De­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, 50 years on

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - KASHMIRA GAN­DER What does the an­niver­sary mean to you? Why did you feel it was im­por­tant to write the book? What did you want read­ers to take from it? Do you think the story is still im­por­tant to­day? It must have been a scary de­ci­sion to do a doc­u­men­tar

TWO weeks be­fore the Rev Si­mon Bai­ley took up his first post as a rec­tor in the sleepy south York­shire min­ing vil­lage of Din­ning­ton in 1985, aged 30, he learnt he had HIV.

At that time, the disease was a death sen­tence, his sis­ter and writer Rose­mary Bai­ley says, 20 years af­ter she first pub­lished his bi­og­ra­phy Scar­let Rib­bons: A Priest with Aids. And be­ing a gay man – like the Rev Bai­ley – was tol­er­ated, not ac­cepted, by many in so­ci­ety.

For years, Bai­ley con­tin­ued his work with­out be­ing both­ered by symp­toms as the virus silently at­tacked his body. Even­tu­ally, the virus de­vel­oped into Aids. He kept quiet un­til 1992, when he be­came the first priest in the UK to openly work while suf­fer­ing from Aids. He con­tin­ued to of­fi­ci­ate mar­riages, preach ser­mons, and per­form holy com­mu­nions and fu­ner­als. By the sum­mer of 1993 he weighed 42.5kg. In Jan­uary 1995, Bai­ley was the fo­cus of the BBC1 doc­u­men­tary Si­mon’s Cross. Ten months later, he was dead.

To mark the an­niver­sary of the par­tial de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity and the re­lease of the new edi­tion of the book, Rose­mary Bai­ley spoke about watch­ing her brother die and his legacy.

When I re­pub­lished the book it wasn’t just for the story, ex­pe­ri­ences and courage that my brother showed to be bet­ter known, but to show the in­cred­i­ble sup­port he got from the com­mu­nity 20 years ago. It made me re­alise that when he was 11 or 12, I didn’t know he was gay. I had never heard of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity un­less my father preached against it from the pul­pit. At the time we were a very strict Bap­tist fam­ily and it would have been seen as a sin, and it was also a crime. That wasn’t some­thing I fully ap­pre­ci­ated when I wrote that book and this an­niver­sary has made me re­alise that.

Most of all, those peo­ple in a tough min­ing vil­lage had a choice about how to re­spond when they dis­cov­ered he had Aids. They chose to be sym­pa­thetic. They chose to re­spond with the love that they had been work­ing on to­gether as a parish.

Ab­so­lutely. Not only be­cause of the an­niver­sary but also in terms of the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate of divi­sion. The very fact that peo­ple have re­sponded to this story the sec­ond time around, 20 years since it first came out, is pre­cisely be­cause it’s a pos­i­tive, hu­man in­ter­est story that isn’t about peo­ple get­ting more and more dif­fi­cult and na­tion­al­ist and de­fen­sive and so on. It’s more rel­e­vant now than then, ac­tu­ally.

There was a tremen­dous re­sponse. We watched it in the rec­tory. The phone started ring­ing be­fore the pro­gramme had even fin­ished. This is be­fore the in­ter­net. The let­ters poured in.

At the time it was a death sen­tence. Si­mon was tak­ing ex­per­i­men­tal med­i­ca­tion which later be­come AZT, which is still used. I re­mem­ber go­ing to the hos­pi­tal with him and hear­ing about this new drug com­bi­na­tion. And he was as thin as a rake and they said: “Si­mon, it’s too late for you.” It was still some­thing you had to come to terms with.

When you re­vis­ited the book, what was it like go­ing back over what hap­pened 20 years later?

Even though it’s des­per­ately sad it’s such a pow­er­ful story. I felt so priv­i­leged to have been able to write it.

I can only speak through Si­mon be­cause that is my only real knowl­edge, but I would say what he said about his own work – that it was pos­si­bly an ad­van­tage be­ing ho­mo­sex­ual. That sense of alien­ation might have helped him to be a priest and help give him a sense of un­der­stand­ing of other peo­ple. It’s a pos­i­tive thing.

He man­aged to do some­thing pos­i­tive with his sex­u­al­ity and to show that it’s pos­si­ble to do things dif­fer­ently. – The In­de­pen­dent

PIC­TURE: NAVESH CHITRAKAR / REUTERS

HALL­MARK: The red ribbon is the uni­ver­sal sym­bol of aware­ness and sup­port for peo­ple liv­ing with HIV/Aids.

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