The Speakeasier with Lisa Power: Not capturing LGBT+ history? Surely it's a sin
It’s the middle of LGBT+ History Month and we’re lucky enough to be joined by Lisa Power MBE. Lisa is an LGBT+ history consultant, sexual health & LGBT+ rights campaigner whose portfolio of achievements is nothing short of remarkable. Not only did Lisa co-found the Pink Paper and Stonewall, she was also one of the first volunteers for Lesbian & Gay Switchboard, as well as the first openly LGBT+ person to speak at the United Nations and - more recently - a consultant in the creation of Channel 4’s most successful drama series ever, It’s a Sin. All this makes Lisa more than qualified to help us delve into the subject of LGBT+ history.
Looking from the past to the present with a sense of forthrightness which we welcome, Lisa explains how the success of It’s a Sin is grounded in lived experience and authentic stories from the 1980s. She also talks openly about navigating the complex identity politics of the time, using a feeling of tokenism as a lesbian to ensure her voice was heard.
We also discuss the responsibility that organisations and individuals within them have when it comes to LGBT+ inclusion. Plus, what needs to change in order for queer history to take a more permanent position in modern culture.
Hearing all of this (and so much more), it becomes very clear why Lisa is so passionate about preserving such a valuable part of British history. Referring to her vast experience with unapologetic candour, Lisa’s is most definitely a voice worth hearing.
The Speakeasier is available on all podcast platforms.
A full transcript of this episode is available at the end of the page.
Lisa has recommended the following resources for those looking to expand their understanding of LGBT+ history linked to Black, Asian and other ethnic minority identities in the UK:
The Equiano Centre - an exploration into Black LGBT+ histories in Britain
Black Out UK - a not-for-profit social enterprise run and owned by a volunteer collective of Black gay men.
100 Great Black Britons - a list of prominent queer Black & minority ethnic activists, artists and campaigners.
Keep up with Lisa’s views by following her Twitter @alisapower
Voiceover: [00:00:05] The Speakeasier podcast by The Unmistakables.
Asad: [00:00:10] Here we are, another week, another podcast, and you can't help but avoid the fact that February is LGBT History Month and there's one show that everyone is talking about: It's a Sin. So spoiler alert, I've only watched that episode three. Ben has binged it. What do you think of it?
Ben: [00:00:27] I watched it with my parents and my mum was a cancer nurse. She was you know, all of her patients were terminally ill for like 20 years of my life. So sitting next to her and hearing in the context of her having nursed HIV, well AIDS patients actually, it was really moving for me. It was very moving because I thought I didn't know how close it was to my life. I didn't know that that's what was happening at the time because it was you know, a lot of it was so unspoken, as you see in this series as well. You know, people essentially locked away through fear and through ignorance about what was actually happening, transmissibility. You know, it's very evocative of what's happening now, in a sense, isn't it?
Asad: [00:01:07] It really is. And the PR around this show has been sublime. I mean, we've written about it on our blog and centred that conversation around Russell T. Davies' comments about should gay actors play gay roles. But there was one interview that really stuck out as I listened in the trail up to the show, and that was with Lisa Power on Radio Four, and Lisa Power is a history consultant on the show. And I was lucky enough to meet Lisa a couple of years ago through the work I did with Pride in London. And so when she agreed to come on to the Speakeasier, not just to talk about It's a Sin and getting authenticity and representation right. and what she did as part of the preproduction of the show and the research, talking about LGBT History Month with an LGBT historian feels like a very lovely place for us to have a conversation today. And I'm really excited not just because it's Sunday and we've got a bit more time to do it, but because I think Lisa is going to be a real expert on this.
Ben: [00:02:07] I don't even know if you know how big a history geek I am. The most recent podcasts have all been about history and I'm just, I'm in my element. This is brilliant. I can't wait. Let's talk to her.
Voiceover: [00:02:22] The Speakeasier podcast by The Unmistakables.
Asad: [00:02:29] Welcome to the Speakeasier, Lisa. Where are you? Tell the listeners.
Lisa: [00:02:33] I'm in Cardiff Bay and it's lovely and sunny here.
Asad: [00:02:36] And where are you, Ben?
Ben: [00:02:37] I'm in the northwest. I'm in Merseyside at my parents house where we're in a lockdown bubble together, which is nice.
Asad: [00:02:45] And I'm down in London and it's snowing, snowing and not settling, so I'm jealous of your sunshine, Lisa. So we always start these with a word association game just to get the brain loosened up. So I'm going to say a word or a term and tell us the first thing that comes to mind. Lockdown.
Lisa: [00:03:04] It's just a feeling is not even a word.
Asad: [00:03:06] HIV
Lisa: [00:03:06] Aids
Asad: [00:03:11] It's a Sin.
Lisa: [00:03:13] Joy.
Asad: [00:03:15] LGBT History Month.
Lisa: [00:03:17] Oh, Alphabet Maffia.
Asad: [00:03:20] Ok, we'll come back to that one and... tokenism.
Lisa: [00:03:25] Everywhere
Asad: [00:03:26] Everywhere, OK. I think we have to go straight to Alphabet Maffia.
Lisa: [00:03:31] Alphabet Mafia, a phrase with which I've only recently become familiar, but which has been out there in abundance this month.
Asad: [00:03:38] Ok, tell us more.
Lisa: [00:03:40] Well, it's this thing of, you know, how many more initials and all of the initials are important. I'm not denigrating the importance of every single one of those categories, but frankly, we're at the stage where we could start making words on Countdown.
Lisa: [00:03:56] And and I'm sorry, I know this upsets some people of my generation, but I'm just reverting to queer because it keeps all of us who are this way not completely straight or heterosexual.
Asad: [00:04:09] But why does that upset people of your generation?
Lisa: [00:04:12] Because queer was an insult. And I think we've all had insults which settle in our hearts or our brains. And it makes it quite difficult when a younger generation decides that actually it's quite a nifty little word. But actually, as someone who's always quite liked being the awkward squad and quite not minded being called perverse or things like that, it's much easier for me to go back and adopt 'queer' than I think for some people of my generation who are outraged at its re-adoption. But honestly, how many more letters are we going to shoehorn in before it becomes completely unpronounceable? I mean, I really feel for people like television and radio announcers trying to grapple with it, you know, and it's hilarious watching politicians trying to get all the letters in the right order.
Asad: [00:04:59] Yeah, it is. And I guess just to put some context for the listeners. So It's a Sin has been an amazing success by all measures, it seems. And I heard that you were a history consultant and I heard that because you were Radio Four one morning talking about being a history consultant. What is a history consultant on a television show?
Lisa: [00:05:22] Well, basically, it's someone who gossiped a lot with Russell and then got sent on to the script editor who asked me questions that even I couldn't answer quite often. Before I became a pain in the bum of the establishment in various ways, I was actually trained as a medieval historian, and that's translated into being a modern, queer history person. I'm on the board of Queer Britain. I wrote a history of the Gay Liberation Front, and I was one of dozens and dozens of people who Russell T. Davies talked to about the 80s when he was putting the series together alongside his own memories. But I was the one who was a historian. And so I was the one who got hired to run around trying to find the exact date that something was announced or the documentary evidence for something having been said or done or in one glorious case, trying to find somebody who'd retired into obscurity to get permission to use a headline from their magazine or newspaper that they had published back in the very early 1980s.
Ben: [00:06:29] So you're the authenticity in the story, really.
Lisa: [00:06:33] Yes. I have to say there's a lot of authenticity that was brought into it anyway. I mean, I was astounded when I saw it visually. They have recreated gay switchboard as we were at that point because I was on switchboard throughout the 80s, throughout this happening. That's really where a lot of my knowledge comes from. You know, that was perfect. I was at those parties. I lived in a short life house in Islington that was basically a licensed squat. And that's exactly the kind of fairly outrageous parties that we used to have. You know, I knew those people. I knew those places. And there are lots of, there are lots of little nods throughout the script and throughout the set dressing to people from that era who died. For example, in one episode, there's a visual in the background of somebody's room in the Pink Palace is a poster for the National Theatre production of Guys and Dolls. Well that included Ian Charleson, a very well known actor who died with AIDS. That's where the Iin Charleston ward up at the Royal Free is named after him.
Asad: [00:07:40] And how did those nods come about? Because it might be easy to conclude that the authenticity was what has made it such a success, because I think people have really resonated, above and beyond the fact that there hasn't been very much new television on during lockdown. But what do you think that's been really key to the success of the program?
Lisa: [00:07:59] I think it's helped, but it's that physical resonance, which is brilliant, goes alongside an emotional resonance. And that's pure Russell T. Davies. I mean, he really gets under your skin. When Queer as Folk came out, one of my best friends, a gay man, rang me in a panic and said, "oh, my God, my mother knows my entire life now". And last week, another friend of mine who was on switchboard with me through the 80s said on a post on social media, you know, I feel like Russell T. Davies was reading my diaries. He has captured the feelings. But what he's also done is he's inspired everybody who worked on that production to actually step up to the same plate on the accuracy of it. I mean, some of the questions I was asked were like mind glowingly detailed, and that's brilliant. I mean, you know, I just try very hard not to let them down. But loads of us, loads of us talked to Russell. I was far, far, far from the only person who told him about our stories of the 80s. And he you know, he's had five years to develop this thing as well as what was going on percolating in his own head before that.
Ben: [00:09:11] It's a stunning piece of television. I mean, I couldn't help but watch it all immediately. And I watched it with my parents as well. And I was really struck by the fact of how open the conversation was between us all. You know, like it just felt different in 2021. It felt very different to be able to talk like that. And I've heard that HIV testing has been up as a result. Have you heard that too? Is that true?
Lisa: [00:09:36] By sheer coincidence that I actually got a call from somebody at Terrence Higgins Trust who went, "I can't believe it! The testing episode of It's a Sin is the same week as National Testing Week in England!" And he was sort of bouncing off the walls like, "Yay look!" And it's just a happy coincidence. They actually ran out of test kits, Public Health England this week. And, you know, they've had to order ten thousand more in Wales. It's not national testing week, but it's still gone up. It's still going up by a measurable amount. And the number of orders from, we're lucky we actually, because of lockdown, all of the things I love about Wales is because it's small, we can pivot. When we want to, we can really pivot. And quite early on in lockdown, we pivoted to an entirely national postal HIV testing scheme, HIV and STIs. So we didn't stop testing at any point. But that scheme, you know, we can measure now how testing is going in a very sensitive way in Wales, which we really couldn't before. We were reliant on lots of little data streams. And we know that here it's gone up, even though it's not testing week.
Asad: [00:10:48] And do you think that you're making history at the same time? Because obviously alphabet soup history month, if that's what we're calling it now. And as a historian, you must have seen so much change over time. And do you see that right now through this show that you're making history again because it's touching a new generation and pulling people back to the roots of the movement?
Lisa: [00:11:13] Well, in terms of the alphabet, I should say another nice thing about living in Wales is we're very pragmatic, so we stopped at LGBT+, we just make sure we stick the plus on everything. Which covers a multitude of sins. I'm kind of used to being a historical artefact. I often say, you know, I'm just a historical artefact. It is distinctly peculiar when you are seen as part of history and It's a Sin was actually filed under 'period drama' at Channel Four when they filled in the forms, they had to fill in all the forms for period drama. That's pretty weird when, you know, a lot of us are still alive. And that's why, I mean, my Twitter handle is 'not dead yet' as my biography.
Asad: [00:11:57] That's very interesting. Like being categorised as 'drama'. Do you think, I mean, where else could it have been categorised?
Lisa: [00:12:05] Well, it's drama, but period drama. You know, historical drama is a very specific, you know, bodice ripping, Bridgerton, Pride and Prejudice sort of genre usually. Wolf Hall if you're lucky.
Asad: [00:12:17] And with that. So from what I've read and understand in our conversations in the past, you helped to set up Stonewall in the UK.
Lisa: [00:12:28] That was back in the late 80s as a response to Section 28. And we lost that hands down. People talk about the resistance to Section 28 as if we did amazing things. But actually we lost hands down because we didn't know how to deal with politicians and we didn't know how to lobby. So we set Stonewall up as a reaction to that. And originally as just a lobbying group, we had no idea how far it would go.
Asad: [00:12:56] And tell us about, what was that like? What were those conversations like back then?
Lisa: [00:13:01] Well, there were two really weird aspects to it. One weird aspect was that for someone like me who'd been a proper activist, you know, double denim and lots of badges and a few banners to wave, I had never dealt with gay police officers, gay Tories very much. I'd certainly never had them in the house. So equally, someone like Ian McKellen was not closely familiar with fairly radical lesbian feminists, you know, he knew plenty of lesbians in the theatre, but that was a slightly different matter usually. So we were all stretched in finding new people and being a much wider and more diverse coalition than people were used to. You know, if you'd come from the Black Lesbian Group, as Olivet did, or you had come from being Mrs Thatcher's assistant, as Matthew Parris did, you know, this was an interesting range of people. And so that was really interesting trying to remember that what we had in common was what we were there for. And the other thing was that actually the greatest opposition to us came from within the existing gay movement. Lesbian and gay movement, as we would have said then.
Asad: [00:14:18] What was that?
Lisa: [00:14:19] Well, I think there was a lot of anger that we were small and exclusive, and we were small and exclusive because some of us had just been through the throes of OLGA, the Organisation for Lesbian and Gay Action, and a bunch of other organisations where the straight left had suddenly discovered lesbian and gay politics. And they tried to take over things. And we'd also been through a bunch of organisations that called themselves Democratic, but actually weren't in the least Democratic because it was a small number of people and it was he who shouted loudest got their way. So, and that's, you can't conduct lobbying on an open mass membership basis. It doesn't really work. You have to have, you know the whole point of lobbying is that it has to be discreet. It has to be unattributable sometimes. And that was anathema, complete anathema. I also think, frankly, there were quite a number of people who were really, really pissed off that they had not been invited to join. Let's be honest. And we still, I still hear that sometimes occasionally from friends. It's kind of like, why wasn't I in on it? But they say that now because it's been a massive success. I mean, we were seen as jumped up. We were seen as self-appointed. We were self-appointed. Yes, we were. But so was everybody else in the movement. It's just they pretended they weren't.
Asad: [00:15:37] What you're saying makes me think about what's going on now in twenty twenty one, which is people being defined by certain characteristics or being asked to the table because of certain characteristics. And it sounds like it was also a similar thought back then, like people were there because of their sexuality. But that was sort of the greater good that was being worked towards rather than the individual letter or individual characteristic.
Lisa: [00:16:00] Well, the movement of the eighties was very much about identity politics. It didn't get intersectionality. So, for example, when I was a secretary general of ILGA, I would be shouted at if I didn't attend the women's caucus because I was a woman. But the women's caucus was always up against the action workshop and I would be shouted out as the secretary general if I didn't attend the action workshop. So, you know, we didn't allow for any nuance or very much nuance in those days. But at the same time, identity was supposed to trump everything. And what that did was it scattered us off into our little corners instead of bringing us together. We were very good at looking at what we didn't have in common in the eighties, right down to what you did in bed as a lesbian. We had huge sex wars in the lesbian community, mostly from women who had no clue about what they were doing in bed half the time.
Asad: [00:17:14] Well, what I want to ask you about, though, is, so we had Sathnam Sanghera who's written a book called EmpireLand recently. And he's talked about how politicians right now are using identity to fuel the culture wars. And when I heard that, I thought that feels quite new. But from what you're saying, it maybe isn't as new as I thought it was and it's been happening for decades.
Lisa: [00:17:37] It's not at all. People have always used identity as a sort of cultural bargaining chip in different ways. And it's not surprising to me in the least that somebody who's had that done to them a lot, who's from a minority or an oppressed group, would feel like doing it back in some way. You know, I mean, we can all suffer from kick the cat syndrome, you know, where we look for somebody that we can have a go at because we've been had a go at. And I know that's a very simplistic way of putting it, but nevertheless, it is, the exercise of power is always something that's pretty fascinating and people will use identity as a way of doing that. But also, I think the whole issue of colonisation is fascinating because we have glorious flaming rows about it in Wales, actually. Because quite recently the leader of Clyde, which is the nationalist group like the Scot Nats in Scotland, compared the experience of Welsh people to England, to slavery, reparations, colonisation, all of those things. And not surprisingly, everybody, Black and Welsh, went through the roof because it's, you know, there is oppression there, but it's not, you can't just blithely make those comparisons. And especially, our minister for health Vaughan Gething, who is of mixed race just went absolutely mad about it. It's a very delicate discussion that needs to be had, is the way that these forms of oppression are different in different places. You can't make glib comparisons that easily.
Ben: [00:19:17] Is that to do with historical context as well? Is that to do with like the distance of time. Because if you look at Wales, you know, it's been hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years of oppression. It's almost forgotten. It's almost forgotten it was so long ago.
Lisa: [00:19:33] Well, but I just think it's different because there's plenty of mansions in Wales that were built on slave labor profits. You know, you cannot compare the two. It's totally you know, I mean, there are some very mild analogies, but you can't say because I am Welsh, I am as one with somebody who has a slave heritage. You can't do that. But I do think I mean, there are some fascinating things.
Lisa: [00:19:58] I lived in London for 25 years and I came down to Cardiff. And it's just fascinating the way that people forget that there are other countries. When you live in London, you forget that there are other countries in Britain and in the United Kingdom, which are not the same thing. People in England used all these terms completely interchangeably. And the reason it really resonated for me is we have a different health system. We have a Welsh NHS and all the time I get things like English National HIV Testing Week, it's National HIV Testing Week. And every year when it happens, the Welsh National Testing Week is aligned to the European one. It's England that's actually out of sync. But as usual, England thinks everybody else is out of sync. So I year I will get flustered politicians going, 'oh my God, is it testing week now? Should I be doing something?'
Ben: [00:20:54] So if we say Great Britain, UK, LGBT, BAME, do all of these things actually end up leaving people out? Do they make us forget certain communities?
Lisa: [00:21:05] Well, whenever you define something, you leave something else out. I mean by the very nature of the thing. But part of it is about trying to recognise the goodwill in using those terms, you know. Is somebody using this as a way of trying to include people or are they using it as a way of trying to exclude people? Do they have a good reason or bad reason for that? So I think you maybe because I'm old now, and again people get freaked out when you call yourself old. What is wrong with being old? Hello. It means I've actually been around long enough to learn a few lessons. I hope.
Ben: [00:21:39] It means you survived, doesn't it? I think it's the greatest honour.
Lisa: [00:21:43] But I am actually much more pragmatic. And again, I think that's one of the reasons why I was asked to join Stonewall when they were looking for a proper group of ten lesbians and ten gay men was what they were after. And it started with six gay men who thought, oops, we need some lesbians. You know, I am prepared to look at the reason why people are saying or doing something. Is there goodwill there? Are they trying? In which case you might need to correct them, but do try not to snap their head off because they're trying to be an ally or they're trying to be helpful, which is why I'm probably popular as a token because I'm relatively polite, although I certainly haven't been at times. I mean, I've made a career out of being a token.
Asad: [00:22:28] This is where I wanted to get to Lisa. I was like, I know it's coming. Let's talk about the tokenism and your views on that, because I think they are, they're quite different to what people might see on Instagram, where they're following conversations about tokenism and what they mean. But I really want to drill into this.
Lisa: [00:22:44] Well, you know, I have made a career out of being a token and I need to acknowledge it because otherwise people think you've done it blithely without realising what you were doing. You know, I've been a token as a woman. I was a token this week as a woman on some of the panels I've done over things like It's a Sin, I'm the only woman there, and I'm required to somehow cover all the bases of all the different ways in which women are related to HIV as a pandemic, which is kind of difficult. I've been a token as a lesbian. I was only the second lesbian back onto the phones at gay switchboard in nineteen seventy nine after all the other lesbians had walked out to form a lesbian line and I'd come down to London from the north of England, I had no clue about separatism in London. I'd always hung out with gay men. They were quite fun, what's all this separatism about. So I blithely walked into being a token lesbian in the mixed lesbian and gay movement, which was growing through the 80s. And then when HIV came along, because I had been on gay switchboard with all these gay men and because I'd also been working in the drugs field, I was everybody's ideal token worker to work on HIV because I knew about drugs, but I wasn't a drug user and I knew about gay men. And for some reason, which is still beyond me, straight world thought that a lesbian would be less trouble than a gay man to be hired.
Asad: [00:24:05] Probably still the case Lisa.
Asad: [00:24:10] So are you saying that through being a token it actually allowed you to to be in a very unique position?
Lisa: [00:24:16] I think people are really crappy about tokens. It's a difficult position. You're going to get things wrong. But if you don't, you know, everywhere has to start with a little bit of tokenism. If you are an all male or an all white organisation, you're going to try and get women or Black and minority ethnic people into your organisation. You're going to start with one or two people. You're going to start with the thin end of the wedge. That's the way that things tend to happen. Great if you can do it some other way. But what you need to do is be sensitive to the fact that that person is incredibly aware that they're a token. And are you bringing people in who are going to, you're opening the door a crack to something new and that you probably feel threatened by, are you going to bring in someone who's going to widen that crack and bring other people in after them? Or are you opening that door to someone who's going to seize that tiny bit of power and use it and slam the door shut off to them? Because you need to, you know, if you are trying to widen your experience, be it on your board or your organisation or your volunteer group, whatever it is, you really need to be ensuring that the first few people that come in are able to operate, are not just treated as the speaker only on that topic.
Lisa: [00:25:47] I remember after six months in an advice centre working, somebody, one of the senior members of staff complained about me and said that I could only talk about being a lesbian. And somebody else had to point out to her that she'd only ever talked to me about being a lesbian. I'm like, hang on a minute here. And I know that happens all the time for all kinds of token representation. And you can still do it. I did it myself to someone this week on a panel. Luckily, it was a friend and they were a Black gay man. And there was a white gay man also there. And I asked the white gay man a general question. And then I asked the black gay man, you know, whether this resonated with his experience as a Black gay man. And immediately I was shoving him into that pigeonhole. And I should have been asking to start with, I mean, yes, his experience as Black gay man was highly relevant and we wanted to hear it, but actually he can talk about other things as well. And I've been reflecting on that because on other panels this week, I've ended up being, as I say, the token woman and required to somehow emote all versions of womanhood when you've got young, old, Black and white gay men sitting on that panel with me.
Ben: [00:27:01] I wonder if you have a view then on: We talk about diversity and inclusion. It's said in the same breath. But if you think, if you consider diversity as bringing diverse communities into a work environment, and inclusion making it about creating a good experience so that people feel welcome and, you know, and it feels like the right place for them to stay, how do we make that work?
Lisa: [00:27:25] Well, diversity is the people you bring in and inclusion is the atmosphere you bring them into. I think we all need to listen and learn from each other and listen to people's experiences and also think about when we're bringing people in, are we setting them up in some way? I mean, I've also been fascinated this week by Kenny Badenoch, who is a Tory minister and who is getting a lot of grief this week. And it's actually quite healthy in a way that she is getting grief for bad behaviour, but not because she is a token Black person within the Tories.
Asad: [00:28:06] It's fascinating isn't it because it's adding lots of layers to stories. And I think that's where we might be going next through history. But what I'm also wrestling with, you've probably seen these cycles happen again and again, and are we actually seeing anything genuinely new in the conversation?
Lisa: [00:28:25] It's humanity that we have to keep relearning things over and over again. The trick is to try and pass stuff forward that you've learned. And that's what, you know, conversations like this try and do. I mean, God knows, you know, I'm 66 and still cheerfully making mistakes all over the place.
Asad: [00:28:44] Can I ask you Lisa? Because one thing that you really opened my eyes to when we met a couple of years ago, was, so that we met when I was on the board of Pride in London. And you spoke a lot about the difference in the Pride movement in Wales, in Cardiff, kind of the difference. And it's just something I've been thinking about is the premise of It's a Sin is everyone moves into London. It's the oft story, right? You move to zone one zone two London as someone who is LGBTQ, you find your community, that's where you stay. And two things I think are happening. One is that the tolerance for LGBT people outside of London is changing, so therefore there's not necessarily that push. But also from the pandemic and Brexit on the whole, fewer people are finding central London as an appealing place to be, which may mean that actually you've got a pull factor that's keeping people from where, from where they're from. And I think there was a line in episode three of It's a Sin where someone says, we don't want you to go home. And this idea that people go back to where they're from. And how do you see that evolving? Do you think that fewer LGBT people are going to descend upon London the next two or three decades and that the movement will change?
Lisa: [00:30:01] I think you don't have to be, you don't have to be a queer person to want to get away from your parents or your home setting to define yourself. I think that happens to a lot of people in a lot of different cultural or personal settings. So I think people will still move. I do think that a large chunk of the joy of university or college is that it's a really great excuse to to go to move away from your family no matter how much you love them, you know. But I think that that pull exists in different ways. I mean, there's a pull from South Wales to London that I see a lot of people go, but I also see a lot of pull from the valleys or the rural areas of Wales to Cardiff or Swansea. As you know, they are the bright lights as well in their own way. So I see that happening. But what I also see with both LGBT+ people, but also with people with HIV, is that people who moved to London, whether it was for the rest of the gay community or whether it was because you had much better treatment, a much better chance, frankly, if you had HIV of surviving in London than you did in many other areas. You know, they are now moving back out to that rural place. I mean, you know, the movement into London when you're young and then out of London, when you start to realise that actually there are some joys that can be experienced other than the northern line at rush hour.
Asad: [00:31:35] [Laughing] I don't even think that's a joy, Lisa.
Lisa: [00:31:38] You know, I mean, I miss some things about London. We're talking 15 years or so on now, but I miss the diversity of entertainment that I could get there. I miss the wide range of friends that I had there, but I don't miss when I go down to London, I hate the tube. I hate the transport system. I hate the way that nobody talks to you even though you're banging up against them all the time, you know, and all of those cliches are true. People thank the bus driver down here. It's automatic. It'd be bloody rude if you didn't. You know, people talk to each other in shops, all of those cliches are absolutely true. And the fact that, you know, I've got a taxi firm where everybody knows me, I don't even have to tell them my address.
Ben: [00:32:28] 'I'm just turning your corner now Lisa', that's what they say isn't it.
Ben: [00:32:31] You know, I'm still that Northerner in London. I've lived there for 20 years, and I talk to everybody and you do get people looking at you. I used to think they looked at me thinking, 'you're so weird', but now I think people are a bit jealous. I think people are a bit like they want to be that person as well. They want to engage with people. But I think for a lot of people, they just don't know how to do it.
Lisa: [00:32:51] I think the only friend I have who lives in London as an older person and is happy is someone who regularly gets on the train and goes and takes very long walks not in London.
Asad: [00:33:04] I feel like I might be turning into that person.
Ben: [00:33:09] Can we talk about the authenticity in It's a Sin and thinking about how a lot of brands that we work with, a lot of businesses that we work with and a lot of brands generally want to do diversity, you know, they want to do that in their advertising. But you can see when it's signalling instead of authentic. How much work do you have to put into making sure you get it right? Because what could have happened with Its a Sin is people could have rejected it if it wasn't as authentic as it was. You know, it's like the choice of the actors, the choice of the music, the way you showed history, how much work you have to put in to make sure you get that right for people?
Lisa: [00:33:44] I think it varies because if you are part of that, I mean, the whole thing about It's a Sin was, you know, Russell was there and then he talked to loads of people who were there. And contrast It's a Sin with, is it Prom? That thing with James Corden?
Ben: [00:34:02] Yeah.
Lisa: [00:34:02] Been nominated for an award for playing a gay man, and I don't know a single gay man who is happy with his performance. A lot of lesbians are very happy with Prom. I haven't actually watched it myself. But then, you know, they're ignoring whether James Corden is authentic. And I think James Corden is great. I think he's a great ally to LGBT+ people. He's done some terrific stuff. But clearly his performance there has driven a lot of gay men I know absolutely batshit.
Asad: [00:34:30] But can I ask you Lisa, because I was listening to an interview with Russell T. Davies on, I think it was Channel Four, something like Ideas that Change the World is the podcast. It's a very, very good listen. And he was asked about the comment he made about gay actors playing gay roles, which we've written about on our blog. And that, is that what you're saying, that gay actors should play gay roles because James Corden is the result if you don't?
Lisa: [00:34:54] Not necessarily. But I think if you're talking about a layer of authenticity, that is going to be more easily achieved with people who are authentic, which doesn't mean they're always right. I mean, the casting on It's a Sin is superb. I mean, God bless Andy Pryor and whoever did the casting that he sent through. Those people are amazing. I'm totally enamoured of the young actor who played Colin. I mean, I've met loads of those lads. You know, good casting is good casting. Picking good people for an organisation, a group or a board or whatever is about understanding, interaction and lots of other things as well. But it's easier if people don't have to learn all the basic stuff as well. You know, you can be an expert in things, but being authentic is when you've grown up with it, as it were. And I think that, you know what Russell said there was absolutely a provocation, blessing. And it kickstarted everybody going, 'what is this thing?'
Asad: [00:35:59] Yeah, well, it was very good PR because in the same breath he said, my job is to, my professional job is to raise awareness of this. So he definitely managed that. But sparked an interesting conversation. Because, well back to your point about making comparisons, he did say, well it's the equivalent of blackface, it's the equivalent of a black person being played by a white actor. And that's interesting because I see that quite a lot. I see a lot of parallels in the conversation around LGBT alphabet soup and BAME alphabet soup. It's very, very similar how the two play out. But then when you're in the middle of it, you think, well, what could you learn from one that you can do in the other? And it's back to your point of being, sometimes in the LGBT circle, I'm the token Asian person and then the other way round, then you can you can start to see some parallels.
Lisa: [00:36:48] It's kind of it's one of those things we have to try to work our way towards being able again to see what we've got in common rather than what separates us. Back to what I was saying about lesbian and gay politics in the eighties. Sometimes you have to work through the difference to get to the commonality. And sometimes you only find the commonality when you've got something external that is pressing on all of you in a bad way. And then you find a commonality in the fight. But I think you have to be looking for that commonality, just as some people are always looking for the difference. I think you need to be looking for both. Both of them are valid and important.
Ben: [00:37:30] I wonder as well, when you make a show like It's a Sin, where you know, I'm just thinking about the representation in it and casting appropriately. This is more than just a TV show, isn't it? It's about the campaign behind it. So actually being able to speak authentically within and to certain communities because you're part of them, isn't that really key to the casting as well?
Lisa: [00:37:52] Well, I don't know about the casting so much, but I think the way that this series, It's a Sin has linked in to the community, both the gay community, but also the community of people living with HIV or still working in HIV and still trying to raise awareness and stuff like that, has been I mean, you know, you could write it up as a as a perfect case study of how to enhance your authenticity by having everybody on your side. I mean, everybody pretty much is, even where I mean, I know that there are people who are disappointed because there weren't enough lesbians in it, although I have a real bone to pick with the women who think, or the people who think there are no lesbians in it because they can't recognise a lesbian when she's wearing an Islamic scarf. Hello. She's still a dyke. You know, and pretty obviously to me. She said my gaydar off.
Ben: [00:38:49] She's absolutely wonderful in it. That's what's striking to me.
Lisa: [00:38:52] But also, there's a dyke nurse. I mean, you just take one look at that face, 'that nurse is a dyke'. Sorry, I'm getting dragged away. I'm dragging myself sideways.
Asad: [00:39:01] I just need to add two things here. One is I've only watched up to episode three, so please don't spoil any of us. And Lisa you use the word dyke so freely.
Lisa: [00:39:09] Yes.
Asad: [00:39:09] Some people might go, 'oh, can I say that?'
Lisa: [00:39:11] Well, it's one of those words you can use about yourself, and there are people who attempt to censor it out. I did have a friend who was told, she's a lesbian, not quite my age but close and she's a performer. And she uses the word dyke in her performance. And some 20 year old lesbian wet behind the ears told her that she couldn't use the word dyke. She went loopy, quite rightly to. But you will always get people who want to police us. We always want to police ourselves because we are scared that somebody else will come along and do something horrible to us if we don't police ourselves. We always have to guard against that inner kind of 'oh, she's going a bit further than I dare to.'
Asad: [00:39:58] Can I ask you, you mentioned your Twitter bio where you said not not dead yet. Obviously, Twitter isn't necessarily the space to have really nuanced conversations in an in depth, and we're all there to fight the greater good together and work with one another. What do you think that's done to the movement? This idea that we can all just fight? And obviously there's a good bit about it with the collectiveness of the LGBT community online and coming together. But there's also a really dark side to that.
Lisa: [00:40:29] I think these things happen and it's a bit easier to see the rousse when you've got social media. Personally, I love Twitter because 14 years on gay and then lesbian and gay switchboard teaches you to make a quick comeback to people who are being arses, frankly. So I love Twitter. I'm good with it, but I totally get that it has messed up the mental health of friends of mine who have read too much of it when they should have let it go and gone and taken a long walk.
Asad: [00:41:00] Probably because they're living in London and stuck on the Northern Line.
Lisa: [00:41:03] Yeah, there is that too. I mean, it's just too much bringing it into your own home sometimes. You have to be able to walk away from it, just as we had to at the end of the shift at switchboard, we had to walk away from whatever we've had on the phones.
Ben: [00:41:17] We were talking a little bit about, you know, the fear of saying the wrong things and knowing the right things to say. But just thinking about It's a Sin for a minute, do you think that it's instilled a renewed sense of fear around HIV, because it doesn't actually, you know, it resists the temptation of saying everything's OK now, you know, at the end of it, like making a happy ending or anything like that. No spoilers Asad. What I mean is, you know, like you get series that say 'and for help, go to X, Y, Z', or actually it'll say, you know, there's treatments and most people living with HIV live a normal life and things like that. It doesn't really go there.
Lisa: [00:41:57] There's been a bit of a tension about that because it needed to have a bit more support. The first couple, you'll see that as it goes on. There's more said at the end after the programme is finished about support because it was felt that that wasn't strong enough at the start. And then a number of organisations made representations to Channel Four about that, which I think is fair enough.
Lisa: [00:42:18] But I think sometimes you have to look at not the words that someone said, but the intent behind them. And the intent is a lot harder to tell because the words are there. You can so take the words in the wrong way. And I see that a lot at the moment with you know, I saw it in the 80s in the way that people twisted what you said if you were lesbian or gay to make you a villain. And I see it now with people who are anti-trans taking the words of both people who are trans and people who support trans people, and exaggerating them or twisting them or making them somehow fit their world view. I mean, I saw something this morning where someone had put something in a gender neutral way, they said people and it was flung back at them in an angry way by somebody who had completely interpreted it as not people, but women. They'd heard women when the person had said people. And we make those assumptions and we twist those words all the time. I'm interested in whether you're saying something in an attempt to be good or from the goodness of your heart or an attempt to make a connection, or whether you're saying something in an attempt to break a connection or punish someone.
Asad: [00:43:33] It's very hard to tell.
Lisa: [00:43:34] It is hard to tell. Sometimes you have to have a dialogue to work out where someone's coming from on that. But I think it's worth making that effort because the lesson I learned from Stonewall is that to make allies, sometimes you have to break through prejudices or assumptions and people will get things wrong. I get things wrong. I put my foot in it for people who don't have my experience, who've got more problems than I have in some areas, I'm going to put my foot in it. Now I happen to be the kind of, frankly, overbearing person who will make a mistake, go, 'oh, shit, I'm really sorry' and carry on. You know, I'm quite robust, partly because I've made so many mistakes in my life. You kind of get used to it after a bit. You try not to make any of them twice really. That's about all you can ask from people, is not to make the same mistake twice.
Ben: [00:44:25] Is there a way of entering that conversation, though, to go, you know. Listen, I mean well, but I'm probably going to fuck up a little bit, because I had a conversation with my dad last night. My dad's very aware of what I do now for a living and working in inclusion. So we have really long, in-depth conversations. And it's brilliant because he's very, very engaged. But I can see he's a bit scared as well. He's like god, you can't do anything, you can't say anything. These are all the terms I hear up North: 'It's bloody ridiculous, you don't know what to say anymore.' But how do we go into that and say, you know, and acknowledge it and say, listen I'm trying. Because there's a lot of people ready to attack on that too.
Lisa: [00:45:03] I think you have to acknowledge that you might make mistakes. I think you have to apologise when you do make mistakes and try and learn. I also think, I mean, you know, nobody owes you an explanation. You should be thankful when people do explain things because it's pretty tiring, I think, particularly for my friends at the moment who are trans, having to explain their existence the whole time. But also I see these conversations go on elsewhere.
Lisa: [00:45:34] There is a duty to educate yourself as well as to ask other people to educate you. There is something happening at the moment down in Cardiff, which I don't get to often enough, but which is fascinating, which is that a young Somali woman, a young Somali Muslim woman in one of the less well-off areas of Cardiff, started an online discussion weekly. It's called The Privilege Cafe. And Mimouna manages it, but she brings in all kinds of people. And sometimes I'm listening to it and I look at the list of people who are listening and I think, oh, my God, everybody who thinks they're right on in Cardiff is here. But at the same time, those conversations are educating loads of people. And they are a dialogue. And there is an assumption that you're there because you want to help and you want to learn. And conversations do occasionally get heated. But, you know, they are conversations that are worth having and, you know, I might look at it and think, oh, my God, half of right-on Cardiff's here. And I'm probably part of that half right-on of the right-on people in Cardiff. But you've got to have those dialogues and people who create those spaces. like you, like my Mimouna, thank God for you.
Asad: [00:46:50] It's a really good idea because especially when we're all trapped up and cooped up at home, there's no place to go and have a drink and have a debate with someone or go have a cup of tea and talk to someone about where they're at. We're all doing it through screens. And I feel like you don't get the body language. You don't get the reality and pauses that you might get in a real conversation where you might just sit back and go, Oh yeah, I didn't realise that about myself or about this other group.
Lisa: [00:47:13] But I also think we can be very, very quick to grab a victim persona to try and get sympathy. And I think if you're going to take part in those conversations as one of the people with a relative amount of privilege, you have to be prepared to not sit there and look for the bits that make you a victim instead of a villain. You know, you will hear things you don't want to hear. And sometimes you'll hear things you think that's not right, but try and, you know, try and actually listen rather than look for the bits where you can justify yourself.
Ben: [00:47:43] I think the conversation around privilege: pPrivileged people don't know they're privileged because they've never had that language. It's not been introduced. You know, again, I was talking to my dad just last night about, he was talking about when he used to employ people when he ran his own travel agency and saying that people would say, 'well, I haven't got any experience, how do I get a foot on the ladder?' And he said, you know, he talks about work experience. And I said, you know, getting people to do free work experience is the wrong thing to do because only privileged people can often do that. And he literally never thought of that because that conversation had never been there, so I think the notion of engaging people with their own privileges is really, really interesting and probably very important as well.
Lisa: [00:48:25] And that's worse than it used to be, because I remember switchboard back in the early 80s, half of our volunteers were unemployed. Otherwise we'd never been able to fill all the day shifts and night shifts. We were there 24 hours a day. But unemployment benefit then was such that you could just about afford to go out and do things like volunteering, you know, and get on with things. Whereas now it's so low a subsistence level that you literally can't travel in that case across London to get to your shifts. You know, that's taking away your food money for the day.
Asad: [00:49:00] We could keep going Lisa. We could probably talk the whole afternoon and then maybe into the evening and then maybe we would get back to the sexual preferences and habits of lesbians in another episode...[laughing]
Asad: [00:49:10] But just just to round off, its LGBT History Month right now.
Lisa: [00:49:15] Yeah.
Asad: [00:49:15] And you've seen a lot that's changed in the community and the way that LGBT people are treated and the laws around it. What do you hope next? What do you think is coming in the future? What would you like to say in two, three, five years time, is history within our, within the LGBT community?
Lisa: [00:49:36] I'd like to see a more diverse history. I'd like to see a museum for Queer Britain, thank you very much. I'd like us to have a museum or at least, you know, know where our museum is going to be and how we're going to find the money for it in three years time. But one of the things that LGBT History Month, and finding things to talk about and topics to explore has taught me, is one that there is a wealth of oral history out there from people of my age and older, which we're losing if we don't capture it. But it's also taught me that there is a hell of a lot of history that is not white, male, middle class.
Lisa: [00:50:18] You know, and it's not just lesbians. And certainly down here in Wales, it's very hard to find LGBT history amongst Black and Asian people. And yet there were loads, we know that there was a thriving subculture down in the docks. You know, in Cardiff there are records like criminal records, literally, of those men who were prosecuted for gay offences, you get a lot of Black sailors in there. You know, we know that that history is there, but we can't find it. But also working class history is much harder to find, just much more written over. It's just, you know, it's there, but it's really important to pull it out because those are not the stories that we reach for to tell when we're being lazy.
Asad: [00:51:08] And so if anyone's listening to this and thinking right, they've listened to us for 40, 50 minutes or so, where should they go next to find that history? Where can people go?
Lisa: [00:51:19] I think that there are a number of places that you can go. I could not give you all of the references off the top of my head, but there are an increasing number of Black gay men particularly, but also Black lesbians pulling together history presentations around the cultures of places like Brixton. If you find my friend Mark Thompson on Twitter, he's just put together literally his response to It's a Sin, was that he didn't think there was enough of the Black queer music of the 80s in it. But instead of moaning about that, he put together a playlist of the Black queer music of the 80s. Obviously, Ajamu, there are all kinds of people and places where that history can start to be seen, but there's a lot more to be done. I also think that it's important to get stuck in and preserve. If you if you're part of a group that has history that you aren't seeing represented, get it in there, get it into Bishopsgate archives, tell queer Britain about it. I mean, one of the things I like about queer Britain is that we have been and are holding roundtables for people. We've held a roundtable for people from Black and Asian groups to talk about what people want from a museum. We've held one with trans and non-binary people. Next week we're holding one with disabled LGBT plus people. There is an attempt to be inclusive there that I really think is vital. So you know get stuck in whether it's with something like Queer Britain or your local museum and places, go and ask them what they've got.
Lisa: [00:53:03] The National Museum of Wales is now collecting all kinds of stuff from LGBT plus history as it's just, you know, it's realised over the last couple of years that that stuff deserves to be in there. So the doors are beginning to be open for the wilder shores of LGBT plus history. Push those doors open. Like I said, don't let the tokens sit there, push your way in and make sure that all kinds of LGBT history is collected, not just those of us with big gobs from privileged positions.
Asad: [00:53:33] What I love about what you're saying Lisa, rather than wait and look for history or LGBT history, start making it and make it matter and make it count.
Lisa: [00:53:43] We're all making history. My motto is history is for interfering with. I tell you what we'll do at the end of the end of this, perhaps you can with the podcast, put up or read out some places that people can start because my head's going blank. But I know those places and I'll find them for you.
Asad: [00:54:02] It will add it to the description and send it out in the blog and things like that. Thank you so much for your time.
Voiceover: [00:54:13] The Speakeasier podcast by The Unmistakables.
Asad: [00:54:19] So another brilliant recording. This time the uncancellable Lisa Power. I think the amount of work that went into making It's a Sin authentic sounds a bit overwhelming when you think about it.
Ben: [00:54:32] I know, but I suppose you're you know, you're truly trying to represent such an important history. For all the people that were there, how amazing to hear from them saying, 'oh, God, this is authentic', you know, because the actors in it weren't even born. You know, some of them weren't even born at that time. So to get it right, there's so much need for all of that work to go in, for people to feel truly represented.
Asad: [00:54:54] I wonder as well if on set there were moments of getting things wrong or saying the wrong thing that would need education. Would need a culture or environment to go, you know, what? I might get this wrong. It's really important we get this right as a collective to represent the story. Nurturing that kind of environment is what we do.
Ben: [00:55:17] Yeah, but I can almost picture people in that environment getting it wrong and having a laugh because the intent is good. You know, everybody knows everyone. It's like a community feeling where you're going to be forgiven. And I'm really interested in how to nurture that for people that are outside of communities. You know, for this to just feel easier. That's what this podcast is about, right? We've called it The Speakeasier because that's what we want people to be able to do. And I think that it's really fascinating how you get there. It's, you know, it's really good to listen to Lisa be so candid about that as well.
Asad: [00:55:51] Yeah. And something that you said really stuck with me, which is sometimes just say, 'look, I'm going to get it wrong, help me. And I don't mean to get it wrong and we should get things wrong.'
Ben: [00:56:01] I think it's often about not centering yourself as well. It's not making you the heart of that conversation because you did get it wrong or because you might get it wrong, you know, just to make sure that everyone's included in that conversation.
Asad: [00:56:14] Yeah. And I guess to close, the bit about history and making it rather than waiting for it feels really important right now. I think we are living through this time that will be in history books for years to come. And there'll be people, one of my very good friends just gave birth over the weekend and their kid might never know what this was all about. And it will be folklore to them, but we've got to capture it, write it down, document it, so that future generations can look back and say all that happened.
Ben: [00:56:43] Yeah. And I wonder if everyone would just be happier if they're doing that rather than just shouting at each other on Twitter. You know, like do something. And that's the key thing about history, isn't it? Everyone's got a story. If you're prepared to, then it's really helpful to share it.
Asad: [00:56:57] That's it. And talking of sharing, we're @_unmistakables wherever you go on socials.
Voiceover: [00:57:08] The Speakeasier podcast by the Unmistakables.