About the Book

“It’s been the longest jour­ney, with many bumps and twists and turns in the road, and some painful cat­a­stro­phes along the way. But the move­ment for LGBT rights over the past fifty years has been a tri­umph of hope and deter­mi­na­tion over adver­si­ty – and the suc­cess has been due not only to organ­is­ers and cam­paign­ers, vital as they have been, but to thou­sands of ordi­nary peo­ple affirm­ing who and what they are, and want to be. This book pro­vides a beau­ti­ful med­ley record­ing the many dif­fer­ent voic­es in our his­to­ry, and the bit­ter­sweet music of the human strug­gle for recog­ni­tion and social justice.”

Jef­frey Weeks, LGBTQ His­to­ri­an and author of The World We Have Won


Between 2004 and 2011, I inter­viewed 47 old­er les­bians and gay men about their lives and expe­ri­ences from the 1940s to the 1990s. They told me sto­ries relat­ing to per­son­al, social, and polit­i­cal his­to­ry from the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. His­tor­i­cal doc­u­men­ta­tion of many of the areas that this book cov­ers is lim­it­ed and as the peo­ple with mem­o­ries of these times and events are now age­ing, this rel­a­tive­ly neglect­ed area of his­to­ry is at risk of going unrecorded.

Extracts from the inter­views describe the con­trib­u­tors recall­ing peri­ods in which les­bians, gay men, bisex­u­als, and trans­gen­der folk were sig­nif­i­cant­ly more restrained both legal­ly and social­ly than they are today. Not only have their voic­es been large­ly unheard but also, over their life­times, they may have had few oppor­tu­ni­ties to express their expe­ri­ences in a non-threat­en­ing environment.

Twen­ty-four of the con­trib­u­tors in this book ini­tial­ly gave me their sto­ries for a play called Gate­way to Heav­en that I wrote entire­ly from their mem­o­ries. After Age Con­cern (now Age UK) saw the play, they com­mis­sioned a film ver­sion which is still being shown around the coun­try at LGBT film fes­ti­vals and at events dur­ing LGBT His­to­ry Month. The Lon­don Met­ro­pol­i­tan Police saw it and, togeth­er with Age Con­cern Open­ing Doors, com­mis­sioned me to write a sim­i­lar piece, based entire­ly on mem­o­ries of old­er LGBT peo­ple about their rela­tion­ships with the police over their life­times. The so-called ‘Hate Crime Bill’ of 2009 had just been intro­duced and the Met were inter­est­ed in exam­in­ing why there was such a low lev­el of report­ing of homo­pho­bic hate crime from old­er peo­ple in Lon­don. For that project, I inter­viewed a fur­ther twen­ty peo­ple and pro­duced a film called Queens’ Evi­dence.

Addi­tion­al­ly, there are some inter­view extracts in the book from a 2011 the­atre project I was involved in called Stay­ing Out Late, which, through impro­vised scenes and a script­ed per­for­mance, exam­ined old­er LGBT people’s hopes and fears about care in lat­er life, specif­i­cal­ly with regard to their sex­u­al­i­ty. These three projects are the main bod­ies of work that have pro­vid­ed me with the mate­r­i­al that appears in this book. I have found the col­lect­ing and edit­ing of these mem­o­ries excit­ing, mov­ing and impor­tant and I hope that you will too.

Chapters in the Book

1. Grow­ing Up Gay First aware­ness. School days. Teenage years
2. Once I Had a Secret Love First rela­tion­ships. Look­ing for oth­ers. Mov­ing to towns.
3. Being Ille­gal: Gay Men and the Law in the 1950s and ’60s Mon­tagu Case. Wolfend­en Report. 1967 Sex­u­al Offences Act.
4. Com­ing Out and Going Out: Lon­don Nightlife Ear­ly les­bian and gay pubs and clubs. The Gate­ways. Pubs and clubs in the Six­ties and Seventies.
5. The Shame of It All Feel­ings of shame. Fam­i­ly reac­tions. Religion.
6. Com­ing Togeth­er: The Birth of the Gay and Les­bian Rights Movement Ear­ly les­bian and gay pubs and clubs. The Gate­ways. Pubs and clubs in the Six­ties and Seventies
7. Sap­ph­ic Life­lines: Les­bian Groups and the Women’s Movement Minori­ties Research Group. Are­na Three. Sap­pho. Ken­ric. Spare Rib. Women’s Lib­er­a­tion Move­ment. Reclaim the Night. Women Against Vio­lence Against Women. Green­ham Com­mon. Les­bian cus­tody cas­es. Old­er Les­bian Network.
8. Les­bians and Gay Men in Mar­riages and Com­ing Out Late Bisex­u­al­i­ty. Lead­ing a dou­ble life.
9. Queens’ Evi­dence: Les­bians and Gay Men and the Police Cot­tag­ing. Police entrap­ment and harass­ment. Pride march­es and fem­i­nist demonstrations.
10. Rank Out­siders: Life in the Armed Ser­vices and the Police Nation­al Ser­vice. Same-sex rela­tion­ships in the Forces. Witch hunts and dis­missals. Encoun­ters with ser­vice­men. Work­ing as a police officer.
11. Class­room Clos­et: The Teach­ing Profession Prej­u­dice and risk of dis­missal. Organ­is­ing with­in trade unions. Com­ing out.
12. HIV/AIDS: A Turn­ing Point First cas­es of AIDS. Prej­u­dice and pro­pa­gan­da. Loss.
13. We Lived to Tell the Tale: Reflections Look­ing back. Chang­ing attitudes.


Gate­way to Heav­en:  Fifty Years of Les­bian and Gay History

Pub­lished by Tolling­ton Press     Price £10.99

Tolling­ton Press pub­lish­es new writ­ing by women with unique sto­ries to tell. From poet­ry to mem­oir and from dra­ma to short sto­ries, Tolling­ton brings you voic­es you might not hear else­where. www.tollingtonpress.co.uk