Michael Cashman, former actor, activist and now member of the House of Lords, has revealed details of the homophobia he has faced throughout his career.
In the new Attitude Heroes podcast – available to listen to and download now – Michael chats to Attitude’s Editor-in-Chief Matt Cain about playing the first gay character in Eastenders, his involvement in the first gay kiss in British soap history, and the homophobia this unleashed from the media in the 1980s.
Michael starred as Colin in Eastenders during the 80s – the soap’s first LGBT+ character. He says that the BBC were brave to introduce the character during the homophobic climate of the 1980s.
“It broke the mold and it showed that the BBC had the courage to stand up against the onslaught of the media, the ignorance of campaigners who wanted to hold the world back and some religions who wanted to use their theology in a perverse way to deny people’s places in society,” he says.
“The postbag that I was getting, the letters were predominantly supportive,” Michael reveals of his time on the show.
However, he later discovered that the hate mail was deliberately kept from him.
“What I didn’t know about – it was only given to me years later by the BBC – were the really vicious letters that they kept back. I was put on an extreme right’s hit list along with others like Sue Johnston from Brookside, who was campaigning against Section 28 with us.”
Michael also discusses his role in co-founding LGBT+ rights charity Stonewall and his work to improve gay rights across the EU during his time as an MEP.
From growing up in Limehouse in East London to becoming member of the House of Lords, Michael has a long list of achievements, but he still finds it difficult to be comfortable with his success.
“I think a lot of us, certainly my generation, who are gay, are waiting for someone to tap us on the shoulder when we have achieved something to say, ‘No, no, it’s not you we meant, its someone else”. It’s that syndrome that you are waiting to be found out.”
Michael’s long-term partner Paul Cottingham passed away in 2014. Michael reveals that he continues to struggle will the loss of his partner of over 30 years.
“Love only operates in the present tense: once someone’s loved you, you are always loved and it’s the only thing that gets you through your daily crises. There’s days where I suffer from depression where I think what’s the point? I don’t have the one person that would enjoy everything that I have much more than me,” he says.
“It’s by remembering and recalling the amazing contentment of 31 brilliant years and a man who taught me how to love myself and the fact that he has gone is for me so difficult because I’ve got to learn to love myself without someone there telling me I should be loved.”
Attitude Heroes is produced by Wisebuddah and sponsored by the GREAT Britain campaign, which welcomes the world to visit, do business, invest and study in the UK, and also Jaguar. For more product information please visit jaguar.co.uk.