Blog | LGBT+ History Month 2023 – Neil Hughes

The theme for this LGBT+ History month is ‘behind the lens’, a theme which aims to celebrate LGBT+ storytelling in TV and Film as well as celebrating queer people who work in the industry. Network members have shared their stories of how seeing representations of LGBT+ people in TV and Film affected them.


‘It’s a Sin’ – A review by Neil Hughes – West Midlands Police

‘It’s a Sin’ is a Channel 4 TV series that follows a group of gay men who move to London in 1981. They form a friendship group but the fast-developing HIV/AIDS crisis in the UK impacts upon their lives. Over five episodes the group are shown living through an entire decade until 1991.

The series begins with five 18-year-olds; Ritchie, Jill, Ash, Collin and Roscoe who come from different walks of life and move to London. They all meet and quickly form bonds moving into a flat together they name ‘The Pink Palace’.

In 1986 we see the flatmates all working, falling in love and finding their way in the world. Colin’s health takes a turn and he is diagnosed with AIDS, forcing the group to confront the reality of the situation.

1986 was the same year I joined West Midlands Police. I was from a working-class family, 21 years old, heterosexual and from the Black Country. I was posted in Birmingham City Centre which was like being dropped on Mars. Those early years for me were a struggle with bullying, racism and homophobia present in the Police Force.

‘It’s a Sin’ really touched me and resonated with the struggles the cast were having with their sexuality with the struggles I was experiencing in the Police at that time. Luckily there were some great young Probationers and an exceptional gay Sergeant called Roger who inspired me to keep going.

One of the things I am not proud of in my Police career was being tasked to target men in Public toilets for Importuning and Gross Indecency in 1988/89 (sometimes referred to as ‘cottaging’). Since the 1950’s Police had targeted gay and bi-sexual men in toilets. The men we caught were lonely, confused about their sexuality, some were gay, some were bi and some were questioning. One of my biggest regrets now in my Police career was not standing up and refusing to do it.

Even though ‘cottaging’ is still an offence under Section 71 Sexual Offences Act 2003, I still wanted to say sorry for targeting them and criminalising their actions.

1988 was the same year Section 28/Clause 28 was introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s Government that prohibited any positive discussion about homosexuality by local authorities. It remained in statute until 2003 in England and Wales.

I continued to strive to be the best I could in the Police Force and served for 30 years as both a Sergeant and a Temporary Inspector. I always tried to inspire others to battle against injustice and speak up if they were uncomfortable with what they were being asked to do. I am still proud to be part of the Police family today and am currently working with WMP as a support staff member and more importantly an LGBT+ Ally.

Policing has come a long way since 1986; they were the best of times but also for some the worst of times.