Guest blog | Lytham Let Live for LGBT+ History Month
Andrew Noble is a Progress Housing Group tenant, a Progress Lifeline customer, and the founder of Lytham Let Live, an LGBT+ friendship group based on the Fylde Coast. Andrew lives with his husband John in St Annes, Lancashire.
Meeting John #LoveIsLove
"I met my now-husband John 20 years ago, and we were friends for a while before I knew he was gay! It was New Year's Eve in 2001, and we were standing chatting at the bar of the Lord Derby in Lytham St Annes. I'd secretly fancied him for ages, but until that night, I'd presumed he was straight. That night when he told me he was gay as well, it was like fireworks went off between us; S Club 7's Reach for the Stars was playing, and we've been together ever since!
"When it became legal to have a civil partnership, we had our wedding in Blackpool, followed by a beautiful reception in St Anne's. It was the most beautiful day, surrounded by all our family. We've been through a lot since, but it has just made us stronger."
Growing up and coming out in the 1980s, #TheyAlreadyKnew
"I came out in 1985 when I was 19, although my family told me they already knew! And I was accepted and loved by them in the same way I had been before. My mum was amazing, especially when I faced homophobia at my place of work (in a supermarket) in my early 20s. She told me to walk back into work with my head held high and be proud of who I am. And I did – she gave me the strength to do that. She was an amazing person.
"It's easy to look back at the 1980s with rose-tinted glasses - all leg-warmers and "Fame". But actually, I had a horrendous time at work. I was threatened, was waited for after work to be beaten up, suffered homophobic abuse and was told, "everyone like you has aids". I reported them, and they were disciplined, but it didn't tackle the hate; it just wasn't recognised as a hate crime back then.
"Other gay friends and colleagues who were 'in the closet' said that by being openly gay and reporting my colleagues, I was making a rod for my own back. But I drew strength from my mum. It was still a rough time, though. I had anxiety going into work. At that time, men didn't speak about mental health or LGBT+ issues, or open up very much at all really; that's one of the reasons LGBT+ visibility is so important nowadays."
Living in St Annes #Blessed
"John and I have lived in St Annes for over 20 years, and in all that time, we feel lucky that we've only experienced three episodes of homophobia, and we've reported each one, and action has been taken. But it's disappointing that it's still happening at all.
"What's it like to live in a Progress Housing Group property? Well, it's a beautiful neighbourhood and a fair rent, and for us, we do feel blessed to live here! We came from a private let, which was in disrepair, and it ended up being detrimental to John's health. But from day one, when we applied for and signed the tenancy agreement with Progress, we've felt accepted as a couple. I never ever felt the need to say John was my uncle or anything. We felt confident straight away that we could live freely as John and Andy.
To our neighbours, we are just John and Andy – Andy and John, and we are accepted for who we are. I wasted time in the 1980s living a lie, and I didn't want to do it again.
"Our neighbours are wonderful! Living here during the Covid-19 lockdowns brought us all much closer as a neighbourhood. We all stood on our doorsteps and clapped for carers, keyworkers and the NHS, and we took in each other's parcels. We take care of each other and the place we live in general. When you get to live in such a beautiful place, it gives you the motivation to keep it nice; I go outside and pick the litter up, I'll pull neighbours' bins out to help them as well.
"Before we lived in this house, John was becoming increasingly more ill. Now, thanks to Progress Housing Group and the additional reassurance we get from Progress Lifeline, we feel like John has a quality of life and his independence back."
About Lytham Let Live LGBT Friendship Group "What a difference acceptance in the community can make to someone's life."
"Ten years ago, when I was working as a Police Community Volunteer for Fylde Police, one of my first tasks was to set up an LGBT+ friendship group to reach out to the LGBT+ communities in St Anne's, Lytham, Kirkham and Wesham, and help tackle any hate crime.
"It's no longer police-led, but the group has continued and has grown from strength to strength – open to all from the LGBTQ+ community and our allies. It's now called Lytham Let Live, and it's still supported by the police and Fylde Council and other groups and charities.
"We meet monthly for a coffee and a chat and talk about our experiences and any issues. It's somewhere informal, friendly and relaxed where people can come to get advice or to have a chat with other like-minded people. Many mature and retired people attend, but it's also a great welcoming environment for any younger LGBTQ+ people to come along and get any advice or information they might need. I would have loved for there to have been a group like Lytham Let Live to go to for help and advice when I was younger. I think it would have made such a difference."
Why LGBT History Month is so important #RealMenDance
"I love the direction we seem to be heading in the UK in terms of acceptance and visibility. For example, look at last year's Strictly Come Dancing in terms of its diversity; to see John and Johannes dancing in the final, and Rose with all she's done for the deaf community as well, actually gave me goosebumps!
"Two men dancing together on a prime time Saturday night TV show might seem like the norm now, but it wasn't so long ago that it wouldn't have been accepted, and I think it's crucial to still remind ourselves of that. And the fact that in so many countries around the world, it is still illegal to be gay and that atrocities are still taking place against LGBT people.
"That's why I think it's important to mark LGBT+ History Month, to look back to remind ourselves how far we've come, what we've overcome, and also to acknowledge those people who still aren't allowed to be themselves or allowed to love who they love.
"Nowadays, I can go to the gym safely and have fun, do Zumba and do Body Pump and be entirely accepted for who I am. But back in the 1980s, I would never have stepped foot in a gym as they were seen as places where you had to be macho.
"During Pride Month, both my gym and Fylde Council now display the Pride flag. That means such a lot. Just knowing you are welcome and supported makes such a difference – and that leads me to my final hashtag: #InclusionAllTheWay!"
Lytham Let Live LGBT Friendship Group will celebrate its 10th anniversary during Pride Month in June 2022. You can find out more by contacting Andrew on 07943 401 919, and get updates from Lytham Let Live by following the group on Twitter @LythamLet.