My wife and I still faced homophobia in our 80s – it's finally stopped

Maggie Redding (right) and her partner Sylvia (left) smiling together

My wife, Sylvia, and I have lived in a lot of different places over the years, starting in an Edwardian terraced house in Greenwich.

We soon sold our London home to fulfil a dream of living self-sufficiently in the country. Since then, we’ve also moved to Eastbourne, the West Midlands, Hereford, Ireland and Ramsgate.

But our favourite place is where we live now, at Anchor’s New Larchwood retirement scheme in Brighton.  

Since moving here in 2020, for the first time, we’ve been welcomed for being our true selves and can walk down the street holding hands. 

It’s changed our lives, even though we’re well into our eighties.

It’s incredible that we’ve never been able to do this before now, but it’s made us realise how important it is to be able to do the small things any other couple wouldn’t think twice about. 

Not holding hands for fear of what people may say – as we’ve felt forced to in the past – is a form of suppressing who we truly are and the love we have for one another. It’s so freeing to know that we don’t have to do that anymore. 

When you feel like you have to hide your sexuality, that impacts every aspect of your true self – your creativity, intuition, energy and enthusiasm for life. 

While I think I always knew I was attracted to women, it took me until 1974, aged 35, to realise it. Sylvia was 38 and married with two children when she came out. 

She was also a regular church goer and a pillar of the community at the time – her neighbourhood shunned her when it happened, with only a school friend and an ex-colleague standing by her.

I first met Sylvia at a group I set up for Catholic lesbian women in 1979, when I was 41 and she was 38.

I started the group mainly because I felt it was needed. I’d belonged to a group made up of mainly gay men before, but it turned out they just wanted me to make the teas and coffees.

Women like me needed privacy and security at a time when there were such backwards attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people and women. I thought our group would be able to do that, but I certainly didn’t expect to find love at the same time.

What first attracted me to Sylvia was the fact that she just had such a sparkle about her. She had a great energy – and she’s popular with everyone. For Sylvia, she says it was my confidence and how attractive I was – that, and she liked my intelligence.

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We came from a similar background – both having been married with children and having had a Catholic upbringing before meeting. We eventually turned our civil partnership into a marriage in 2015 and our relationship is still as strong as ever. 

We can count on one another and have a lot of fun together, which proves just how possible it is to find joy and happiness in later life. 

Looking back, I’m not entirely sure how we managed to cope over the years. To survive all the horrible behaviour we’ve had to endure.

Attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people have thankfully improved since we both came out, but unfortunately some people still need convincing. 

We used to live in Wales at a different retirement complex, but when we told people that we were in a civil partnership, we certainly didn’t receive the inclusive, welcoming attitude that we enjoy today.

In fact, we were treated so coldly by other residents within the complex that we had to put our flat in the development up for sale and move out. 

While it’s sad to think that we were treated so badly once again simply for being ourselves and expressing love for one another, we’re now in a much better place. 

New Larchwood prides itself on being an LGBTQ+ affirmative retirement complex.

Many people within this community are estranged from their families so they would have no relatives to call in an emergency. The team a great reassurance to us – helping to make us feel safe and secure. 

And despite everything, including all the difficulties and hardships we’ve had to face to get to this point, we’ve finally found our happy place. 

I’d be content to end my life here when the time comes… but I’m not planning on that anytime soon.

We have so much more living to do before then.

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