This video from 1980 of people in Sunderland giving their views on homosexuality is eye-opening
A television clip from 1980 showing people of Sunderland sharing their views on homosexuality reveals that public opinion was more divided than you might think.
The footage was filmed a year before the first case of AIDS in the UK, and seven years before the introduction of Thatcher’s anti-gay Section 28 legislation in schools.
This era was notorious for demonising LGBT+ people, but the TV clip suggests public opinion at the beginning of the decade may have been more nuanced.
Locals from the town in north-east England were asked: “What does homosexuality mean to you?”
Sunderland people give their opinions on being gay in 1980.
“You get some hard puffs like, proper wildies” ?
“My best friend is gay …… not with me like!” ? pic.twitter.com/fKwiWzijNt
— Tim Ward (@timmyward) September 8, 2019
“Not perverted, like most people think,” one woman replied. “Just ordinary people as far as I’m concerned.”
A young man answered: “There’s nothing the matter with them, because it’s what they ought to do, not what everybody else wants them to do. They want to be different, so if they want to be homosexual, then be homosexual.
“It doesn’t bother me one little bit, it shouldn’t bother other people either, it’s their life.”
Another man appeared defensive at the question, asking: “Are you being personal?” Before adding: “Doesn’t mean a lot to me really.”
A young man surrounded by his friends commented: “They’re alright if you get on with them, you get some hard puffs like, some wildies.”
One person was asked how he’d feel if his best friend turned out to be gay. He replied, laughing: “He is! My mate! Not with me though.”
A gentleman in a top hat said: “Well, what can you do? It’s a thing that they’re born with, if they’re born with it they can’t help it.”
Not everyone was comfortable with the prospect of a close friend coming out, with one woman admitting: “I think I’d feel differently towards them, [but] I’d try and act the same.”
Another replied: “Well, I definitely wouldn’t like it but if it happened I don’t suppose there’s much you can do about it.”
And an older woman added: “I think I would have sympathy with him because he’s sick, he needs help.”
Many from the older generation revealed views that were less than tolerant. An elderly woman told the interviewer: “I don’t find any fault with [gay people]. I mean to say I feel it’s disgusting myself, but they can’t help it, can they?”
Interestingly, no one had a problem with children having a homosexual teacher – although Thatcher would later ban the “promotion” of gay relationships in schools, claiming this went against “traditional moral values”.
One woman said she’d be fine with a gay man teaching her children, “As long as he did his job and what he was supposed to do and didn’t influence the children in any way.”
“I don’t think I would mind,” agreed another. “Doesn’t make any difference to the teaching does it? What they do in their private lives is their own business.”
Another local said: “You get used to them things these days. We’re living in an enlightened world, aren’t we?”
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It’s a stark contrast to the rising anti-gay rhetoric which would come to define the dialogue on LGBT+ rights in the years ahead.