Holly Johnson: Celebrating a Monumental LGBTQ+ Icon in Liverpool

Holly Johnson: Celebrating a Monumental LGBTQ+ Icon in Liverpool

Liverpool is gearing up for a landmark exhibition that will showcase the journey of Holly Johnson, from his roots in the city’s punk scene to his rise to international stardom. The exhibition, aptly titled “The Power of Holly,” is a collaboration between arts groups Homotopia and DuoVision. It’s set to offer a deep dive into Johnson’s life, his time with Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and his solo career.

Capturing Local LGBTQ+ Stories

Slated for 2024, the exhibition aims to do more than just highlight Johnson’s career. It plans to “capture the stories” of other local LGBTQ+ individuals, providing a broader perspective on the community’s influence and experiences. This initiative is seen as a step towards preserving and celebrating the rich cultural heritage of Liverpool’s LGBTQ+ community.

Johnson’s Reaction: A Personal Lottery Win

For Holly Johnson, the opportunity to stage this exhibition is akin to winning the lottery. He reflects on his journey, influenced by the realms of music, art, and literature. Icons like Jean Genet, William Burroughs, The Beatles, Marc Bolan, David Bowie, The Velvet Underground, Derek Jarman, Andy Warhol, and Sir Peter Blake have all played a part in shaping his artistic vision.

From Holly Woodlawn to Stardom

Born William Johnson in 1960, he took the name Holly from actress Holly Woodlawn, a friend of Andy Warhol. His journey from recording his first single “Yankie Rose” in 1979 to achieving three number ones with Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and continued success as a solo artist, is nothing short of remarkable. Johnson’s contributions extend beyond music to the visual arts, with exhibitions at prestigious institutions like the Royal Academy.

A Trailblazing Icon

Olivia Graham from Homotopia and James Lawler from DuoVision emphasize Johnson’s monumental status as an LGBTQ+ icon. His influence in queer fashion and culture during the 1980s and his unapologetic approach to his sexuality at a time when homophobia was widespread are highlighted as key aspects of his legacy.

A Comprehensive Year of Festivities

This exhibition marks the conclusion of an extensive year-long endeavor, funded by a substantial grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF). The project involves gathering narratives through local workshops and sessions of oral history, highlighting the profound impact Holly Johnson has had on the musical scene in Liverpool and beyond.

Chronicling LGBTQ+ Legacy

Helen Featherstone from the NLHF speaks to the project’s groundbreaking nature, focusing on documenting and safeguarding the pivotal stories of the LGBTQ+ community. This exhibition transcends a mere look back at the career of a music legend; it’s a tribute to the rich history and lasting influence of the LGBTQ+ community on the cultural fabric of Liverpool.


A Historic Apology: UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Addresses Mistreatment of LGBT Military Personnel

In a groundbreaking address to parliament, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has extended a formal apology on behalf of the UK government for the past mistreatment of LGBT individuals within the military. This historic move acknowledges the pain and discrimination faced by countless military personnel up until the ban was lifted in 2000.

A Long Overdue Apology

Sunak’s heartfelt speech underscored the grave injustice meted out to LGBT military personnel prior to the year 2000. “The banning of LGBT people from serving in our armed forces until the year 2000 was an appalling failure of the British state,” Sunak remarked. He further highlighted the “horrific sexual abuse and violence” and “homophobic harassment” endured by many who valiantly served the nation.

“This acknowledgment, though long overdue, represents a significant step toward healing and restitution for those who were unfairly targeted due to their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Catherine Dixon, ex-soldier and current vice-president of the LGBT association Stonewall.

Evolving Military Standards

The British military’s stance on LGBT individuals has drastically changed since the lift of the ban in 2000. Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, emphasized the country’s commitment to inclusivity, stating, “Tolerance, the values ​​of Western democracies for which we asked you to fight have been refused to you. This was a serious mistake.”

This public apology follows the release of a government-commissioned report detailing the experiences of former LGBT military personnel who served between 1967 and 2000. This crucial document sheds light on the countless challenges and prejudices faced by these brave individuals. A notable recommendation from the report suggests that affected veterans receive “appropriate financial compensation.”

Personal Accounts Highlight Injustices

The report contains firsthand accounts from several LGBT individuals who served during the ban. Their stories, shared anonymously, provide a raw and unfiltered look into the prejudices they faced. One poignant account mentions, “I was the victim of insults, physical attacks, harassment… All because people suspected me of being gay. I wasn’t, I’m transgender. But it was considered worse.”

Restoring Honor

In a move that reflects the changing stance of the Ministry of Defence, service members who were discharged due to their sexual orientation or gender identity are now eligible to reclaim their medals. This change was catalyzed by Joe Ousalice, a Falklands War veteran, who, after a prolonged legal battle, managed to have his confiscated medal returned in 2020. Ousalice was forced to leave the Royal Navy due to his sexual orientation and was stripped of his long service and good conduct medal after a court martial convicted him for his bisexuality.

The Road Ahead

While this public acknowledgment and the subsequent measures mark significant progress, there’s much to be done to ensure that such prejudices are eradicated entirely. The hope is that this apology, coupled with continued advocacy and reform, will pave the way for a more inclusive and tolerant future for all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.