‘The oldest gay in Brighton’
Brighton has the title of being the gay capital of the United Kingdom, with many saying it is the friendliest gay town in the country. Kemptown neighbourhood is the LGBT community’s heart, where ‘the oldest gay in the village’ lives. At least it is what George Montague claims, and it is difficult to question it. He is 91 years old, and he is already talking about his centenary party.
He lives with his partner, Somchai, in a house with views of the sea and Brighton Pier in Kemptown. In his living room, there is a miniature Buddhist temple, black and white photos of his parents and, on a table opposite the fireplace, Montague has a folder where he keeps all the articles in which he has been mentioned; the first being a letter of gratitude from PM David Cameron that he shows off proudly.
He is one of the popular faces in the gay community and has attended every Gay Pride since 2009. You could see him driving his mobility scooter with a ‘I’m the Oldest Gay in the Village’ banner. He was ambassador for Brighton Pride 2013 and, this year, he also participated in London and Manchester Pride.
He has been in the media many times, telling his story, being interviewed for the upcoming BBC TV series ‘Britain’s Greatest Generation’, Channel 4 News and the local cannel, Latest TV.
However, when he was young, he wouldn’t have even dared to mention to his close friends that he was gay. “In those days, it was different. Being gay was considered a criminal offence until 1967. I was living a lie, pretending, as we all did; looking at and flattering girls to be one of them. I had to lie and be good at it in order not to arouse suspicion”, explains Montague.
At that time, showing affection to another man in public or in private was a criminal offence and undercover police officers used to go to ‘cottages’, where gay people went looking for sex. The police arrested them and charged them with ‘buggery’.
“The worst part wasn’t facing prison. The tragedy was that the papers used to love these stories. The local newspapers plastered names all over and all the details ruining their lives. Quite a lot of men committed suicide after the stories were made public”, adds Montague.
He describes his teenager days and his personal experiences, jumping between decades and stories, and giving exact dates, remembering, in particular, one year when he told his family he was gay.
“I came out in 1992 after my mum died as I was determined not to tell her. I even had to get married because of her. I remember when I was 36, my mum begged me to marry a nice girl as, at my age, people started to talk.”
Montague got married and had three children and three grandchildren. He says that his wife knew but that she preferred to marry a gay man than be alone. “It was a facade as everyone thought we were a happily married couple. I loved my ex-wife but I was not in love with her as I am with Somchai”, Montague goes on to say.
Somchai is his civil partner and they have been together for 18 years, since they met in a gay club in London when Montague was 73 years old and Somchai 28. They always spend the winter in Thailand in Somchai’s hometown, however, Montague says that this year will be probably the last one as travel is becoming more and more difficult.
“I know there will come a day when I will no longer be able to do any of the shopping or cooking. Last year, I had a mini stroke and a hip done in Thailand. My plan in a few years is to sell my house and all my stuff and buy a hotel to turn it into a gay-friendly carehome with 5 or 6 other people who want to join me.”
He wants to create the first gay-friendly carehome as, he affirms, the majority of old-age pensioners have prejudices against the LGBT community. “That is why I am campaigning for a carehome which would be gay-friendly and accept us and where we can live a normal life in a small community”, Montague states.
Brighton is his home, and he says that this town has been always gay-friendly. “The first time I visited Brighton was in 1950 when I came with 2 gay friends. At that time, there were neither roundabouts nor traffic lights, but policemen, instead, on duty to run the traffic. I told my friends to be quiet but the policeman stopped us. I got worried but he bowed down and said, “see you later in the club.” He was a gay policeman!”, Montague remembers with a sneaky smile.
He walks half a mile every day, does sit ups in bed, reads four newspapers daily and spends 2 hours on the computer. He even has a Facebook and a Twitter account where he posts all his activities, such as the publication of his biography last summer called ‘The Oldest Gay in the Village’.
One of the things that keeps him going, he maintains, is the adrenaline he gets from talking to the media, “I love being on TV, it makes you alive. It makes me live longer and that is why I do all these things. I love publicity.”
Montague concludes, “I am the luckiest and the happiest old gay man of my age in the world. I am full of life.”