Back in 2010, the editor of the British gay magazine Attitude, Matthew Todd, wrote a story about the anguish many gay people find themselves in when it comes to their mental health as a result of homophobic bullying.
Little did he know that this heartfelt article would directly lead, six years later, to an iconic moment in the history of Britain’s LGBT movement; the appearance of Prince William on the front cover of Attitude, the first time any member of the royal family has posed for the cover of a LGBT magazine.
It’s been an extraordinary week for Todd. He should be celebrating not just the William cover, but also the publication of his new book on the subject of gay mental health: Straightjacket: How to be Gay and Happy.
Of course, the awful shootings at the gay club Pulse in Florida have occluded any such rejoicings.
In a remarkable coincidence, the magazine with William on its cover was published just days after the shootings.
Todd—speaking to the Daily Beast by phone from his London office—sounded close to tears at times as he reflected on the week’s events.
“I know not everybody supports the monarchy, but I do hope that [having William on the cover] is a symbol of positivity after the absolute horror of what happened this weekend,” he says.
“Of course it’s irrelevant compared to the pain, the horror of what those people and their families and their friends have gone through, but I really, really hope that it maybe just gives us a little bit of hope that someone from one of the highest institutions in the world is saying, ‘No, we’re going forward, the way is forward, the way is acceptance and love and decency and understanding and compassion.’
“I hope that it sends out that message amidst all this darkness. But also I think it’s really important to be aware that what happened in Orlando didn’t come out of nowhere. There’s a kind of culture of hatred and bullying [of LGBT people] which begins in schools, and sometimes comes from religious leaders and politicians and sometimes is expressed in the media.
“Our culture is so cruel now, and so unkind and so uncaring. We fling around insults so casually and I think it’s really important that someone like Prince William is saying that not just homophobic bullying, but all bullying, is wrong.
“We need to shift to become kinder and more compassionate and just to be nicer to each other because otherwise, you know, we’re all going to end up losing. I know I sound like a hippy saying that, but I think it’s true.”
Certainly, William’s decision to give an interview and pose for the cover of Attitude is a hugely symbolic moment for the macro-narrative of the future king, and is unlikely to have been taken without careful and considered thought by him and his team of advisers.
Sources tell the Daily Beast that while there is unlikely to be any direct assumption of patronage of a specific LGBT cause or charity by William or the young royals, there will certainly be ‘continued support’ of such causes.
The reluctance of the royals to front a big gay charity is certainly irritating and old fashioned (it may be easier to accomplish when Prince Philip passes on) but this week’s very clear signpost of progress should nonetheless be applauded.
One of the ironies of the royal unwillingness to openly embrace and endorse LGBT causes is that without its gay staff, the palace would grind to a halt.
A disproportionate number of the royal household staff have always been gay. The Queen Mother was said to be very accepting of gay staff in her household, even if she referred to gay staff as ‘queers’ (long before the word was reclaimed by the LGBT community).
Once, while waiting to be served her gin and tonic, the Queen Mum, hearing two openly gay members of her staff arguing in the hallway outside her sitting room, called out, “When you two old queens have finished arguing, this old queen wants her gin.”
William’s mother Diana had a completely different relationship with the LGBT community and LGBT issues. She personally catalyzed a huge and positive change in attitudes when she famously held the hand, on camera, of a patient dying of AIDS in 1987.
The irony was that she wasn’t aiming to make a political statement—she told friends she wasn’t consciously trying to do anything, she just wanted to comfort a person in distress, and did so in the most natural way possible, by taking their hand.
Intriguingly, Todd, who approached the palace after hearing horrendous stories of homophobic bullying seeking William’s support, says he sees a similar motivation in William.
Todd says: “He said to me that he hates seeing people in pain. I think he comes from a very open-minded place. I got the feeling that they didn’t discriminate; they just think bullying is bad and bullying should stop.
“I explained to him, with any luck anyway, that we suffer disproportionately from some mental health problems that I think are the consequences of bullying and isolation. Yes, there are many happy gay people, but we do have higher levels of anxiety and depression, eating disorders, self-harm, suicide ideation, all that kind of thing.
“He said on the day, “This is a new thing for me,” he was very open about that. I think it’s a learning experience for him and I think we enlightened him.
“That’s all you can ask for isn’t it? Somebody who’s open to learning.”
Todd says that William in person is a long way from how people might imagine a typical upper class toff to be.
“The monarchy is considered to be the most conservative institution in the country and I don’t know whether that’s true of them in general or not because I’ve never met any members of royalty before.
“But he seemed very modern, very free-spirited, and had a very young spirit.
“When Princess Diana was with us, she would take William and Harry to HIV charities or to hospices or to hospitals to meet homeless people and I got that feeling of him being very open-minded. Even though they live in a very privileged world, doing what they do, they do actually meet [a wider spectrum] of people than the rest of us do, in terms of people in charities and people in recovery from drug addiction and things like that.
“He was saying to me, ‘I really, really want you to convey to your readers that I care and I want to help.’ I’ve met Prime Ministers and interviewed many, many famous people and I know when someone’s trying out a line. He absolutely meant it. He was really engaged with it and I really got the feeling that he wasn’t thinking, ‘Oh, today I’m meeting the gays and ticking a box.’ He really wants to help.”