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MDX's Ted Houghton brews up Love Medicine for LGBT+ History Month

"I think everybody should take a dose before they leave the house, and we would have a much better society and planet"

An older white man with white hair in a bright coloured graffiti-style jacket stands by a large cut-out sculpture of a heartFor LGBT+ History Month - on the theme this year of celebrating LGBT+ people's contribution to medicine and health - Senior Lecturer in Textiles and Fashion at MDX Ted Houghton has conceived and staged a participatory exhibit in the Quad called Love Medicine.

Launched on Valentine's Day and on show until Friday 16th February, the display, which is an initiative of MDX's LGBT+ Staff Network features as a centrepiece a three foot tall cut-out heart covered in wire mesh, and invites members of the university community to contribute their responses to the name of the show on pieces of card provided. A big screen with a slideshow displaying the LGBT+ History Month logo of a rainbow and trans heart ringed with a stethoscope explains what the month is about and the values it stands for.

Ted had the idea as he was struck by the unsettling connotations "medicine" has for some non-straight people, in a post-AIDS and now post-Covid world. The show title directly references the debut novel of a favourite writer of Ted's, Louise Erdrich, who is of Native American heritage and brings together stories from Native American communities in her work.

In the run-up, Ted asked art and design course leaders to put out an appeal for contributions. LGBT+ Staff Network co-chair Professor Susan Hansen and the Business and Law Faculty's Christiana Rose were on hand for the opening of the show to facilitate people's creativity with multi-coloured and glittery pens and red card.

Ted, now 73, grew up in Birmingham, trained as a lab technician, then went to live and work in Sydney for eight years, travelling all around the Australian continent. Returning to the UK, he got a role as a trainee print technician at the Royal College of Art, which was also the time that he decided that he was gay and "came out to myself".

He was accepted onto the Constructed Textiles degree course at Middlesex Polytechnic in 1980, doing a thesis on gay male dress codes and their significance, which involved visiting London clubs, interviewing people and keeping his finger on the pulse of what was happening in the capital.

AIDS hit at around this time. "Friends died, the scaremongering was awful. We lost a huge percentage of our peer group and the generation before ours," Ted says. He supported friends till they died, then did voluntary work at the London Lighthouse: a new kind of hospice with outreach for people living with the virus. He began on reception, helped on the unit where terminal care occurred, then did outreach work.

After graduating, Ted did a MA in Textiles at the RCA and went on teach knit in a wide variety of adult education settings before returning to MDX as a lecturer in the 1990s.

A red paper Valentine's heart with a message reading: "I love being an LGBTQ+ ally! Happy Valentines Day xxx"Today, he says it is "lovely to have a legacy to draw upon" of his life as a gay man in London. "We've faced our bad times and our good times. It's important that young people of any sexual persuasion recognise there’s a history, that isn't forgotten and is celebrated". Ted mentions particularly the Bishopsgate Institute, which holds one of the UK's biggest collections relating to queer culture, such as the banners brought by mineworkers to Lesbian and Gay Pride in 1985.

But he adds that now just as in earlier times, "younger people often face isolation, fear and self-doubt.

"It’s very easy to assume that just because Ru Paul's Drag Race is followed by many people of different sexual persuasions, it’s all right for young people growing up," he says. "But I think they have terrible pressures, pressures I never had at their age, so it’s just different".

He worries about the vilification and punishment faced by queer people around the world, persistent intolerance, sometimes motivated by religion, in parts of society in Eastern Europe, and a regression of social attitudes in some US states, while even London witnesses homophobic attacks like last summer's Clapham High Street stabbing.

As a lecturer at MDX, Ted says, "I am out and proud. I would like to feel that I am available to offer any student a listening ear, positive advice and/or my personal opinion as part of providing equal opportunity and inclusivity".

Ted's favourite London LGBT+ venues include Duckie, The Eagle and Bar Wotever. "It's great to go to places that are non-judgemental, to have a beer and someone gives me a seat," he says. "It's great to meet people of all ages and persuasions and have a dance". With so many consumerised options centred around buying and drinking alcohol, he also praises spaces like the LGBTQ+ Community Centre in Blackfriars which offer alcohol-free socialising.

Ted's participatory exhibit will be repeated on campus in late March. His verdict on the 'love medicine' he has been offering for Valentine’s? "I think everybody should take a dose before they leave the house - and top up during the day - and we would have a much better society and planet," he says. "It should be available to all without charge".

Collage of photos of guests posing and perfoming at LGBT+ event at MDX, and logo of the event Clockwise from top left: MDX Theatre Arts students; (left) performance poet Robin A Brook with compere George Nicholls of Inkluder; (left to right) Robert Vesty, Christiana Rose, Ant Babajee, Christine Struwe

Among other LGBT+ events at MDX this academic year was a showing last November of QUEER PERSPECTIVES: Celebrating Diversity, coinciding with both Trans Day of Remembrance and the 20th anniversary of the repeal of Section 28.

The art exhibition, exploring queer art and expression and seeking to foster dialogue, was curated by Barnet LGBTQIA+ forum Inkluder and originally shown at artsdepot in Finchley in August 2023.

A line up of four people posing for the camera against a wall at an exhibition launch - some of the artworks are visible on the wallAbigail Leibovitz (second from left) and George Nicholls (third from left) at launch of Queer Perspectives at MDX in November 2023

The launch event was compered by George Nicholls - co-chair of Inkluder and CEO and founder of Queer the Norm, who as Orange Gina hosts That's Drag Bingo alongside husband James Phillips and drag daughter Magik. Celebrated trans poet Robin Brook gave a live performance of their work.

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