With the final preparations going into the island’s first Pride event, Gef sat down for a chat with Alan Shea to discuss his role in history and how he sees the island today.
Someone who describes himself as an introvert, Alan Shea is probably the island’s most famous campaigner after he protested at Tynwald Day in 1991 to call on the Manx gov to legalise homosexuality.
Alan said that while this is the first major public Pride Festival, the island has hosted a number of Pride Balls, but said these weren’t something he ‘wasn’t a fan of’ due to the costs associated with the events. He also said he was surprised that it’s taken so long for a Pride Festival to be held on the island.
He said: ‘The demonstration was in 1991 and it’s taken 30 years to get a public Pride event. But it’s being run by mainly politicians and a few LGBT people but to me, it’s more of an equality event, everyone is accepted and acceptable and that’s how it is now.’
Obviously with the shadow of history never far from Alan, he said that the holocaust inspired costume he wore to Tynwald was what became famous, rather than him. He said: ‘The outfit was first worn at London Pride in 1991. So we tested it there first and then we came back here and added the Three Legs of Man and the government phone number.’
Fortunately the island has moved on from those dark days, Alan said a noted difference he has seen is young gay couples being able to walk through town hand in hand and noone batting an eyelid.
He said: ‘In 1991, you’d have been a right queer or a puff and I have adopted those names and I don’t mind being called them because it’s a kick back, if someone wants to call me a queer, well good on them, I don’t mind them at all, I’ve got T-shirts with “Queer” written on them anyway. But when you see young people holding hands in the street or kissing in the street and no one bats an eyelid, it’s acceptable. In my days in the 90s it was very unacceptable, so you can see the big change and that’s also due to the politicians such as Allan Bell.’
Other politicians including Hazel Hannan and Peter Karran were supporters of changing the laws on the island which saw homosexual acts as a criminal offence. Former Chief Minister Allan Bell is himself also gay, as Alan Shea puts it, ‘everyone knew Allan Bell is gay, but as he said himself, no one ever asked him about it’.
Speaking of the costume, he said: ‘At the time, three people were for it and the rest were against it. All of us come overs were for it and we did it to show that the police were harassing everybody. What people didn’t realise was that being homosexual was never against the law, but the act was. And I even had the police sitting outside my home when I was campaigning, including one who is still serving now. We have asked them for an apology but they’ve refused. And I don’t just want it for me, I want it for the families who lost children and children who lost their fathers, they don’t understand what this means.’
Many readers will have seen the recent rows online about comments made by the management of Guys and Dolls about not being a gay bar, while Alan said some of those comments could be seen as ‘homophobic and transphobic’, he said the wider point is that the island ‘doesn’t need a gay bar as all bars are open and inclusive and if you misbehave, heterosexual or gay, then the landlord is going to say “behave” and you do’.
While Alan said he is happy to see a Pride Festival on the island, he said he’s not going as Alan Shea the protestor, but he’s likely to go down to see the event. He said: ‘I am what you call a radical, I’m not one for sitting down like they do now and being politically correct, I’m more action, get in there, do it. So I might go and have a private look but it’s not really something I’d go to anyway. I’m about direct action. I believe Pride is about fighting for your rights, fighting for everything you need, the same now with transgenders fighting for their rights. This is just like a party event really, which is a good thing, but to me it’s more about equality. I did say I’ll go down and have a look but I want to go down as me and have my private life.’