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Silver Pride pioneers in overdue celebration of older LGBTQ+ people

Older LGBTQ+ people have different life experiences and different problems. Silver Pride celebrates their stories of love, hope and activism. We spoke to three of the contributors to the festival about the issues they need to fight for.

For more than half a century, Pride marches, parades and events have been focal points of protest, commemoration and celebration for LGBTQ+ people and their allies. But Silver Pride offers something new, and, some would argue, overdue.

Pride events originated in 1970 in the US to mark the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots the previous year. Since then, Pride has spread across the world. In the UK alone, there are usually more than 100 annual Pride events, and although Covid-19 will prevent much of the face-to-face revelry, it will not quieten the voices. But the exact mix of serious issues and party atmosphere, plus increased corporate sponsorship, can be a source of contention. And for a movement prioritising inclusivity, some age groups can feel excluded.

Silver Pride launched last year in Leeds as the first festival aimed specifically at an older LGBTQ+ audience. It returns on July 30 for three days of online events, talks, screenings, discussions and remembrances – featuring actor Alan Cumming, bestselling crime writer Val McDermid, Radio 4’s Paddy O’Connell, legendary photographer Sunil Gupta, Emmerdale‘s Michelle Hardwick, writers Matt Cain and Matthew Todd, DJ sets and an exclusive preview of new feature documentary Maisie, about Britain’s oldest drag artiste.

Silver Pride aims to connect older LGBTQ+ people, celebrate the everyday heroism of people living their authentic lives, promote intergenerational discussion and commemorate those who campaigned for the freedoms so many enjoy today.

We spoke to three of the contributors – artist David Platts, Maisie filmmaker Lee Cooper, and activist Kiaz Trepte. Taken together, their stories offer insight into the big issues facing older LGBTQ+ people, the times they have lived through, and why Silver Pride is so vital.

‘I saw the Stonewall Inn but didn’t dare to go in’

David Platts, 80, is an acclaimed artist from Yorkshire who will be talking about art and history at this year’s Silver Pride event. Remarkably, he can trace his links with Pride right back to its inception – having found himself near the Stonewall Inn on a fateful night in June 1969.

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Though he was not yet out, David Platts was, he says, within earshot of the Stonewall Riots in June 1969, when police raided The Stonewall Inn, sparking a defiant fightback by New York’s gay community. It took him a further 50 years, however, to attend a Pride march.

“I was at art college and won the travel scholarship to North America for the summer of 1969. I ended up in New York,” says Platts, speaking via Zoom from his Yorkshire home.

“Out of curiosity, one day I found Christopher Street and the gay bookshops. I saw the Stonewall Inn but didn’t dare to go in. I went back out in the early hours and was peering in the bookshop windows when I heard this commotion down the street. The police arrived. I thought, this is the moment, David, when you take your exit.

“I found out the next day about the Stonewall Riots, walked back down and could see there had been a fire. People were making speeches. I was there amongst this throng of gay people.”

Platts pauses. He sheds a tear. “It moves me now,” he continues, his voice unsteady. “My heart told me something. I just felt, I’m one of you but I can’t join you yet.”

Platts was 29 at the time and unsure of his sexual identity.

“It’s the same story for many of us,” he says. “I lived in a heterosexual society and didn’t know anything about homosexuality. So I couldn’t put two and two together. I knew what I was feeling – I wasn’t desiring everything in a pair of trousers, but I knew I had a greater affection for some men. It never went anywhere. It was just in me and my heart.

“When I was a teenager and in my 20s, if we were out, we were living against the law. We could have been arrested, imprisoned – not for doing anything, just being ourselves.

“With Covid I’ve had a lot of time to think and I’ve remembered that time before I came out. I thought, in an old-fashioned way, Oh, well, I’ll be what they call a bachelor.”

I was not going to lead a double life – I was not going to hide itDavid Platts, artist

David Platts, artist

Five years later, Platts was working a lecturer at local art colleges in Yorkshire. He intervened when a student was attacked on the street, and was assaulted himself.

“I lost my teeth, which you may notice,” he says, offering a gappy grin.

“I was hospitalised for a while but in a lot of our lives, something good comes out of adversity. It had all been building in my mind, and I had to sort out my feelings, about being homosexual. I thought it is either natural – so what’s the big deal, or it is a great sin I’ve got to get rid of.

“I spent hours in my flat contemplating my situation. And I realised, look, David, this innate feeling has always been with you. You were born this way. It’s not an alternative, it is not to be tolerated, it is not second best. It just is.

“I didn’t know anything about the reality of being a gay man. I came to these decisions myself. Perhaps that is why they were so profound and meaningful for me. I remember it was a Friday. And I chuckled as I looked in the mirror and thought, ‘well, it’s still you, David. You’ve not come out in pink spots, you’re the same person you were last night’. But I was not going to lead a double life. I was not going to hide it.

“I went to see my mother and said, I don’t fully understand it myself but I’m homosexual. My mother, a very religious woman but very kind, you know what she did? She put her arms around me and said, I’ve always known, and I love you.”

What happened next might just be the stuff of fairytales. Platts had no frame of reference, no friends or public figures to inspire or guide him.

“Can you see I thought in a heterosexual way? I thought, what do people do? They look for a partner to get engaged. They get married,” he says.

So he furtively added a copy of Gay News to the pile of design and fashion magazines he bought each month from a newsagent in Sheffield. “I got to know them later, the shop was owned by a gay couple. He came to Gay News, smiled and discreetly put it in a brown paper bag for me. That made an impression on me. The kindness.”

We weren’t hiding. We lived together in northern England, in suburbia. So I suppose we were making a statement in that wayDavid Platts

David Platts

Platts plucked up even more courage and put in a personal ad. He went through the replies forensically, and one stood out.

“I didn’t know you should meet on neutral territory, so I invited him round for dinner. It turned out to be Nicholas Coombs. And it was love at first sight. We were together for 42 years,” he says, recalling their moves around Yorkshire, career changes as Nick opened a gallery, and the way Nick looked after him following a heart attack, only to fall ill with bowel cancer before his death in August 2017.

“Nick was a lovely person. It came as such a shock. I’ve come a long way, I can talk about him without bursting into tears. I can think about him and smile. I was very lucky to have a wonderful human being as a real soulmate.”

It was not always easy. Platts struggled with his grief. But an article in The Big Issue helped him find a support network.

“I didn’t know what to do with myself. My world was torn apart,” he says now. “But a friend of ours had seen an article in The Big Issue about Friends of Dorothy [a group for older LGBT people], which was based in Leeds. She told me about them, I looked them up, made contact, left a message.

“I was bereft. I admit, I was considering ending it all. But Craig [Burton, founder of Friends of Dorothy and Silver Pride] rang and it stopped me in my tracks. I started attending meetings. It was literally a lifesaver.”

Many of us live on our own and don’t have too much contactDavid Platts

David Platts

Despite almost being at the Stonewall Riots, Platts did not attend Pride until after Nick’s death. But with his new friends at his side, he attended Leeds Pride in 2019.

“I wanted to but Nick was more reserved. We weren’t hiding. We lived together in northern England, in suburbia. So I suppose we were making a statement in that way,” he says.

“I think of all the crowds of people clapping and cheering. Gosh, it’s only a handful of years before that we would have been ridiculed, mocked, scoffed at. We are not in utopia yet. A lot more work has to be done. There’s a lot of ignorance and homophobia still around. But it’s better. It’s better for younger people as well. They can just be themselves, generally speaking. So it was wonderful.”

Platt’s story is perhaps typical of the era, when little knowledge or representation meant gay men and women were often left to find their own way to enlightenment about their sexuality. Silver Pride helps that same generation alleviate another common situation – loneliness in older life.

“Last summer we had a weekend of online activities, there were talks on all sorts, from keeping chickens to me talking about my art,” says Platts. “This year it is even more elaborate, and there are celebrities! But it also has an online group. Many of us live on our own and don’t have too much contact.

“I’ve never been a group person, so this is a new experience for me. But with Silver Pride, I see what’s going on online every day. I rarely chip in, but I’m actively involved reading the messages. And it is contact.

“Thinking of Nick, it would upset him if I had given up and felt sorry for myself. He would want me to have a fulfilled rest of my life and be happy, because he truly loved me.”

‘Drag isn’t just RuPaul. And Pride isn’t just a big party’

Lee Cooper is a filmmaker. His first feature, Maisie, about Britain’s oldest drag artiste, debuted recently at Sheffield Doc Fest and Cooper will be at Silver Pride for a special preview event of the film, which follows Maisie Trollette, now 87.

I’m a massive fan of drag culture in all its forms,” says Cooper. “I met David Raven, who performs as Maisie, through a mutual friend and he is a fascinating character who has been performing for more than 50 years. He has seen it all – from when drag and gay culture was very underground, because it was still illegal, and the police raids at the Vauxhall Tavern in the 1980s, to the rise of gay culture and more understanding of the LGBTQ experience.

“For the film, I followed him for three years, up to his 85th birthday. During our filming, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. But he’s still in a good place, still performing – and still remembers every single word of the songs when he’s on stage.

“The film shows him facing the challenges of old age, which I don’t think anybody really wants to think about, particularly in our community. It’s just not sexy.

“At Pride we see wonderful, colourful celebrations with all these young drag queens and people in their pants – it feels very energetic and youthful. But some of the older generation, who had a more difficult time can feel a little bit left behind. And no one wants to talk about it.

“You’re twice as likely to live on your own as an older gay man or woman than if you’re straight. There are a lot of people up and down the country who are quite isolated. Our film tries to shines a light on how that little doddery old man with his cane – you don’t know who he is, you don’t know the life he’s leading, you certainly don’t know the life he’s led – that, that he performed in Palm Springs with big, big names, sat alongside Shirley Bassey.

“In the UK, we’re not particularly good with our elders full stop, LGBTQ or otherwise. We’ve lost a lot of respect for the older generation. I sound like a really old person – but I’m Silver Pride’s target market. I’m 50 next year. I feel it quite keenly. There are people who have had to go back into the closet now they’ve retired to communities that are not as open and diverse.

We need to preserve and share these stories nowLee Cooper, filmmaker

Lee Cooper, filmmaker

“But I think this film transcends the LGBTQ community. This is a bigger story about ageing and friendship and who’s going to look after us in our twilight years.

“That’s why I got involved with Silver Pride, to share this story. It is so important to show where we come from.

“Most people know about Stonewall, but what about all the other big stories? There isn’t much archive because culturally, it was all underground. It was illegal. Maisie is one of a dying breed. So we need to preserve and share these stories now.

“I’m from Manchester. Pride is obviously huge there and I’d go to London Pride when it was in Clapham Common, the good old days almost. And as I get older, I feel more passionately about the importance of it. Now there’s more corporate sponsorship, it’s important that the original message isn’t lost.

“Because drag isn’t just RuPaul. And Pride isn’t just a big party.”

‘There isn’t a celebration of pensionable age gay people. But we’re here’

Kiaz Trepte has worked in fashion since she was a teenager, training under Vivienne Westwood, and marching and protesting alongside her career. She says Silver Pride is a way to pass down hard-won wisdom to future generations and contributes to This Is Me, a film made for Silver Pride 2021.

“I’ve always been involved in gay politics doing marches. I wore out a lot of shoe leather when I was younger – going through the ’80s and ’90s in London as an out lesbian was amazing, a very interesting time to grow up,” says Trepte.

“I left home at 16. By that time, I had girlfriends – so I started off without anyparental control, which was quite nice.I didn’t really have to come out. I just had to work out that the rest of the world wasn’t as happy with it as I was. 

“Ever since, I’ve always fought through politics – either through the student unions or on marches. I started off very young, going to Pride in London when it was still in Jubilee Gardens and was tiny, right through to when it became a huge sponsored event.

“I miss that original Pride feeling, standing outside Parliament’s gates, shouting. It was much more visceral. They’re quite prim, the younger generation. We were a little louder. Part of me quite enjoyed the friction. Friction can sometimes be a really good way of sparking invention. And without that friction, everything gets a little bit flat.

“Silver Pride is so important. As we all get older, there are different set of problems. We’ve got lesbian friends bringing up a child, friends with older children going to university – and we still have to keep coming out every time. Every time we get a different job, every time we buy something from a shop.

“We still have issues we need to fight for. We don’t suddenly go into retirement and have a happy, jolly time. We are having a much better time – I’m not being punched in the face as much, I feel a lot safer. But there’s still a long way to go.

Things can slip backwards so quickly if you don’t keep your protest vocal and visibleKiaz Trepte, who works in fashion

Kiaz Trepte, who works in fashion

“For example, Love Is Not Cancelled is a campaign I’m part of – and it’s trying to keep older generations of gay and lesbian couples together after they go into care homes. There’s been horrible situations where people have been separated against their will.

“Could we set up gay care homes? It’d be great if we all wore feather boas and had big parties every Saturday night until the day we die. It sounds idyllic. And it would be a good space to have people who are of like mind, enjoy the same pursuits and can talk about their histories together without fear of further repercussions. For gay people these things are a very big deal.

“There isn’t really a celebration of pensionable-age gay people. But we’re here. And there is so much to pass on to younger generations – like how important it is to carry on marching and being political. Because things can slip backwards so quickly if you don’t keep your protest vocal and visible. We’re worn out. We’ve done it for years. We did it so you could be here. Don’t just take it for granted.

“But also, we can show how there is a positive way to get old, go into retirement, stay married, have long relationships. I see Silver Pride as a library for all these experiences.”

Silver Pride runs from 30 July – 2 August. A limited run of David Platts’ acclaimed screen printed Strawberry series (which he began, inspired by The Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever and the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales, in 1967) is on sale to raise money for Silver Pride. Find out more here.

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