Tim Pickstone's LGBT History Month Blog

I arrived at Manchester AIDSLine, the organisation we now know as George House Trust, as a 22 year old Admin Worker at the end of 1990.


Only one word sums up the next 17 years I was lucky enough to work there - change. Change, massive change, in the way we understand and treat HIV.


All sorts of change in the role others (the community, NHS, government, local government) undertook.


Change - sadly not enough change - in the stigma and discrimination around HIV. Change for me - admin worker for a £80,000 organisation to Deputy Chief Executive of a £1 million organisation.

This LGBT History Month, it’s right to focus on the significant contribution made by the LGBT community.


The HIV voluntary sector came out of the gay community. Gay Men’s Health Crisis (New York 1982), Terrence Higgins Trust (London, 1982) and Manchester AIDSLine (Manchester 1985), were all people coming together in response to a crisis that was killing their mates in droves. I guess 90% of people we were helping at the start of the 90s were gay men, so this response is no surprise. Back in 1990 we had just moved into a purpose-built centre we had fundraised for and built ourselves (George House Trust).


The stigma and discrimination associated with HIV was so significant at the time that the address was secret, we just told people to look for the big number 7 on the door. Most of the people who came through our doors had sadly died by the middle of the decade, that’s how poor medical knowledge and treatments were. Some amazing people, who were never able to make their contribution to history in full.


My first memory of Manchester’s gay village’s contribution to the first August Bank Holiday weekend was where the Manchester AIDSLine team were robbed of their title in the ‘Gay Olympics’ that took place in the car park next to New York New York. The ‘Main Stage’ was the size of a dining table, and all I remember is repeat performances of drag Montserrat Caballé doing ‘Barcelona’. The weekend was raising money to buy televisions, for the rooms at the Infectious Diseases Unit at Monsall, a hospital long since demolished.


March forwards five years, and it’s George House Trust’s 10th birthday in 1995. Everything was bigger. More people were HIV positive. The NHS and local government had realised that it needed to put money into HIV prevention and care. As a result, the organisation was bigger. We’d moved twice and even bought a new building. The internet wasn’t what it is now, so provision of information to people (about treatments, medical conditions, employment rights etc) was a really important thing to do.


We’d just recruited to a new Gay Men’s Service Manager who over time set up a whole range of support services for HIV positive gay men.


That job advert was seriously radical at the time.


In 1995 Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act still in place (making it illegal for Local Authorities to promote homosexuality), the age of consent was unequal, same sex marriage was a pipe dream.


We spent hours in the run up to the 1997 General Election writing to every parliamentary candidate in the country asking them to repeal Section 28 and give us an equal age of consent. History will tell us that that Parliament did just that.


That tiny stage at August Bank Holiday weekend had grown exponentially first to a ‘Mardi Gras’ weekend, then the behemoth we know now as Manchester Pride. Those two gay guys doing drag on stage replaced by Ariana Grande in a multi-million pound event. Its worth saying that in the intervening years Pride raised well over £2 million for HIV support including keeping condoms free in the village for two decades.


The legacy of Manchester’s LGBT’s community response to HIV is significant. A lot of organisations have come and gone but Greater Manchester is unique as a city region to have successful organisations like George House Trust, and the LGBT Foundation, and of course the biggest Pride in the country – all of which owe their existence to that original response to HIV.


This contribution the community made is LGBT history.


Making so many people’s lives better, educating and challenging discrimination with so many more, is something we should all be proud of.


Tim Pickstone, Mayor Of Bury

February 26th 2022

Saturday, 26 February, 2022

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