Politics

Letters: When cancel culture meant imprisonment for consummating your love for another man

THE opening phrase in Maureen Sugden’s article “The Rise of Cancel Culture” (The Herald, December 31) states: “Cancel culture is not new.” In this she is correct, but the rest of the article concentrates on the recent experiences of famous white, straight and relatively wealthy individuals, thus ignoring the long history of “cancel culture” which for centuries has involved the silencing and even criminalisation of marginalised communities. A brief look at the historical experiences of LGBT+ communities will highlight this.

I am old enough to remember when I could have been imprisoned or sent to a mental institution for consummating my love for another man, surely an extreme form of “cancel culture”. At this time and even after decriminalisation (1967 in England and Wales, 1981 in Scotland) many gay people were victims of blackmail. Even when our love was not a crime, we could still lose our jobs, particularly those of us who worked with children or vulnerable adults: some of us had our careers “cancelled”.

Until relatively recently, most images of LGBT+ people in the arts, entertainment and the media were either non-existent or stereotyped. After his conviction for gross indecency, performances of plays by Oscar Wilde were cancelled.

In the early 20th century, writers Rose Allatini and Radclyffe Hall, among others, had novels with LGBT+ themes banned., sometimes for being obscene, sometimes for being a corrupting influence. Their work and our voices were being silenced.

Censorship remained common in the post-war decades. For example, playwright Joe Orton died before his censored play What the Butler Saw was performed in its unexpurgated version. In 1976, Gay News was prosecuted for publishing Richard Kirkup’s poem The Love That Dares to Speak Its Name, was found guilty, the poem banned and the editor of Gay News given a suspended prison sentence.

Even when there weren’t outright bans, LGBT+ writers and musicians often found their work not reviewed or performed or promoted, as was the case when only one DJ (John Peel) on BBC Radio would play Tom Robinson’s 1978 hit Glad to Be Gay. And when LGBT+ themes were presented positively, such as when two gay characters kissed in an episode of EastEnders in 1989, there was often outrage in the popular press.

The 1980s also saw the Thatcher Government introducing the notorious Section 28, which banned local authorities from promoting homosexuality “as a pretended family relationship”, thus with the stroke of a pen cancelling our relationships and lives, and attempting to silence us.

These are examples of the real history of “cancel culture”. Whereas I defend the right of anyone to express their views, there is an irony in the likes of JK Rowling and Laurence Fox getting so much publicity for claiming they are being silenced.

Kevin Crowe, Wick.

TEARS FOR THE OLD HOGMANAY

I SHED a tear on reading Hugh Macdonald’s “It started with Hogmanay… nobody really knew when it would end” (Herald Magazine, January 1). His memories of past celebrations chime with my own as I look back to how we honoured this night in the post-war years.

In our old age, my husband and I no longer stay up for the bells; back then my ancient gran and her sister were raring to go even before the sandwiches were made and would sit enjoying the spectacle into the wee hours. They sipped whisky throughout, claiming that it “sweetened the stomach”. When it came to party pieces, they needed no encouragement to give us their harmonised version of The Rowan Tree; I have a cassette tape of a recording made for my sister in Canada. My father would take out his teeth and sing I’m the Saftest o’ the Family, while my mother feigned black-affrontedness. All my teenage friends joined in and queued up to refill Dad’s glass. Hogmanay to my English father was a glorious gift, having known no such merrymaking in his native home. My friends always gathered in our house before starting a neighbourhood trek, first-footing anyone we knew even vaguely, but on our arrival home in various states of drunkenness the party would still be swinging. On one famous occasion a piano was manhandled from the house two doors down and the concert, now with accompaniment, continued in the road outside our door. This was a night of joyful excess, celebrated by people who often had little to be joyful about, but it was Glasgow, and it was Hogmanay.

None of this happened without a good deal of preparatory work. During Christmas week, my mother prepared the house for New Year. She scoured every nook and cranny, polished the brasses, scrubbed floors. She hauled carpets out to the washing line and beat them with astounding vigour. And when the place was pristine, she baked steak pies and empire biscuits. It was all done with determined goodwill and no little pride; a clean house was one in the eye for neighbouring housewives less in thrall to tradition.

As another year ends, I join with Hugh in remembering the time and its people, the love and laughter that underpinned the best welcome they could give to an unknown future. I wish they were here to sing again.

Pat Sutherland, Glasgow.

THANK YOU, LESLEY DUNCAN

WHAT an interesting career Lesley Duncan, your Poetry Editor, has enjoyed (“Remarkable career of our poetry editor as she steps back … a bit”, The Herald, December 31). Some years ago and newly retired, I joined two fellow retirees, Jim and Bob Campbell, no relation, and formed our Walking Thursday club. Every week we would walk mainly in the Angus or Perthshire glens culminating with a stop at headquarters, our local pub.

To brighten up piece time I used to take along some questions on sport for Jim and Bob. Jim proved more adept in answering the questions than Bob so I had to arrange a more level playing field. Bob was a retired English teacher with a passion for poetry so I seized the opportunity to introduce a few lines of poetry and Bob was to give me the name of the poet. That was easy to organise for a few weeks and it was slowly becoming an integral part of our Thursday.

As my source of poems ran dry, enter Lesley Duncan and her Poem of the Day. A great thing about Lesley’s selection was that she associated her poem with the time of year, the anniversary of a battle or a disaster from the past. It was always relevant. Some weeks Bob would join in my recitation of the poem before I was finished, which often amazed me. He would go on to recite the whole poem. Having said that, he would often struggle to name the poet. So, thank you, Lesley, and enjoy your retirement. You could do worse than start your own walking club.

Ally Martin, Dundee.

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