12 January, 1994
It was a momentous month for gay rights. On January 12, Suede drummer Simon Gilbert attended the House of Commons to call for the lowering in the homosexual age of consent. He recalls, “I had appeared on an interview for then newly formed Radio 5 with Sarah Graham who was part of (gay rights group) OutRage! She asked me to come along to the House of Commons and provide a small speech as part of the gay age of consent campaign, as there was a vote coming up to lower it from 21 to 16. I agreed straight away and set about writing a few words, helped by a really good friend of mind, Kate Pendry who had experience of such things.
“It became clear to me, however, that I was far from my comfort zone and I nearly pulled out because public speaking was really not for me. However, with encouragement from Sarah, Kate, the rest of Suede and even a phone call from Peter Tatchell, I went ahead.”
Gilbert recalls that he had never been so nervous, but he felt strongly about the cause at hand, declaring that as a young person, “I didn’t know much about the law then, but by the time I was 16 it was the law that was my biggest fear. I was fearful of being arrested.”
"Stephen Fry gave me the biggest handshake I ever had, Pam St Clement was lovely, as was Ian McKellen. Then MP Chris Smith gave me a kiss."
At the House, he found support from an assembled array of fellow speakers and celebs.
“I remember Stephen Fry gave me the biggest handshake I ever had, Pam St Clement was lovely, as was Ian McKellen. Then MP Chris Smith gave me a kiss in front of photographers – something that even I was shocked at!”
Suede turned out in force. “I was really touched that Bernard was there, as things in the Suede camp were at boiling point around that time, but he offered support as I fumbled, dry-mouthed through a speech that lasted just two minutes. Playing in a band was easy in comparison, I had my drums and fellow musicians in front of me, acting as a barrier. And I remember Jimmy Somerville (singer with The Communards) scowling at me from the back of the room – I think I had slagged him off during an interview, so his disapproval was probably justified.”
On January 24, members of OutRage! were also in evidence at pop-rapper Marky Mark’s instore record signing at Virgin London flagship shop, where he was in town to sign copies of a work out video. The placard-carrying activists invaded the store to protest at his alleged homophobia, one banner depicted the man born Mark Wahlberg naked and showing his privates, one caption reading “Not just a tiny mind”, while another demanded “Drop your prejudice with your trousers,” a reference to Marky Mark’s employment as a model for Calvin Klein underwear.
The venom of OutRage! was apparently sparked by Wahlberg’s 1993 appearance on gonzo television programme The Word. During the show he appeared to endorse the homophobic comments of ragga star Shabba Ranks, who had announced that all gays “deserved crucifixion”, informing host Mark Lamarr that he, Ranks, lived by the Bible and it’s righteousness and that God commanded man to “go forth and multiply”. Marky Mark claimed he supported Ranks, saying, “Shabba Ranks speaks his mind, his opinion – and if you can’t deal with that, step the fuck off.”
Following the furore that followed, Marky Mark was forced to issue a statement condemning all anti-gay hatred and violence. But many remained unmoved by the retraction. In the States, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance cancelled a proposed series of public service announcements that were to have been made by him. The age of consent was finally equalised in January 2001. Looking back, Gilbert says he doesn’t recall Marky Mark’s antics, and that he has no idea if his own coming out made any real impact. “Maybe it opened a few doors for thought and discussion but that’s all,” he muses. “I’ve been living in Thailand for many years now. Here it doesn’t matter to anyone if you are gay, straight or into shagging tree stumps… it’s all fine, almost irrelevant.” He adds that a film on Suede that he’s been putting together is finally about to go into production. “Pulse who made the Blur film are onboard and I have a great director Giorgio Testi, at the helm. It’s going to be a massive task, as there’s so much good footage in amongst the 600 hours I have. It’s a case of what do I leave out rather than what do I put in? It’s all looking quite good.”