Alex Blaze

Sing if You're Glad to Be Gay

Filed By Alex Blaze | November 09, 2011 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Gay Icons and History
Tags: LGBT, tom robinson

I found this video on YouTube yesterday for "Glad to Be Gay" by Tom Robinson Band. The song was written in 1978 in the hey-day of London's punk rock scene, not even a decade after homosexuality was legalized in the UK (and still more than two decades before homosexuality was legalized everywhere in the US).

The pub anthem sound of the chorus contrasts with angry verses, but it's not having fun-in-spite-of-being-attacked so much as it's camaraderie-through-shared-anger. Is it just me, or is even more anger heaped on closet cases than on homophobes in that last verse? Lyrics are after the jump.

The British Police are the best in the world
I don't believe one of these stories I've heard
'Bout them raiding our pubs for no reason at all
Lining the customers up by the wall
Picking out people and knocking them down
Resisting arrest as they're kicked on the ground
Searching their houses and calling them queer
I don't believe that sort of thing happens here

Sing if you're glad to be gay
Sing if you're happy that way

Pictures of naked young women are fun
In Titbits and Playboy, page three of The Sun
There's no nudes in Gay News our one magazine
But they still find excuses to call us obscene
Read how disgusting we are in the press
The Telegraph, People, the Sunday Express
Molesters of children, corruptors of youth
It's there in the paper, it must be the truth

Sing if you're glad to be gay
Sing if you're happy that way

Don't try to kid us that if you're discreet
You're perfectly safe as you walk down the street
You don't have to mince or make bitchy remarks
To get beaten unconscious and left in the dark
I had a mate who was gentle and short
He was lonely one evening and went for a walk
Queerbashers caught him and kicked in his teeth
He was only hospitalised for a week

Sing if you're glad to be gay
Sing if you're happy that way

So sit back and watch as they close our clubs
Arrest us for meeting and raid all our pubs
Make sure your boyfriend's at least 21
So only your friends and your brothers get done
Lie to your workmates, lie to your folks
Put down the queens and tell anti-queer jokes
Gay Lib's ridiculous, join their laughter
'The buggers are legal now, what more are they after?'

Sing if you're glad to be gay
Sing if you're happy that way

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Kathy Padilla | November 9, 2011 12:43 PM

I played this Agee times when I had my radio show around 1980. Great old song. I love the pub feel of it.

Gay icon? Bisexual icon. Tom Robinson very famously went through 7 versions of hell when he later fell in love with a woman and came out as bisexual. He is now an outspoken bisexual activist.
You can't take this song out of the context of the times it was written in. Yes, it does knock closet cases, but it was born in an era when being gay was dangerous (because you wouldn't just get beaten up, but the police would entrap and arrest men in parks and public toilets, etc - these were pretty dark days in Britain). To have closet cases who joined in on this abuse was too much. It's a different place nowadays. You can't compare and you can't judge from where we are now.

What? Entrapping gay men? Setting up stings? Closing down gay clubs? Oh heavens, that doesn't happen at all in the US anymore.

Well, except for the fact that when it happens, it isn't just the closet cases who pile on. Out and vocal and visible lesbians and gays have no trouble heaping on the insults.

Male homosexuality was only partially legalised in Britain in 1967 (lesbian sex was never illegal - apparently bebause when male homosexuality was criminalised in the 1880's it was claimed that lesbianism didn't exist and that if it was banned then it would only give women 'ideas'). The age of consent for gay male sex was set at 21, whereas for straight sex it was 16. It took 30 years for the ages of consent to be equalised.

Tom sang it again recently - in a rather wonderful version with Amanda Palmer.

Tom sang it again recently - in a rather wonderful version with Amanda Palmer.

This is a part of the original punk movement that's often passed over... that a lot of queer and trans persons were involved in it both as performers and as part of the scene. There were bands like the Screamers in LA and the Offs in SF who had out gay frontmen, not to mention Jayne County in NYC and London, Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks and bi people like Sid Vicious (although he later played that down) and Deedee Ramone. Shamefully, by 1980, there was a lot more homophobia among punk audiences.

Aubrey Haltom | November 9, 2011 11:46 PM

Robinson came to SF Pride in 1981 wearing his 'glad to be gay' t-shirt - hoping to challenge the at-that-time existing ban on foreign homosexuals entering the country. He wasn't denied entry, so he played Pride and some local clubs.

Re: his 'bisexuality'. I've heard him describe himself as a 'gay man in love with a woman.' He's also written about bisexuality.

But the best quote is a reworking of 'Glad To Be Gay', with the lyrics:

"Well if gay liberation means freedom for all/a label is no liberation at all/I'm here and queer and do what I do/I'm not going to get a straitjacket for you."

Aubrey Haltom | November 9, 2011 11:49 PM

ps Alex - I like this pic of you. For what it's worth - my compliments to your stylist... :)

Good, if rather depressessing, song.

TRB weren't the only punk band of the era not afraid to address homosexuality. Also released in 1978 was the debut (and only) album by Dead Fingers Talk, Storm the Reality Studios. While TRB's Power in the Darkness is a good album, StRS is simply fantastic. I posted a song from it on my blog last month, which was dedicated to LGBT artists, in honor of LGBT History Month:

Dead Fingers Talk "Nobody Loves You When You're Old and Gay"

Paige Listerud | November 13, 2011 1:13 PM

Recently in September, Tom recounted his life story in a BBC broadcast "It's my story: Getting Bi," which unfortunately can't be accessed due to the BBC's accessibility policies.

It would be nice if it could be made available for American audiences who are discovering it late. Any chance for a write-in campaign to the BBC?