This year marks 50 years since homosexuality was decriminalised. The media is flooded with remembrances and there are many arts and cultural highlights which will mark the decriminalisation and events around it. As ever, Channel Four observed this important milestone with a series of dynamic, relevant and inclusive programmes.
I watched #GreatGayBuildings with interest. I was moved by the telling of every story, each presenter honestly and proudly stating their sexuality and the importance of a building and its occupants. I felt a pride at how far we have come and excited to live in a time of increased acceptance and continued activism for equality.
Revered Richard Coles stood in the iconic gay club Heaven. He is a man I admire for his authenticity in sexuality and in faith, and, following this programme, for his love of disco. He talked about Heaven, and barman Terence Higgins who was one of the first people in the UK to die from AIDS and in whose name a charity was founded to personalise and humanise the illness. I thought then about the Fitzrovia Chapel, which I feel could be added to the list of #GreatGayBuildings.
As the chapel of the former Middlesex Hospital, our building was a place of reflection and quiet contemplation for all associated with the hospital. The hospital pioneered care and treatment of AIDS patients in its dedicated ward. This was the first of its kind. The Broderip Ward was opened by the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and it was reported by Buckingham Palace at the time that she ‘shook hands with nine homosexual patients to “explode’ the myth that the disease can be passed through casual contact.”’ This act brought much needed attention, understanding and compassion for those living with, caring for or loving those with AIDS. In an era of homophobia, paranoia and hostility, where the LGBT community continually felt marginalised from society, despite the decriminalisation just over a decade before, the Broderip Ward offered a safe and loving space.
At the chapel, we open our doors for reflection and quiet contemplation. As the only remaining part of the former hospital, we meet the staff, the patients and the loved ones of those treated at there and that includes those associated with the Broderip Ward. For them, we are an important landmark; for them, we are a #GreatGayBuilding.
Reverend Coles explained that Heaven was, and remains, a place of acceptance and celebration, with doors open wide and proudly for the gay community. That is also our history — and our future. We are proud of our inclusive heritage and our doors remain open to the whole community for reflection and quiet contemplation.