"The film Moonlight was fiction, but this Black Gay experience is riveting fact."
Celebrity surprises in this non-fiction text and picture book include HRH Princess Diana, Whitney Houston, George Michael, Gloria Gaynor, Tina Turner, Dionne Warwick, and even a "shy" Milo Yiannopoulos.
This is London life as never imagined. You will experience this exceptionally different book as if it's reading you. It's that powerful. Updated in late 2016, it has been referred to as the UK's 'Philadelphia' (the award-winning film starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington). As well as rave reader reviews, it has won recommendations by WH Smith and notables such as Peter Tatchell.
The 600 pages represent perhaps the most intimate portrayal of people directly affected by HIV and AIDS ever written, and other 'human' issues. With 35 million infected and 30 million deaths worldwide, the author takes the reader to the frontline of the UK 1980s and 90s response to the crisis. The various personal accounts make heartbreaking reading, especially so when AIDS comes home... Vernal Scott writes: "A dignified death by the symptoms of old age was not to be our kind fate. Abandoned and alone in the fight of our lives, wider society, influenced by a vicious media, deemed us deserving of our suffering: our crippling fear; our unimaginable pain; our unyielding tears prompted by precious last goodbyes; our deaths. Our dashed hopes and dreams were destined to lie among the ashes of the cremation furnaces that would consume what AIDS had already destroyed. It was only yesterday that we were sweating up the dancefloor to I Feel Love and I Will Survive, and we had every reason to believe that we would do just that; survive and thrive. Our fleshless reflection in the bathroom mirror was confirmation that the good times had turned and a big disease with a little name was now playing Russian roulette with our lives. Swallowed up by clothes that no longer fit, it was now the survival of, not the fittest or most determined, but simply, it seemed, the luckiest. Stunned by the cruelty of our physical disintegration and the terror-inducing reality of an imminent death, AIDS had sabotaged our far too temporary rendezvous with happiness and the illusion of longevity of life that we assumed had been promised by our birth. When our mothers delivered us into the world, their tears of joy belied our pending fate and the fact that our eager infant eyes would mature only long enough to cry a tortured goodbye. AIDS would summon our mothers’ tears again; this time to moisten the soil that would bury us. Our deaths was splashed across the daily press as grotesque entertainment for the ignorant and heartless, who ridiculed us in our plight, but who would never, themselves, be capable of the extraordinary courage that it took to be a person living with AIDS."
In his controversial ‘New Atheist’ chapter 'The Circumcision of Religion', Vernal writes: "It is my view that sexual activity between consenting adults, of whatever sexuality, is no one else’s business. Our penises, vaginas, nipples, butts, ears, lips and every other erogenous zone exist to be enjoyed without guilt, shame, or fear. Only an odd god would spend his time looking down from heaven at what I do with my penis while millions of adults and children regularly die of war, terror, starvation, preventable disease, and natural disasters. That would be a very odd god, indeed! To continue to believe in god, despite life’s harsh reminders of his absence, would be to engage in a kind of spiritual masturbation; pleasuring oneself with fantasies of an imaginary supernatural lover, whose prowess can stimulate his indoctrinated believers, from the seamstress in Jamaica to the President of the United States, to an orgasmic “Hallelujah!” whilst remaining completely invisible to them."
Hauntingly compelling, a different side of London awaits and you will forever be affected by it.
**Updated in late 2016. Now includes George Michael tribute and Vernal's new atheist chapter The Circumcision of religion, current HIV statistics, and two cover art options**
Chapter edit, 'Circumcision of Religion':
"To love is why we exist: give it to get it. Religion isn’t needed as a context, where the faithfully blind try but mostly fail to comply with illogical ancient scriptures that even dead sheep and bewildered visiting aliens would be compelled to question. It thrives on fear, inner brokenness, lack of intellect, indoctrination, and empty promises that the unseen and unprovable (God, heaven etc.) is more credible than dealing with life’s reality. The corrosive ‘good book’ is responsible for the undeserved shaming of billions of perfectly good people: boys and girls, men and women, who, from birth, must live our lives feeling that we are bad, unworthy, or unclean. We are reduced to an emotionally damaged and mentally dependent sheep-like state, while parasitic rich preachers line their pockets with our cash. This is then compounded by a contradictory God, who is loving and merciful, but also jealous, genocidal, and viciously vengeful. We are encouraged to love and fear him or expect an eternity in hell’s fire as our afterlife punishment. So there we have it; the sordid predicament of an eternity in burning hell for the ‘sinner’, or an eternity of tyrannical domination in heaven for ‘the good’. Oh, regarding the afterlife, the creepy idea that billions of dead people from over the centuries suddenly become the undead and rise from their graves at the behest of a returning Jesus Christ, is the stuff of oh so tired zombie movies. But do we really want to rise again, as we were, with our strange noses, odd ears, elephant thighs, disappointing adult baby-sized penises, no-pack instead of a six-pack, breasts lower than our knees, and bare scalp where there should be thick hair? Er, Jesus, can we talk?
To their own duplicitous detriment, traditional Christians, particularly rural fundamentalist whites and roaring city Baptist blacks (who, incidentally, heroically freed themselves from the physical shackles of slavery only to then retain their former owner’s mental entrapment of ruinous religion), are consistent in their condemnation of gay men (much more so than lesbians), but are intensely inconsistent (dishonest!) in how they apply the Bible to their own lives. For example, many re-marry after divorce, which is viewed as adultery in the Bible and punishable by death, but they’ll skip that scripture and jump in the aisles instead to their preacher’s condemnation of gays. But God evidently has no objection to gay people, because aided by our parents he keeps creating millions of us each year; in every culture and all parts of the world. His believers’ objections are a direct reflection of their personal dislikes and prejudices. I won’t call such people hypocritical, but others might. The exclusion of LGBTQ people from established or traditional places of worship is un-Christ-like; he is supposed to have showed love and compassion towards all kinds of people, but today’s church has mostly forgotten this, and instead of behaving like their idol, they ridicule and condemn us. They preach that everyone is made in God’s image, but somehow this does not extend to gay people. Further, they preach that they love the sinner but not the sin. Well, I hope they will find it in their hearts to forgive me for telling them where they can shove their BS. Our nature is not a sin; it’s a fact and needs no explanation or apology. Despite their plight and fight for acceptance, LGBTQ Christians won’t give up on Jesus, because they believe he hasn’t given up on them. They’ll continue to seek to be included, but will survive on the outside, if they must. Come to think of it, some of those buildings and ornaments of gold should be sold to feed the hungry and house the homeless. Now that’s what Jesus would do, but he would never be allowed in some of today’s out of touch, self-serving congregations; he’s too ‘different’, too queer. He’s much more acceptable to them as part of Christian mythology; nailed to the cross and bound within the pages of the New Testament. Jesus in person would be just another of God’s excluded children.
I am heartened that the shackles of rigid religious authority are being broken with each passing day by scientific progress and a shared sense about what’s morally right in a modern world. The recent willingness to ‘modernize’ itself is evidence of the church’s uncertain footing in a modern world and an acknowledgement too that the wellbeing and happiness of society no longer need them or their works. Gay people (and others) have been fighting back against their brand of ‘right’, ‘wrong’, ‘good’, and ‘bad’ for some decades now, and that fight will continue; both inside and outside of religious circles, and in every culture and country. The faithful, if they possess an ounce of integrity, should be increasingly willing to admit that some of what the Bible says falls below their own moral standards, but I won’t hold my breath. I am willing to admit that in all that I have said, I am not saying that all people of faith are corrupt or unfortunate beings, or that without religion we would have no wrongs in the world.
Religious compulsion is a sign that there is something wrong in our lives; it’s a symptom not the cure. If we face and consciously seek to heal our inner pain, insecurity and brokenness, then our need for the camouflage of religion, like excess alcohol and drug misuse, will be healed too. Yes, blind religion is yet another addiction to contain our demons rather than exorcise them. In my experience, love and authenticity are the greatest healers of all. We should strive to love and celebrate our lives as we really are, and shine a bright light of reality on everything that makes us who we are; starting on the inside. Self-love and integrity will heal, nurture, free and enable us to become our full potential. We don’t have to dream it, we can live it!
This bad ‘good book’ promotes:
Writing this chapter has freed me from the twisted umbilical cord of irrational religious dogma, and revealed it to be the world’s greatest man-made evil, next to greed and nuclear weaponry. It coerces the innocent and gullible, suppresses and oppresses the weak, intimidates justified critics, inspires good people to do wicked things, makes intelligent people plain stupid and worse. I encourage my readers to remove their own blinkers and shackles, and question established holy works for themselves. I also hope you will join me in rejecting the notion that we are born sinners (bad). We are in fact born untarnished into the world’s human family; to love and act out of equality and dignity towards each other; whatever our birth or chosen identity. Together, we can be the example of love that religion isn’t. Together, we can also stand up for an authentic and honest relationship with life and God; be he the God of the Bible, Koran, Tipitaka, Torah, or the universe.
Chapter edit, Suicide Bid: From the Knife to Life
I was sixteen and struggling with my sexuality. In my ‘show’ of denial, I continued dating girls and even enjoyed a terrific but embarrassing orgasmic experience with one, in my pants! My private sexual fantasies increasingly involved other males, but felt wrong, even dirty; I didn’t understand that they reflected my intrinsic nature and couldn’t be suppressed. My Christianity exacerbated my self-loathing, shame, and guilt. God failed to answer my prayers; I didn’t want to be gay – a sinful batty man, but I was. I resented my gayness as much as I feared the inevitable backlash from family and friends, if my forbidden secret became known. School life was miserable and home life was worse. Suicidal thoughts entered my head and progressively made some kind of imperfect sense. I consciously succumbed to them.
The day I decided to end my life felt different from other days. I went through it in ‘goodbye mode’, knowing that it would be my last. When I got home from school, Mum was busy sewing and chatting with Carol, Leo’s then current dental assistant girlfriend. No one seemed to notice or care that I was home. I slipped into the kitchen, where Mum had a limited assortment of knives, mostly the small sharp kind that she used to peel fruit and vegetables. I picked a familiar one, with a black plastic handle, and headed up to my room.
Once there, I put on a favourite album: Experience Gloria Gaynor, side two. Gloria was usually successful in lifting my ‘down’ moods, but as much as I loved her, nothing could numb my inner pain, at least not today. Sitting at the end of my bed, I could hear the usual pre-dinner activity emanating from beyond my door. My thoughts drifted from one bleak thing to another, but settled on the element of my life that made me want to quit living; my sexuality. Then, in my morbid daze, I picked up and looked quizzically at the knife’s shiny blade; it was small yet mightily capable of any job that it was tasked to do. I wasn’t distressed or tearful; just numb and empty. For an extended moment I wondered whether I could really do it, but with the handle in my left hand, I... (edited)
My scar would later serve as a permanent reminder of a dreadful place that I’d never willfully revisit; a final place, which, for many thousands of my gay brothers and sisters, offered only a solitary one-way exit; to the mortician’s cold, cold table. Internalized homophobia nearly killed me too, but my life-changing low instructed me to accept my authenticity and sexuality. The mortuary will have to wait. I was worthy of life and love, as I am, and it was time to begin my healing; inside and out.
I would later learn that depression is endemic and not something to be ashamed of. Suicide is never the answer to it. Never! As overwhelming as it is when in the thick of it, I had to remember that depression is the consummate but temporary deceiver. With the right support (there’s lots out there!), we can and do overcome it. (Edited)
Chapter edit, I Am What I Am and It's Raining Men
With the disappointment of meeting Derek (and Richard) behind me, my next date was with a twenty-two year old Irish guy called Raymond. He was very handsome, with a low-cut beard and an East London accent. I mentioned that I was a horror fan, so he took me to the Odeon Leicester Square to see a late night showing of top box office hit, Alien. Now this was the kind of date I was hoping for. He was a gentleman, too; so there were no advances in the dark of the cinema. I liked that. He dropped me home afterwards and I plucked up the courage to invite him in. It was a totally crazy thing to do on reflection, but I liked him enough to go with my heart rather than my fear, or so I told myself. In truth, I was pretty certain that Mum would be asleep by this late hour, but in upstaging even the scariest moments in Alien, she was standing right there when we walked in. For a moment I froze, not knowing what on earth to say or do, but Raymond’s cool charm immediately disarmed her. Minutes later she was making him tea and chatting away with the biggest and warmest of smiles on her face. I was baffled and highly suspicious and struggled not to show it. Raymond was oblivious to my concern about my mother’s uncharacteristically relaxed attitude and carried on making small talk with her. A nervously long twenty minutes or so later, Mum said a hearty good night, slipped from the room, and left Raymond and a bemused me sitting together on her favourite sofa. After a while, when he thought it was safe to do so, he leaned over and kissed my shy lips. It was brief, firm, tender, and oh so welcome. I really liked it, even if the bliss of the moment was cruelly interrupted by a freaky macabre vision of Mum re-entering the room with her open Bible in one hand and a blood-thirsty machete in the other. However, the thought was emphatically terminated by the presence of the smiling man sitting next to me. Raymond’s beautiful kiss felt like it was my very first real kiss; man to man, heart to heart, and soul to soul. Our subsequent hot kisses did all the talking, as my mind forgot about my mother, and my body began elevating off the sofa and onto a new plane of sexcitement. I wonder if Raymond saw when my joyful heart briefly leapt out of my chest and embraced his in a BIG THANK YOU for having come into my life.
Oh God, so this is why I was born; to kiss and be held by this awesome man.
We spoke a lot by phone following our first date, and I just couldn’t stop myself from entertaining all sorts of fantasies about Raymond and me; together-forever kind of fantasies. Old love songs sounded fresh and full of so much more than just sweetly sung lyrics. Every kissing couple on my television screen was overridden by my vision of me kissing Raymond. He was my first thought in the morning and my last before drifting off to sleep at night. If I was lucky, I would find him waiting for me in my dreams.
Raymond, my Raymond, my Ray of light, be it day or night.
A couple of weeks later and I spent my very first night away from Kingsley Road as a burgeoning adult. Raymond invited me to dinner at the flat he shared with his mother, who was conveniently away. He picked me up after Mum had gone to bed, with the intention, he said, of me sampling his home cooking. So, with his scrumptious spicy tomato-coated pasta sitting in our happy stomachs, our keen kisses provided the dessert. Since our first meeting, my being inside of Raymond was my primary sexual fantasy. He kindly obliged. It was my first time, and I wanted the incredible experience to last beyond forever: my flesh and his as one magnificent manifestation of black and white perfection. If I had died after we’d climaxed together then I would have died a happy teenager, feeling that I’d lived a full and satisfying life. Mourners peering upon me at my funeral would be compelled to cease their weeping and wonder at the ecstatic expression on my face; the expression of a boy who became a man whilst inside his personal Ray of delight.
Chapter edit, Reach Out and Touch with Flowers and Sister Whitney
Before his passing, Chris had written one of the most poignant statements about life with AIDS:
“It is courage, it is honour, it is integrity. It is bearing the unbearable, enduring the unendurable, and hoping in the face of hopelessness. It is the sweet pain of knowing that you are dying, and the overwhelming sadness for those who will kiss you into their dreams.”
By 1991, Mrs Thatcher had been booted out by her own party, and I, for one, wasn’t sad to see her go. She had been a very capable Prime Minister, but she lacked humanity for anyone who didn’t look or sound like her, or whose lifestyle was ‘different’; we needed a human being at the helm at this time of crisis, not someone who took pride in being referred to as ‘the iron lady’. Norman Fowler, her by now former Secretary of State for Health, seemed more human during his tenure in the job, even if his stone cold ‘AIDS - Don’t Die of Ignorance’ campaign failed to convey an ounce of empathy with the bereaved and dying. He disappointed many of us further when he voted in favour of Clause 28, the UK’s infamous anti-gay legislation. Our horrible deaths were not enough; we were down and being kicked by our own government; the people we hoped would take care of us.
There were now between two and three million AIDS cases reported around the world. With attention focused on the appalling, and mounting, numbers of people dying, I began to feel a need to let the world know that the people dying were not just statistics, but real men, women and children: our loved ones, friends, lovers, children, colleagues, and neighbours. Real people! My own client profile included teachers, a policeman, a scientist, authors, artists, lawyers, performers, business people, accountants, IT specialists, managers, caterers, students and health service staff. The youngest, born to an infected mother, was just eighteen months old, and the oldest was a gay man in his late fifties. They were of different nationalities and income bracket, and their accumulated skills, talents, and accomplishments were incalculable. They and the families languished in undeserving shame, invisible to the world.
I was finding it increasingly difficult to detach myself emotionally from the people I was providing a service to, and sometimes they became attached to me too. One such person was Margaret, a warm-hearted African mother who had come to London alone with the intention of finding suitable accommodation before sending for her four children back home in Nigeria. Perhaps it was because she was missing her children, but she referred to me as her “new son”, and wouldn’t stop thanking me for caring about her. Her shy smile was constant, and her voice was soft and hardly detectable. One afternoon I offered to drop her off at her bedsit accommodation in Harlesden. As we drove, I listened intently as she found her voice and happily chatted about each of her “wonderful children”; the oldest was sixteen and the youngest was eight. Her husband died of AIDS two years back, so the children were currently being cared for by their maternal grandmother. When we arrived at the address, I reluctantly accepted Margaret’s invitation to come inside, as she said there was something she wanted to show me. I was sad to see the dark infant-sized room that served as both her bedroom and living space. The over-population of boxes, which I assumed contained her only worldly belongings, didn’t help. The petite woman reached up to one of the boxes and handed me the white envelope which she retrieved from on top. She asked me to open it, which I did, and found it was a lovely ‘Thank You’ card. I had told her on previous occasions not to buy me or my team any cards or gifts, and repeated myself again, until the expression on her face made me shut the hell up. She had no one else to care for here in London, and all she wanted to do was to show the kindness that was in her heart; a motherly kindness that she would show her own children, if they had been here. I took the card and gave her a big mother/son hug before leaving. In that hug, I sensed her fear about her own AIDS diagnosis as well as the intense loneliness she was feeling. As I drove away, a lonely tear fell from my eye onto the steering wheel, but it wasn’t lonely for long.
Everything was falling into place, but what about Whitney? The day appointed to phone Donna Houston back arrived. Donna sounded like a changed person. Her enthusiasm caught me off guard: “Hey, Vernal, how are you doing today?” In that very moment I knew that I’d secured Whitney Houston. I just knew it. Donna continued: “Whitney really loves the idea of Reach Out and Touch and would love to meet with you to discuss it further when she’s next in London.”
Reach Out and Touch was to coincide with Whitney’s ‘I’m Your Baby Tonight’ UK Tour; specifically, her dates at Wembley Arena. Donna and I agreed Sunday, the 15th of September 1991, as the date for Whitney’s appearance at Reach Out and Touch.
The smile on my face risked splitting it in two, but, of course, I kept my professional cool. Before saying goodbye, Donna told me that I would next hear from Robyn Crawford and/or Regina Brown, Whitney’s personal assistant, and publicist, respectively. When I put the phone down I could not contain myself, and let out an enormous “Yes!!!” that God himself must have heard in the heavens. I had done it… or so I thought!
Martin and Beverley went crazy when I called them to my office to tell them. Martin was especially amazed that I had managed to deliver on my word. “Whitney! Vernal’s got Whitney!” he kept repeating, while fanning his flushed face. “No”, I said, “We’ve got Whitney”.
They were both given strict instruction to not tell anyone else, not even other colleagues at the HIV Centre. I had promised Donna that the singer’s name would not appear in any pre-publicity because, as she explained, “Whitney did not want her crazy fans ruining the event”. She added that Whitney wanted to attend the event not as a superstar singer, but as a concerned individual, though she would speak. I wasn’t entirely happy that I couldn’t publicise her appearance, but I wasn’t about to do anything that would ruin my chance of securing one of the biggest stars in the world for my event.
If you have any queries or wish to make an appointment, please contact us:
He's also on Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube.