‘Growing up in the 50s and 60s, being gay was not an option’
- Credit: Archant
Every month until Hitchin Pride, the Comet will feature members of the LGBQT+ community – who will share their personal experiences with the wider world.
This month, we're focusing on North Herts District Council's Leader Cllr Martin Stears-Handscomb, who is married to his partner Ian.
Speaking to the Comet, the 69-year-old said: "Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, being gay was not an option.
"Homosexuality was illegal until 1967 and only then in private. As far as I knew I had never met a 'gay' person - apart from one older lad at school who was bullied and accused of being 'a homo'. I knew I didn't want to be 'one of them'.
"Indeed. 'being gay' didn't mean what it does today and by the time I went to university in 1969, I was engaged to a woman, despite questioning my own sexuality. Safe to say the relationship didn't last.
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"When I came to work in Stevenage I met a lovely woman and in 1976 we were married. Twenty years and four children later, the marriage ended - mainly because for me, political activism came first.
"Being married to a woman had always been something of a miracle to me and it wasn't likely to happen again. I knew I was gay.
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"There were very few gay role models then. Warren in TV's This Life only ever seemed to manage a one-night stand. I was interested in finding a long-term companion.
"As a Baptist Christian I was fortunate to attend a church in Hitchin where the Minister knew me well enough to listen when I came out.
"He accompanied me on my journey of accepting myself. I then became part of LGBT Christian groups, helping churches understand who gay people are. It's not a matter of choice, but a matter of integrity!
"In 2001, I attended the national conference of Baptists in Blackpool, where I met Ian. He would go on to become my civil partner in 2008, the day before he retired.
"For us, it's the little things that cement our relationship - holding hands on a quiet beach and getting our feet wet. How it makes me feel when he takes me in his arms.
"While I have been very fortunate, I'm conscious that many LGBT people are less so, such as the 21 per cent who suffered hate crimes in the last year.
"That's why people like me need to share our stories and why I am so proud that Hitchin is planning its first Pride event."