Some Extracts from Contributors

The large major­i­ty of con­trib­u­tors to this book were liv­ing in Lon­don and the South East of Eng­land when I inter­viewed them, but many of them orig­i­nal­ly come from all over the Unit­ed King­dom as well as from coun­tries such as Amer­i­ca, Tan­za­nia, Bar­ba­dos, Ger­many, and Thai­land. Some of them played extreme­ly impor­tant roles in les­bian and gay polit­i­cal his­to­ry, effect­ing polit­i­cal and legal change through their involve­ment in those polit­i­cal groups, whilst oth­ers per­haps would not have seen their expe­ri­ences as lead­ing towards any­thing oth­er than get­ting on with their lives as les­bians and gay men, the best way they knew how.

I am, of course, total­ly indebt­ed to all of the con­trib­u­tors for their sto­ries and I hope by read­ing them in this book that many more peo­ple will learn about our own often unrecord­ed – and at times, bare­ly vis­i­ble – social and polit­i­cal history.

Clare Sum­mer­skill

Some Extracts from Contributors


When I was about eleven I had lots and lots of girl­friends, and one par­tic­u­lar one, I used to nip out at night and go across and sleep with her. But not like that. Noth­ing ever hap­pened. But I was mad­ly in love with her. And I used to sleep next to her and think “Oh my God” and I was sweat­ing and I want­ed to put my arms around her but you couldn’t…. So, eleven, I knew I was dif­fer­ent from every­body else.

I grew up in Dagen­ham, where Fords is. It was the biggest coun­cil estate in Europe. It was very depress­ing there, a very straight scene. I joined the library. You were allowed to join it when you were eleven so I read all Freud’s books and psy­chol­o­gy stuff and my Mum used to say “Car­ol, why are you read­ing all that stuff?” So I said “Well Mum, I’m try­ing to find myself.” She said “What do you mean?” I said “Well I think I’m dif­fer­ent to every­body else.” “No you’re not. There’s noth­ing dif­fer­ent about you. If you keep on read­ing those books then you will imag­ine you’re one of those peo­ple.” And I said to her “But Mum I think I’m a les­bian.” “Oh no, you’re not. No you’re not.” Just shoved it under the car­pet completely.


I don’t think I had any prob­lem about being gay but I want­ed it kept com­plete­ly sep­a­rate from the rest of my life. I had a life that was gay and a life that was not gay and nev­er the twain shall meet.

Jen­ny as a lit­tle girl


Jack­ie Forster was very brave. She talked about legal rights and how the issue shouldn’t be shoved under the car­pet. She used to be Jacque­line McKen­zie. She was pret­ty famous in her day and had her own tele­vi­sion show and she was extreme­ly fun­ny and very clever. She took over a mag­a­zine called Are­na Three and me and my girl­friend Mar­i­on, we decid­ed to vol­un­teer our ser­vices. We weren’t a bit polit­i­cal. We just want­ed to meet some les­bians who weren’t these real­ly heavy dykes. Some­one you could walk down the street with and if you bumped into your moth­er you would­n’t have to run away and hide.

And then we got involved with C.H.E. Cam­paign for Homo­sex­u­al Equal­i­ty. Snore title. Which was quite a large organ­i­sa­tion. We used to get edicts from head office about how we ought to be cam­paign­ing for this and march­ing for that and so on but we just used to have fun and par­ties and just be hap­py as a group. Because it was a real­ly bad thing to be gay then and a lot of peo­ple were very, very neu­rot­ic and fright­ened. Fright­ened mainly.


In the ear­ly Fifties there were sev­er­al high pro­file cas­es where the police active­ly enforced laws pro­hibit­ing sex­u­al behav­iour between men. The best-known one was Lord Mon­tagu. Dur­ing the Mon­tagu case I would­n’t buy or read any of the news­pa­pers with the case in because I actu­al­ly knew Michael Pitt-Rivers who was Lord Montagu’s cousin, who was in the case, and we were ter­ri­fied that we might be dragged in there because I knew Michael Pitt-Rivers had my name and address in his address book.

Sue at her 40th birth­day par­ty in 1981


I’ve nev­er had an expe­ri­ence like work­ing on Spare Rib. It was absolute­ly fan­tas­tic! It was dra­mat­ic and intense. Don’t let me slide over the fact that it was hideous as well. I mean all the fights we had there were so destruc­tive. Fights about anti­semitism, Zion­ism, racism, les­bian­ism, fem­i­nism, those were the main ones. Anti-abor­tion, class, Women’s Aid. There were mil­lions of meet­ings on the whole time. Mil­lions of Demos. But my hap­pi­est years as a les­bian were at Spare Rib. When I first joined the col­lec­tive in 1976 it was already chang­ing, open­ing up to a wider range of women. We all did every­thing, so I was one of the edi­tors. We were sit­ting in this build­ing, putting out this mag­a­zine. We were held account­able all the time. You’d get peo­ple say­ing “You’re prej­u­diced. You said that com­plete­ly the wrong way. You have to print a retrac­tion. We demand a meet­ing.” Every issue became divi­sive. And with­in the col­lec­tive we’d have these very com­pli­cat­ed and many-lay­ered ten­sions, tears, scream­ing, run­ning out of the office. But I felt that les­bian fem­i­nism was my move­ment. I felt like I belonged and nobody was going to tell me what to do!

Bob C on a demon­stra­tion in 1975


I think for many men, AIDS was a com­plete mind-fuck in what was hap­pen­ing. It com­plete­ly blew the world away.

I sup­pose some men nev­er got over the tragedy of it real­ly but some did and some became very com­mit­ted in self-help activ­i­ties, run­ning drop-in cen­tres and pro­duc­ing newslet­ters and I think that that self-help tra­di­tion was one of the most impor­tant things that came out of that mid-Eight­ies peri­od. It was extreme­ly dif­fi­cult to get sup­port from any­one at all at that time so I sup­pose they began to realise that they were not just peo­ple who felt desire for oth­er men, they were part of a group in soci­ety and like any group in soci­ety, if you work togeth­er, you can get things that you don’t get if you don’t work togeth­er. Among some men who had not been polit­i­cal­ly con­scious there was a con­scious­ness about what it meant to be a gay man.


Vito in her Wrens uniform

I left school at fif­teen and worked in a shop till I was sev­en­teen when I joined the Navy. I had no edu­ca­tion to speak of but I’d seen the Wren’s mag­a­zine and the glam­our of some­thing like that was uncon­trol­lable for me! The day I left home I was ter­ri­fied because I had­n’t real­ly thought it through and my moth­er was sort of hang­ing on my legs to stop me. I had my first rela­tion­ship with a woman when I was twen­ty-one. I sup­pose we were all a club with­in a club. It was like a sub­cul­ture. The pinky rings were usu­al­ly the telling fac­tor, you used to wear one if you were gay.

You did four year stints in the Wrens and when you got to twelve you could sign for your pen­sion. Well I’d been there ten years when one day they called me in to see the Offi­cer In Charge and I could see copies of my let­ters that were writ­ten some time ear­li­er, quite a few years ago and she charged me with being a les­bian. So what do you do? I was­n’t going to lie. And I thought she’s got evi­dence in front of me and in that split sec­ond it seemed bet­ter not to lie…to be called a liar would have seemed worse than being a les­bian to me. I was in shock. I just could­n’t believe it but basi­cal­ly my career was at an end from that moment on. I can still see myself stand­ing on the steps wait­ing for my taxi to take me back to my bed sit. My uni­form and equip­ment and pay book had all been hand­ed in. There was tremen­dous shame involved in that…and of course I was out with­out a pension.


When I was liv­ing in South Lon­don two or three lor­ry dri­vers used to stay,  bring­ing their lor­ries out­side at the place where I was liv­ing, spend the night and go home to their wives. Quite extraordinary.

Sharley being “saint­ed” on her 70th birth­day under the Hyde Park Gays and Sap­ph­ics banner


I’m Ger­man by birth. One moment every­thing was love­ly in Ger­many and the next peo­ple were dragged off into con­cen­tra­tion camps. I was thir­teen when I left Ger­many but I had to go back and I came to Eng­land again when I was six­teen on the Kinder­trans­port. I came to Eng­land just before the war. My father was mur­dered in a con­cen­tra­tion camp and was beat­en to death and my moth­er even­tu­al­ly died on trans­port to a con­cen­tra­tion camp. My broth­ers and I got out.

So I suf­fer from an anx­i­ety neu­ro­sis because I’ve expe­ri­enced how quick­ly prej­u­dices can be fed to ratio­nal human beings, because it’s always eas­i­er to blame some­body. I think peo­ple of colour will be the first to get it in the neck if that should hap­pen but I think they’re prob­a­bly strong enough to resist because of the num­bers. But gays are an easy tar­get, and hav­ing been at Speak­ers’ Cor­ner all these years there’s still a tremen­dous antag­o­nism towards homosexuals.

Roger and Ron


We always had this thing. We said we’re not going to be sec­ond class cit­i­zens. Free­dom isn’t some­thing that’s giv­en you for­ev­er, you have to fight for it every day, and we had to bloody well fight.