Russell T. Davies: ‘Our Rights are Hard Won and Easily Lost. I Think Our Advances are Paper-Thin’
As well as the issues facing LGBT people, the ‘Queer as Folk’ creator says: ‘We’ve got to allow for the joy. Our equality, our marriages, our visibility. Let’s celebrate that.’
In this special series, LGBT celebrities and public figures talk to Tim Teeman about the Stonewall Riots and their legacy—see more here.
Russell T. Davies
Multi-award winning TV show creator (Queer as Folk, Cucumber, many others); and screenwriter (A Very English Scandal and many others). Most recently, he created and wrote Years and Years on HBO.
When/how did you first hear about the Stonewall Riots, and what did you make of it?
Hard to remember, I suppose I was in my twenties, which would be the 1980s. Back then, the story was always told in relation to Judy Garland’s funeral. I know, in the years since, that’s been proven to be untrue, but that doesn’t worry me.
History isn’t just facts, we tell the story we like. Straight history has been doing that for years, from the Gospels to “Kiss me, Hardy.” So if our history becomes legend too, there’s nothing wrong with that. Anything that helps the story to be told.
What is their significance for you?
Well, it’s part of a chain. I was 6 when Stonewall happened, and I doubt it was even mentioned in this country (the U.K.), so for me, it’s taken a longer path to become part of the story of activism.
In my living memory, I think of the Act Up protesters during the AIDS crisis, and the marches we went on to stop Section 28, and now the Extinction Rebellion protests. As the writer Matthew Todd keeps pointing out, brilliantly, climate change will cause societal collapse, which will result in the massive restriction of LGBT rights.
So, all these battles are connected. From Stonewall to the '80s to now, it’s all one legacy, it’s actually the same fight, over and over again. It feels like a proud tradition.
How far have LGBT people come since 1969?
Well, huge advances, at least here in the West and in Westernized societies. Vast numbers of us enjoy lives unimaginable to those protesters in 1969. And yet, the bigger picture is more worrying. Russia stands there brazenly attacking us. This country does business with Brunei. Our treatment in large parts of Africa is horrific.
But still, while the problems are evident, we’ve got to allow for the joy. I genuinely think that’s important, to hold on to the good stuff. Our equality, our marriages, our visibility. Let’s celebrate that.
What would you like to see, LGBT-wise, in the next 50 years?
That’s where the joy falters, for me. I think our advances are paper-thin. When we consider the president and vice president of the United States—and the entire party behind them, with its colossal money and power—we should be terrified. Women, gays, people of color, all of us, terrified.
And within this country, it’s possible that we’re close to having Boris Johnson as prime minister, that sinister clown who will do anything for a vote. He’d sell us down the river while fucking his latest mistress. I know I sound alarmist, but I’ve been worried about this for years, and it keeps getting closer and closer. Our rights are hard won and easily lost. I am not confident, at all, that we’ll be this equal in 50 years time. That spirit of Stonewall will be needed, over and over again.