A former Mr Gay UK who was kicked out of the Royal Air Force 20 years ago because he was gay has now become the first openly gay Mayor of Manchester in the UK.
The City of Manchester has long been regarded as the UK’s gay heart so it’s a little surprising this is the first gay mayor.
Carl Austin-Behan, 44, felt it was time for someone who represents Manchester’s celebrated lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to finally don the ceremonial robes.
“I thought it was time we had an openly gay lord mayor. We have had different races and cultures doing it – so this is a recognition of the LGBT community,” he said to Manchester’s Evening News.
“It’s not a case of saying everyone needs to be like me, but as part of the diversity of Manchester, it should be embraced.”
Just over 20 years ago he was kicked out of the Royal Air Force for being gay at a time when it was still illegal.
But now – a few months after getting married, and starting the adoption process with his husband, Simon, – he is taking the highest ceremonial office in the city.
“I was kicked out of the air force for being gay in 1997. We have come such a long way but there’s still barriers there.”
“I see this as an opportunity to put it out there that we are all as normal as each other.”
Austin-Behan, originally from Crumpsall, tried to come out when he was 17 and then when he was 22 to come out, but each time was persuaded it was ‘just a phase’.
In the RAF, he kept his sexuality to himself, but was eventually discovered after six years and they told him to leave.
“They did what they did because it was the rules and regulations at that time,” he said. “I’m not negative or bitter.
“I got to 24 and thought I’ve got to live my life now.”
Four years later he was crowned Mr Gay UK, a competition he entered to give gay people – especially people in smaller areas where being gay was still more of a taboo – a positive role model, rather than the stale Larry Grayson stereotype of years gone by.
Now he wants to help the community overcome its remaining barriers.
“The barrier is more to do with the trans community now,” he said.
“I think people don’t understand it so well. It’s about awareness and education.
“We also need to look at HIV. It’s still on the rise and Manchester is one of the worst places.
“People seem to have forgotten everything we went through in the late 1980s.
“They think you can just take a tablet and it’s done. We need to make testing a lot easier.”
Meanwhile, he also wants to change perceptions of the role itself – and plans to carry on wearing his signature bright shirts, while taking the role closer to the community.
“I won’t be wearing the traditional black and grey trousers and I think I only have one white shirt in my wardrobe.
“I want people to feel like they can relate to the Lord Mayor.”
Last Updated on May 17, 2016