Blog Post Image - William Motley

Interview with William Motley

To celebrate Pride month we’ll be launching our latest production, Gay Pride And No Prejudice which opens at the Union Theatre in Southwark on 8th October this year. 

This week we caught up with writer William Motley to discuss how attitudes towards equality have changed since the early nineteenth century when Gay Pride And No Prejudice is set.  We also talked about Pride 2024 and the impact it has had.  

In Gay Pride And No Prejudice Bingley and Darcy face the difficult decision of happiness together or social acceptance.  How do you feel the attitudes since the early 19th century have changed?

Attitudes have changed enormously since then, of course.

Most straight people in the early 19th century regarded marriage in quite pragmatic terms – it was a social and financial arrangement and, though they might have wished for instantaneous happiness, many were prepared to work hard at making happiness grow from their contract. So for gay people, who of course could not live openly, it was often the case that they constructed a marriage and then made separate arrangements with a lover.

It was not until the late 19th century that homosexuality became more defined and only in the 20th century that being gay became perceived as an identity. So most gay men in the Austen era would not have seen themselves as different from straight men – just that their particular tastes were directed in an unusual direction – and that a discreet arrangement was required to protect them from discovery.

At the time the laws against homosexuality were strict – though they were mainly against sodomy, which was a capital offence. The last two men to be hanged for sodomy were convicted in 1835 – twenty-two years after Austen’s book was published. However, the famous Labouchere amendment, which criminalised all male same-sex activity, was not passed until 1885.

It is not really until the late 20th century that society’s attitudes in Britain became more accepting and full equal marriage in the UK was only legalised two centuries after Pride and Prejudice was published.

And despite the dire warnings of certain people, the sky did not fall in and acceptance of gay marriage is remarkably widespread today.

On a global scale, do you feel we’re making progress in changing attitudes towards LGBTQ+ rights?

Great strides have been made in global acceptance of LGBTQ+ communities in recent time – but the picture is very unequal across the world and there’s a terrifying backlash in some places and in others opposition has hardened.

It is illegal in roughly 70 countries and in about ten there is the death penalty for being gay. In others gay people are killed systematically and with impunity – for example in Chechnya. For several decades the Christian Evangelical movement in the USA has been actively promoting anti-gay legislation round the world, notably in Africa, where Uganda recently brought in the death penalty, but also in Russia.

Anti-gay populist rhetoric is widely used now by right wing politicians even in the European Union and the United States of America. I think things will get much worse in some places in the near future and we must remember that it can all turn very quickly. Look how fast the situation changed for gay men in Wiemar Berlin, which had a thriving gay society with over a hundred gay clubs in the late 1920s but less than a decade later gay men were being rounded up, made to wear Pink Triangles and sent off to concentration camps. I recently read that when the Allies liberated the camps, they released most of the inmates – but not the homosexuals as they were deemed to have been correctly imprisoned.

What does Pride mean to you and what do you do to celebrate the occasion?

Pride means a great deal to me now. I first found out about it in my teens, around 1977, secretly watching a documentary on ‘Homosexuals’ on my tiny television in my room at home. It concentrated on the more flamboyant participants, with whom I did not particularly identify, but I did see a community out there to which I might belong.

As a teacher in the 1980s I was required to be discreet so did not attend Pride but when I changed career in the 1990s, I attended several times if I was in London and even went on a few marches to call for the abolition of the odious Section 28.

Gay Pride is now over 50 years old.  How do you feel the movement has changed lives?

Early on it was a small band of brave and serious men and women. Photos of the early marches show the parade surrounded by ranks of stern-faced policemen – presumably to protect innocent bystanders from contamination. Today the police are more likely to be dancing along with the parade. It’s turned into a huge party with all the family attending and having fun.

Visibility is the key – by standing proud (and being fabulous) Pride has shown us to be not a threat but a band of people like anyone else. It has also made LGBTQ+ representation in film and television etc much easier – and that’s where the real advance has been made. People have just got used to us being around.

This month I was invited back to my old school (all male, boarding) to attend their Pride drinks in the Headmaster’s Garden, with my husband. I talked to openly gay members of the school, confident and proud and looking forward to a life lived as themselves and without hiding. What a change!

Here in sleepy rural Herefordshire our small local town, still partially immersed

in the 1950s, will have three days of celebration of Pride. Shops have rainbow posters, local people seem supportive and there should be plenty of fun. I think there really has been a tectonic shift in attitudes.

With regards to LBGTQ+ rights, what would you like to see achieved over the next five years?

The next five years are going to be challenging for LGBTQ+ rights. Perhaps less so here in the UK than across the world. We will need to look outwards and find ways to support those in fear for their life and freedom just because of who they love.

I would like to see the heat taken out of the debates about trans issues. The T in LGBTQ+ is in need of support from all the other letters now. We should develop a calm, rational approach and try to be gentle and kind with those who might be supportive but have not yet got onto the same page. There’s too much shouting especially on social media.

I fear we will see much more of the ‘othering’ and scape-goating of all LGBTQ+ people in the next few years as the culture wars step up a gear and the anti-woke brigade get their knickers in a twist to garner support. Unfortunately, it seems to work. How long will equal marriage survive in the US?

We’d like to thank William for taking time to share his thoughts on LGBTQ+ rights and Pride and for proving such an insightful interview reflecting both the positive change and the work which still needs to be done.    

Gay Pride And No Prejudice runs at the Union Theatre in Southwark between 8th October and 2nd November. Click here to find out more.

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