that it would go away. It didn’t go away. It just didn’t.
I had tried to talk to one of our ministers at Dorset Gardens Methodist church, and he’d told me, because I’d told him that I thought I had problem with it, he said yes. Came out with the usual stuff about how sinful this was, how the Bible prohibited it and all the rest of it, and I’d better get rid of this problem pretty quickly. I sort of didn’t go to church for about 13 or 14 years after that because I felt I wasn’t worthy to go into a church.”
“(A wonderful friend) said there are gay organisations where you can meet other people like yourself and you’d find them very helpful. And he told me about one in the area I was living in – Harrow. It was called Harrow Gay Unity and I went along. Full of trepidations. The organisation at that time met in an upstairs room above a pub called the Goodwill to All, and I approached the stairs somewhat timorously, and someone shouted after me, ‘I shouldn’t go up there, they’re all queer up there!’. And I said, well, I shall be in good company because I am as well. So that was Harrow Gay Unity, and I found it amazing. I mean, I walked into this room and there were 30 or so people, all gay, of all shapes and sizes, and they didn’t bite, and they hadn’t got horns or anything like that. They seemed to be very nice people. It was amazing really. I very quickly came to the conclusion that I was gay, and that was just the way I was made, and if people didn’t like it they could go and do the other thing. So I learned very quickly to be out and proud.”
“We’re now talking about the mid-70s. The minister we had at the time was called Howard Booth, who was a wonderful man. He came round one evening and he was delicately sipping his sherry. He almost sunk the rest of the bottle when I came out with the fact that I was gay. And he said, you know, I’m very sympathetic to gay people but I can’t bear to think about what they get up to in bed together. And I said well, Howard, as your married couples walk down the aisle of your church on Sunday, do you think, My God, what did you get up to in bed together last night? And he said, of course not – but you’re absolutely right! He was a great help.”
You can listen to Alan’s interview in full here.
You can hear Alex reflecting on his meeting with Alan here.