Jay Chilton and Jude Thompson made history as one of the first gay couples in the North East to have a civil partnership. Here as an exclusive for LGBT History month, Jay reflects on that moment and her own LGBT history.
Jay didn’t know she was gay growing up, because she didn’t know what being gay meant. She had a few boyfriends but never formed lasting relationships with boys and men. All her deep and meaningful connections were with women, but she couldn’t define what she was until she was much, much older.
Jay Chilton and Jude Thompson were one of the first gay couples in the Tees Valley to have a civil ceremony back in 2005, when it first was made legal. Jay’s own personal and touching story about coming out, and how things have changed over the years is inspiring.
“Born in 1961, there were no gay role models, no storylines in soaps about gay people. It wasn’t discussed or talked about, not something that parents talked about, or taught in school. It just wasn’t there,” says Jay.
She knew she was attracted to older female friends, but it wasn’t until her late twenties before she had any kind of relationship with a woman.
“It was at the end of the eighties when I had my first relationship,” she recalls, “and after that, I knew that was me, although it was all quite hidden and secret, and I didn’t really say anything to anyone.”
A big moment for Jay was when she came out to her dad when she was in her thirties.
Her dad said, “Look, Jay, I know you are a lesbian,” but Jay knows he didn’t like it much.
Jay, like many LGBT people, has suffered homophobic hate crime. For her, it came from a neighbour and police were involved. She gladly received no prejudice in her workplace.
Jay met Jude in 2000 on a training course. “She pursued me,” Jay says. “We were friends first, but she had all the qualities I wanted in a relationship; I realised it’s not just about looks, it’s about what’s in the inside, who they are. I didn’t want a flash in the pan relationship.”
And 21 years later, still together, you can safely say it wasn’t a flash in the pan. Jay tells me Jude has been with her through some really challenging times, describing her as her rock.
When asked about how it felt to be able to get legally recognised through a civil partnership, Jay tells me, “Getting married was about the security. If anything happens to me, Jude is legally taken care of, and by law, she has value. It was the equality of having the person you love, being regarded as equal, that was important. There was no way of having the legal security until the law changed and the law recognised that.”
Jay and Jude registered their partnership in Darlington registry office on 21st December, the first day that civil partnerships were allowed. Friends and close family came to the civil partnership agreement followed by lunch at Ballentines. They had already had a commitment ceremony on the 3rd September at St George’s Hotel. They share their anniversary with Elton John and Michael Cashman.
I asked Jay if the LGBT rights movement have achieved enough. She feels that it’s people’s attitudes that haven’t caught up with the law, saying, “There is still a lot of prejudice out there. Yes, we have come a long way in terms of being able to adopt, access to IVF, getting married, but gay people are not free from prejudice.”
Jay also recognises this was also not just about LGBT issues.
“Whether you are black or mixed race,” she says, “any minority group is affected by prejudice. Look at Marcus Rashford and how he is treated. Laws are there but people still people break the law; it doesn’t stop people’s attitudes, individuals whose mindsets haven’t changed.”
I finally asked Jay what could be done and what advice she would give to a younger generation. “We just have to live our lives and respect other people. Value diversity,” she says. “You can’t force your views and sometimes you just have to accept others for their views, no matter if you don’t agree. Don’t hate other people because they disagree or are different. But you have your right to ask for acceptance. Be yourself, don’t be afraid, live your life and be happy.”
And this is exactly what we believe here at the Tees. Let’s accept difference, value each other and push towards a better, more equal world, but don’t hate people because they don’t agree with you. We have a lot to learn from history so let’s build on that, and keep working together for a better future for everyone.
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