Terry Connell – A tribute

Terry Connell, 57, died from a heart attack on Saturday, 25th March: just hours after being discharged from hospital after having suffered another heart attack a week earlier.

Terry was the driving member of the Bolton Seven, who championed the cause of gay equality when they were prosecuted under the U.K.’s discriminatory sex laws. His courage and unwavering tenacity in fighting the case through the courts were a living example of Gay Pride at its simplest and noblest.

His hearing at the Court of Appeal, (heard separately from that of the other six, owing to the untimely illness of the defending barrister), was rejected in a mockery of justice on the 5th March, 1999. It was characteristic of Terry that his unhesitating response on hearing the verdict was: “Well, now we go on to Europe”.

Terry Connell – A tribute

by Ray Gosling

Terry was a quite extraordinary good man in life, in gay life — he was a living antidote to the stereotype straights often have. He was neither a limp-wristed Julian-Sandy, nor some overbutch leather queen. He was normal — a fan, fanatic loyal, true and regular supporter of Bolton Wanderers because he liked football. He believed in it. Football. As he liked his flat cap. He liked company and pubs, but Terry didn’t drink alcohol. He was T.T. by choice. He didn’t mind you smoking, but he didn’t. He didn’t swear, but didn’t mind if you did. At first I thought because of his name he must be Roman Catholic and of Irish ethnicity but he wasn’t. He was Lancashire English, and wasn’t a Christian believer — and yet in the practice of life Terry Connell was a great New Testament man — loyal: never let a pal down: selfless and forgiving — though he would always speak his mind. It was his opinion and you were entitled to differ. And he’d respect you. Respected all men. But he expected you to respect him. That’s what so incensed Terry at the prosecution of himself and the lads –particularly the lads on the Bolton Seven video– it was gross indecency –the prosecution was– an invasion by The State into the privacy of the messy intimate embarrassing bits of lads’ lives at an age when you do go a bit giddy because you don’t know what you are exactly. As the trial judge Michael Lever expressed it quite correctly: “It was young men tipsily experimenting with sex”.

Terry was adamant. No harm. No force. The harm, the force was with the prosecution of what should have been left in privacy.

Terry was well known in Bolton gay ciircles and well respected. He was a frequenter of The Church, the town’s main gay pub. And he ran disco sometimes. He didn’t go cottaging, though he understood those who did and saw no harm in it. He wasn’t a chicken chaser, though he had a good eye to a pretty youth, he wasn’t at all predatory. He liked young people –a lot– and like the best of male gays have so often been, he was generous, genuine, kind, affectionate and a good ear: enormously supportive and long suffering and never pushy to teenagers he befriended. He well understood, instinctively, the terrifying pressures young poor white boys face today — from the power of girls: the lack of proper jobs of craft and pride and good wages; the loss of esteem; the pervasiveness of drugs. He’d help in the best possible ways, weaning lads off drugs and into work — and of course football. He was a very proper Bolton guy. He worked himself –night shifts in the bakery– and gave his all to the lads he befriended: for next to no sexual favours in return — because he enjoyed their company free of favours, to help them grow through their difficulties — and he did. He was quite lovely: caring — and fun — and then he got hauled in by police and through the courts at vast expense to the public purse and all that video had on it was some afternoon very mild malarky, not an orgy of the depraved. Not at all.

He was appalled at the prosecution. He could never admit any wrong had happened because it hadn’t. All the lads were over age –well, Craig was seventeen and a half– and they freely took part. And were they in an heterosexual group, or lesbian, they could not have been brought to court. No charge. A law just to prosecute male gay behaviour. What had been videoed was right mild, gentle, innocent, silly –embarrassingly so– a joke as much as anything, just fooling around. Why on earth the prosecution was let go ahead — Common Sense was not in it. Just because the party had amateurly videoed themselves and one in the party had copied it and kept the copy — silly boy. Not that Terry had kept his — that tape long ago had been reused by him to record more precious soccer. Oh, he had his proportions, Terry Connell.

But many of us if charged with such open-and-shut evidence on camera of clearly legally definable ‘indecent acts’ would have in embarrassment said ‘guilty’ and skulked off and hid. But not Terry. He was outraged. “Why,” he said to me when I first met him, “is Prince Charles not being prosecuted for his adultery?” There’s Bolton logic there — aye: fair do’s.

And it takes guts to go not guilty.

“It’s what I am — GUILTY of being human: not guilty of any crime.” So he carried on working — and walking the streets and held up his head. A very courageous man and when he spoke at public meetings of his indignation at this unjust happening — to gay groups as he did eventually all over the country, they just loved him. He was a great speaker on the stump — of a kind as’d make any Bolton man proud. He was from the heart and blunt. Terry Connell –and sometimes he wouldn’t take his flat cap off– he was a natural performer with his strong ‘Fred Dibnah’ Bolton accent: his clear voice: his determinations: his indignation and his chuckles of laughter. In London particularly he was quite a hero.

He’s died sudden — before his time. It’s a real tragedy — he had a lot more to contribute in showing older people a role model in how to treat the young — open and honest, kind and giving of your time and being supportive. Particularly showing how the older gay man should behave towards the young. He had much to give — and to football: to social life: to the politics of sex, the law – and ageism.

There will be many circles in Bolton that will be very sad. He will be greatly missed: not least by Craig. But his example of courage and patience, and laughter: the example of his life should inspire us. I’m sure it will and into the next generation and into history. A great man has gone.

Thank you Terry. Terry Connell: thank you.