I am what I am! LGBT History Month

By Mike Beaman, FRPharmS, retired pharmacist

I am writing this blog in support of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s response to LGBT History Month.  Although not a gay activist I have, nevertheless, been generally open about my lifestyle since coming to terms with being a gay man back in the early 1970s.

I was born in 1947 so I was 19 and a university undergraduate when the legislation decriminalising homosexuality became law in 1967. I was already a young adult and therefore having an intimate relationship with another man before that time would have been a criminal act and would also have resulted in my being sent down from university and unable to eventually register as a pharmacist.

Over the years I have often been asked when I first realised I was gay and I have to admit that it didn’t happen overnight. I suppose I knew I was different from the majority of boys at my school but wasn’t sure how or why. This was perhaps because there was no role model or infrastructure for gay men at that time as a consequence of the law.

It took some time to come to terms with being gay and the biggest single event which helped me was the fact that I trained and eventually worked as a pharmacist in the hospital service. Hospitals, even back in the 1960’s & 70’s, were inclusive organisations embracing diversity. It didn’t matter what your colour, creed or life-style was, everyone was treated equally and with respect. My first date was with one of the medical registrars at my hospital and neither of us felt awkward or compromised by this. Had I been in another profession, e.g. teaching, things might have been very different! I decided at the outset to be open about my life style to family and friends and work colleagues. I just felt a sense of relief at knowing what I was and the hospital gave me that level of confidence.

Its not my intention to dwell too much on relationships but I met a trainee priest whom I lived with for about 8 years prior to moving to London in 1983. He eventually became ordained but not without a lot of setbacks owing to the Church’s position in the 1970’s on homosexuality; this is still a problem that remains unresolved.

On moving to London, I met John who was a dentist near where I lived in Barnet. We were together for over 30 years until his untimely death, following a short illness, in 2014.We did our civil partnership (CP) in January 2006 shortly after the legislation came into force. That was a major step forward for us as we were now next of kin as well as securing our assets and pensions for each other. I was probably one of the first pharmacists to undertake CP and we published it in the PJ too. I don’t recall any other members doing this!

John attended as my partner when I received my Fellowship of RPS back in 1995 as well as attending many pharmacy social events at branch and regional level. As a consequence, he was very well acquainted with many of my pharmacy colleagues including a couple of former Presidents and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their support over the years particularly during my bereavement.

So now in 2019 this is perhaps a time for reflection on how far we have come. In addition to CP we now have same sex marriage and the possibility of parenthood via adoption or conception. I have been very fortunate in not experiencing any form of prejudice over the years apart from one exception in the 1980’s when I had a Chief Executive who was basically homophobic. It was only through the intervention and support of my Regional Pharmaceutical Officer that this was resolved. I appreciate that other have been less fortunate but I do genuinely believe that Society is far more accepting and aware of LGBT these days.

In conclusion I have often been sustained by the views of well-known personalities. A former Dean of my local cathedral stated that ‘being gay was a given not a choice’. The well known novelist, E.M.Forster, writing about the problems of a gay man coming out commented that ‘the English had never come to terms with human nature!’ I think that last statement adequately sums up the challenges of being LGBT in today’s society!

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