Queen had ‘understanding’ of LGBTQ+ community, says gay former lord mayor

Collage of photos of Carl Austin-Behan and the Queen

Manchester’s first openly gay lord mayor says the Queen showed a “genuine” interest in the LGBTQ+ community when they met in 2021.

The Queen, who died on 8 September, didn’t make her views on LGBTQ+ rights known to the public throughout her 70-year reign.
It’s something that leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of many, especially considering the crown’s involvement in colonial, anti-LGBTQ+ laws around the world.

But Carl Austin-Behan, who served as lord mayor of Manchester from 2016 to 2017, has vouched for the late monarch, saying she had an interest in and understanding of the community.

In July 2021, Queen Elizabeth II visited Manchester. Ahead of this, Austin-Behan said, he was contacted by the Queen’s lord-lieutenant to request that an LGBTQ+ choir perform during a service at Manchester Cathedral.

Austin-Behan forwarded the request to the Manchester Lesbian and Gay Chorus – recently renamed Manchester Proud Chorus.

“I think it was really poignant to ask for an LGBTQ+ choir as she’s head of the church and in Greater Manchester we have a lot of multicultural faith, and there we were with all the different faith leaders and people from different backgrounds there with an LGBTQ+ choir performing,” he told PinkNews.

“It sent a very clear message of how she did understand and that she recognised us as a community.”

He recalled the lord-lieutenant introducing him as the former lord mayor, and the Queen interrupting to say “you look very young for a lord mayor”.

The 50-year-old said the Queen showed a keen interest in learning about the LGBTQ+ charities in Manchester, and about the work of Fighting With Pride (FWP) – a military charity which works to support LGBTQ+ veterans, serving personnel and their families, which he’s a trustee of.

“She acknowledged that Greater Manchester had a very large LGBTQ+ community. And then I mentioned about being kicked out of the RAF for being gay in ’97 and she said ‘we’ve had a lot of changes over the last 20 years’.

“She acknowledged that we had come a long way in that time and mentioned LGBTQ+ people in the military, same-sex marriage and being able to have children, she was knowledgeable.”

“She knew Greater Manchester had a large LGBTQ+ community and the importance of it.

“I felt it was genuine and sincere and her understanding was beautiful.”

Austin-Behan joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) at the age of 19, but was kicked out in 1997 for being gay. The ban on LGBTQ+ people serving openly in the military wasn’t lifted until 2020.
Those suspected of being LGBTQ+ were arrested, searched and questioned, and those found ‘guilty’ were ‘dismissed in disgrace’.

While Austin-Behan “didn’t want being gay to define” him, he said: “Being kicked out the RAF ended up defining me, because I’ve ended up getting involved with LGBTQ+ rights from when that happened.”

Prior to his discharge from the RAF, Austin-Behan was commended in the 1996 Queen’s Birthday Honours for saving a pilot from a burning aircraft.

He’s the former LGBTQ+ advisor to the mayor of Greater Manchester, and in 2020 the Queen made him an Officer of the Order for the British Empire (OBE) for his charity work towards LGBTQ+ equality.
Austin-Behan is now Greater Manchester LGBTQ+ community ambassador as part of the LGBT Foundation.