So here we are at the Anne Lister rainbow plaque, unveiled in the grounds of Holy Trinity Church on February 28, 2019. I don’t think I’m related to Anne Lister of Shibden Hall, Halifax. However, like her, I have kept a daily diary since I was 13, and we are both lesbians.
Anne’s story is told in the BBC series Gentleman Jack and in the books by Helena Whitbread, who has spent over 30 years researching Anne’s diaries and the times she lived in – well worth further exploration.
But on to my own story. I was born into an RAF family in 1945 and accompanied them on two tours in India – before and after Partition. As a child I grew up with diversity as a given – an adventure to be relished. As a drama teacher, actor and director, I emigrated to New Zealand for five years in the 1970s, and to Canada for 14 years in the 1980s and 90s. It was in Vancouver that I met my life partner, Ann Murray, in 1986, while Artistic Director of Theatre Terrific – a company of disabled people. I taught classes and directed shows, and we toured schools throughout British Columbia with our casts and Ann at the wheel of the van.
Then my father, Wing-Commander George Lister, fell ill following the death of my mother, Marjorie. He ended up in a care home in the south of England. As the eldest child, I felt I had to stop gallivanting in Canada and return to the UK. But in 1996, there was no room for same-sex foreigners and Ann received notice of deportation.
Can you imagine what that felt like? They were asking me to choose whether to remain with my dying father or leave the country to be with my partner. Luckily for us, the Labour Government took over in 1997 and changed the immigration laws at once. Ann was allowed to stay, to my immeasurable relief. We were first in line to enter into a civil partnership in 2003 as part of the pilot project which heralded the legal recognition in 2005.
You have to stand up and be counted in order to secure your human rights.
Now settled in York, we began our activities.
- In 1999 we founded the Real People Theatre for women to explore social issues from their own point of view. We have created shows and workshops every year for York International Women’s Week (which I coordinated for nine years).
- In 2002 I became a trustee of the York Older People’s Assembly.
- In 2005 I started the first York 50+ Festival, coordinating up to 150 events by and for older people – a hugely successful venture engaging thousands of people each year.
- In 2006 the York LGBT Forum started and I joined the committee. Out of the Older LGBT Subgroup we created ‘Free to Be Me’ in care and in the workplace, which has raised awareness around Yorkshire and in the Midlands. LGBT people deserve to be recognised for who they are and for their stories to be told.
- In 2015 Kirsty Woodard founded AWOC to give visibility to the millions of people who are ageing alone because they are without children due to choice, circumstance, infertility, bereavement, estrangement, or distance. Ann and I started AWOC York monthly meetings in January 2016. The group now has over 160 members across the country. Our Real People Theatre show in 2018, No Kidding? helped to spread awareness of AWOC.
We love living in York – it’s a vibrant welcoming place to be. However, we certainly don’t feel “retirement” is the right word for us – we’d call it “resurgence”!
Content from York LGBT Forum