Lord Michael Cashman: ‘We Must Associate With the Fight of LGBT People Across the World. Their Battle Is Ours’
The British actor and politician tells Tim Teeman: ‘We have traveled a long distance and achieved a great deal, but we need to achieve more and ensure our rights are universal.’
In this special series, LGBT celebrities and public figures talk to Tim Teeman about the Stonewall Riots and their legacy—see more here.
Lord Michael Cashman is co-founder of LGBT campaign organization Stonewall UK. As Colin Russell in the BBC’s EastEnders, he made history with the corporation’s first primetime soap opera gay kiss. He now sits in the U.K.'s House of Lords.
When and how did you first hear about the Stonewall Riots, and what did you make of them?
I didn’t really hear about the Stonewall Riots as a big event and I think that’s primarily because the United Kingdom media didn’t reflect what was going on, especially in relation to the lives, the real lives, of LGBT people. I learned about it much later in the 1970s when I began my political education about my sexual orientation—the early Pride marches that I went on in London and taking strength from them, and from the activists in the dark period of the AIDS/HIV early years.
What is the significance of the riots for you now?
The significance of the Stonewall Riots was a group of people saying, “Enough is enough; this further and no more. We will not be the easy arrest figures. We will not be the ones that you laugh at when it suits you and then attack us when it doesn’t.”
It was a group of people on the fringes of society who demanded to be at the center with everybody else.
This came home so clear to me and Ian McKellen and the other founders of Stonewall UK when the Thatcher government in 1988 introduced Section 28, which forbid the “promotion” of homosexuality, the first anti-LGBT law in a hundred years.
That they did this during the period when HIV and AIDS was devastating our communities signaled that they wanted to force us underground. They wanted us to be a group that not dare mention its name and dare not to be seen. But we stood up to the challenge and we fought back with the determination to achieve nothing other than equality.
That is why we decided to call our nascent organization Stonewall in recognition of the birth of the modern LGBT rights movement. Again taking inspiration from New York, we decided that our organization had to have gender equality also at its heart: No longer would lesbians and gay men fight among each another; we would fight the external battles instead.
How far have LGBT people come since 1969?
Since 1969 we have traveled a long distance, and we have achieved a great deal, but we need to achieve more and ensure that our rights are universal, and that they travel with us and that we do not leave them in the countries where we are citizens.
We must also associate with the fight of other LGBT+ people across the world. Their battle is ours. Then we truly respect the universality of human rights, and that includes LGBT+ rights. While we have achieved enormous advances, LGBT rights are always under attack, they will always need defending and promoting.
But we must remember this above all else: We have seen the realization of equality or partial equality, but it has been achieved by thousands of generations of LGBT+ people and our allies who stood up, who would not remain quiet, and who often gave their liberty and sometimes their lives in order that we can realize now the simple beauty of equality.
What would you like to see, LGBT-wise, in the next 50 years?
My ambition for the next 50 years is that we are all treated equally, no matter where we are born, where we live, and that difference is no longer placed at the heart of the equation unless we choose to place it therein. And I hope that in the next 50 years difference is eternally celebrated, and we recognize that we are all individuals joined by a common humanity.