LGSM-episode-graphic

Our latest podcast miniseries this Pride month is about Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners, a small group of LGBTQ people in London who began to raise money for striking workers in the Welsh valleys during the great miners’ strike of 1984-5. Unknown to them at the time, they would end up transforming both communities, and Britain as a whole.

LGSM have recently achieved a level of fame due to the excellent 2014 film by Steven Beresford, Pride. In these episodes, participants in the group, and in the Welsh mining communities, tell their story.

This podcast is funded entirely by our listeners and readers on patreon. You too can support us, get exclusive early access to episodes and bonus audio, like 2 bonus episodes about LGSM, at patreon.com/workingclasshistory

  • Part 1

E27: Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, part 1 Working Class History

  • Part 2

E28: Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, part 2 Working Class History

  • Bonus episode 2.1, with more information about how LGSM organised, and the history of mining in the Welsh valleys: exclusively for our patreon supporters
  • Part 3

E29: Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, part 3 Working Class History

  • Bonus episode 3.1, where the interviewees talk about Pride the film, and their involvement in its production: exclusively for our patreon supporters

Media

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LGSM members with their banner. Mike Jackson is pictured 4th from right. All photographs here courtesy of LGSM.
Brett and Martin 1984.jpg
Brett Haran (left) and Martin Goodsell (right), 1984
Mark Ashton.jpg
Mark Ashton c1985
LGSM colour banner.jpg
LGSM marching in support of the miners
LGSM van.jpg
Members of the South Wales mining communities and LGSM in front of the van purchased with LGSM funds
Jonathan_Blake_dancing.jpg
Dancing during the first LGSM visit to the Welsh valleys. Jonathan Blake is pictured, centre, in the checked trousers he tailored himself (discussed in bonus episode 3.1). Sian James is in the dotted dress to his left.
LGSM South Wales.jpg
LGSM members in the Onllwyn Miners’ Welfare Hall during their first visit. Martin is 3rd from left, middle row, with Brett next to him in the centre. October 1984
Dulais miners visiting London 1985.jpg
Miners and their families visiting London with LGSM members
pride 1985.jpg
LGSM along with miners and their marching band leading Pride 1985
LGSM-pre-pride-planning-meeting-photo.jpg
LGSM members and friends, 2015. Mike Jackson in glasses above the letters “IAN”
Sian James 2015.jpg
Sian James, centre facing camera, at Pride 2015
LGSM 2015.jpg
L-R: Dai Donovan, Cath Booth (a Manchester LGSM member), Mike Jackson, Brett Haran, Len McCluskey (Unite union leader), Martin Goodsell, Jonathan Blake at the Durham Miners’ Gala, 2015

More Information

Acknowledgments

These episodes were edited by Jesse French
Theme music by the Kellingley colliery brass band
Photographs and audio clips reproduced with thanks, courtesy of LGSM

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Transcript

Part 2

[Intro music]

John:

In 1984, a battle was going on between striking mineworkers and Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government. A small group of LGBT people in London came together to support the workers in a way which, unknown to them at the time, would bring both communities together in ways which would change them and the country forever. This is Working Class History.

[Intro music]

John:

This is the first in a three-part miniseries about Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), a group which was set up to support miners in Britain during the Great Strike of 1984/5. Now, if you’re not familiar with what the miners’ strike was about, we’re going to go into a lot more detail about this in a future episode but in short, coal mining in the U.K. was a nationalised industry and run by the National Coal Board, headed by Ian MacGregor. Miners were the best organised and most powerful group of workers in the country and they’d brought down the Conservative government in 1974. So to break the workers’ movement, the government planned to close pits en masse, essentially to destroy the industry and with it, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), whose president was Arthur Scargill. An all-out strike broke out against the closure plan in March 1984 which the government had prepared for. Their strategy was, along with massive violent repression by the police, to basically wait it out until the miners were starved back to work. So raising money to support mining communities and to help them hold out was a key part of the struggle. LGSM was formed by a small number of young people, initially in London but it later spread around the country, and raised huge amounts of money for miners and their families. This is their story. Mike Jackson was one of the founders of the group. I should say that the audio quality at the start of this conversation isn’t that great because Mike was in the pub but it does get better shortly.

Mike:

I was born in 1954 in a little working-class town in Lancashire called Accrington which, when I was a little boy, was still a thriving industrial town. Of course, the working classes had made great gains in the ’60s and ’70s, so there was a real spirit about the town. I mean I’ve only got childhood memories of it but I remember the blokes being excited on Thursday because Thursdays tended to be payday. Working-class people were starting to have money. I left Accrington and moved to become a student at Kew Gardens in 1973 and, of course, that brought me to London which is where I came out. I’d been in London for 11 years before the miners’ strike. I was having a little period of unemployment and I’d got some time on my hands. The government had this scheme on at the time, like an enterprise allowance, so I could do bits of work and they would give you £40 and so I was scraping by, basically. Of course, LGSM then happened.

John:

We were also very happy to be able to speak to Brett and Martin, who were also heavily involved in LGSM.

Brett:

My name is Brett Haran.

Martin:

My name is Martin Goodsell.

Brett:

I had not long moved to London. Well, I’d moved to London at the end of 1982 and I was working in London. I had just started a job working for the London Borough of Hackney and working as a residential social worker in a residential home for adults with learning difficulties. That was really my first proper full-time job, I guess. I wasn’t from London originally. I grew up in the North of England in Oldham, just outside Manchester. So coming to London, for me, was a bit of an eye-opener and I was very excited to be living in London. It really was a big turning point for me in my life. I had just met Martin in 1983, just the year before. I came along to some meetings of what was called the Gay Young Socialists which was a self-organised and not officially recognised group of lesbian and gay members of what was then known as the Labour Party Young Socialists. I wanted to go to that group because I wanted to meet more lesbian and gay people in London. I went along in 1983 and that’s where I met Martin and, in fact, that year, we then became a couple.

Martin:

I’m from London, born and bred. When I first met Brett, I was working in the antiques trade. I was in a bijou antique shop just near Bond Street, in Burlington Arcade. That was when we first met when I was living and working in London. As Brett said, we met through the Gay Young Socialists group. I was one of the founders of the organisation and it was a group that ran for about a year and folded just before the miners’ strike. We dissolved the group but lots of the activists, mostly younger activists who went on to become involved in Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), were actually members of the Gay Young Socialists group. We met there and that was 34 or 35 years ago [laughter] and we’ve been together ever since. We were both active in the Labour Party and, for me, I was involved in other political organisations too, which I’ll probably tell you a bit about later. We were living and working in London as two young gay men, basically. In early 1984, we were both 24 and just about coming up to 25 and so we were still quite young.

John:

This isn’t just a story about LGSM but about the relationships they forged together with the mining communities in the Welsh Valleys. This is Sian James, the wife of a mineworker who, like many women, was deeply involved in supporting the strike. As we discuss in our episode 13, which is about women in the miners’ strike, Sian was much later elected as a local Labour MP.

Sian:

I was married, and I’m still married, to Martin who was employed underground during the miners’ strike. He wasn’t actually a miner but he worked underground as a fitter and they were all members of the NUM. So when the strike was called, we fully supported the strike and we got involved with everything that happened during the strike. I had a grandfather who was a railwayman and he had farming ancestors but everybody else, if you traced my husband and I back for generations, it would be mining. I was a young mother and I had two children. I had a little boy of seven and a half when the strike started and a little girl of four and a half. They were as big a part of the strike as anybody else really and so we were on strike from the beginning as a family. We were a very happy family, and very content with our lives, and I was very content as a housewife. I’d always been encouraged to speak up in the community but I was very much involved in my children’s school and getting them involved in their music classes and going to chapel, so it was very much a community-based life.

John:

Life at the time for LGBTQ people in the U.K. was particularly hard and institutional and overt homophobia and discrimination was rife.

Brett:

There was certainly no such thing as equality, as we would understand it, at that time. Male homosexuality had only been decriminalised less than 20 years previously in 1967 and even then, the age of consent for gay men was set at 21; whereas, the age of consent for heterosexuals was 16. There were no formal legal protections from discrimination for lesbian and gay people in terms of employment rights, housing, provision of services and certainly no legal recognition of lesbian and gay relationships e.g. marriage. My recollection and experience was that life for most gay men and lesbians at that time was very closeted, certainly outside the big cities such as London, Manchester and Birmingham where there was, in fact, a growing lesbian and gay scene. Nevertheless, for an awful lot of lesbian and gay men, I’m guessing their lives were still quite closeted. The term LGBT didn’t exist really in any way, as far as I can recall. People did say, very commonly, ‘the gay community’ or ‘the lesbian and gay community’; whereas now, obviously, people are more used to talking about LGBT, or LGBTQI+, or whatever. We just used to say ‘the lesbian and gay community’ or ‘the gay community’ which was a reflection of where we were in terms of the political situation at that time. Homophobia was fairly casual and overt and it was quite commonplace. The right-wing tabloid newspapers were full of anti-gay stories which increased in viciousness as emerging details about HIV and AIDS became more widespread. The Tory government, at the time, were quite strident in their attacks on lesbians and gay people and usually citing support for lesbian and gay rights by left-wing Labour councils as evidence of the depravity and unfitness to govern of the ‘loony left’ as they called it. The police would routinely harass lesbian and gay people and raids on gay bars and clubs were not uncommon. Gay men were often harassed and even arrested for kissing another man in the street. You could be arrested for kissing your boyfriend. I don’t believe that was necessarily particularly a criminal offence per se but the police would use things like ‘offending public decency’ or ‘outraging public decency’, just as a way of harassing gay people.

John:

For Martin in London, where there was a much bigger and more visible gay community, things weren’t as bad.

Martin:

I’ll talk about the personal side. Having lived in London all of my life, I suppose I was one of the lucky ones. I never felt particularly ashamed of being gay and quite the opposite actually. I had relationships fairly early on as a teenager and where I lived in West London, it was very close to Earl’s Court. So there were always gay people around and more than now actually, there were lots of bars to go to, particularly around the Earl’s Court area. I was out and about as a young, gay person from fairly early teens. I suppose, in some ways, it was quite easy to get into pubs when you were 16 years old at that time [laughter]. On a daily basis, as long as you weren’t openly gay, I suppose you could live a fairly gay life under the radar. You couldn’t be out to everybody but you could lead a fairly reasonable life within limits. I had Saturday jobs and worked in clothes shops around the King’s Road and Kensington Market and there were always lots of gay people around. I think it depended on where you worked and what you were doing but it felt, at the time, quite an exciting place to be living in London at that particular point. That’s not to say that life wasn’t tough for other people. I can remember reading in the local paper where anyone caught cottaging or hanging around Brompton Cemetery at the time, their names and addresses would be published in the local newspapers which was incredibly vindictive. There was bullying at school but also there was a lot of excitement around fashion and music. It was the time of glam rock, androgyny, Ziggy Stardust and Marc Bolan, so it felt like times were changing. It was quite exciting on some levels.

Brett:

I think London, obviously, was a very, very different ballgame. As Martin said, lots of things were happening and, obviously, a lot of people could live a life under the radar, if you like. However, growing up in the North of England, certainly, my experience was very, very different. It didn’t feel as if it was particularly easy to live an openly gay life and I couldn’t wait to leave university and come down to London, as I guess was the same trajectory for an awful lot of people. Like Martin said, although I said at the beginning, legally, there were lots of issues and lots of problems and it wasn’t always easy for people to be openly gay, at the same time, in the early to mid-80s, there was a coming to the fore of lesbian and gay issues, certainly politically. A lot of left-wing Labour councils up and down the country, particularly in London with Ken Livingstone’s Greater London Council, were starting to actively and very positively take up lesbian and gay issues in a way that hadn’t really happened before. This was something really quite exciting for me, for Martin and people like ourselves because all of a sudden, someone was actually making a noise and saying that these were issues which were political important and were giving voice to lesbian and gay people in a way that we hadn’t really experienced previously. That was a source of great tension and conflict with Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government. As I said, they took a very strident tone about lesbian and gay issues and so people like Ken Livingstone and the leaders of other, principally, London Labour councils, but also places like Manchester and Liverpool, became targets for attack by the government and by their friends and allies in the right-wing tabloid press. It was also a time when, within trade unions, lesbian and gay issues started to gather something of a momentum. Issues were starting to be talked about by trade unionists and being raised by lesbian and gay trade unionists. Self-organised groups within trade unions were starting to be formed. I was a member of what was then called NALGO, which was one of the principal local government unions, which subsequently became UNISON. I got involved in a group called NALGAY which was for lesbian and gay members of NALGO. So although the wider political climate, on lots of levels, didn’t seem particularly propitious, there was an awful lot of political activity that was starting to bubble up and starting to gather momentum.

John:

The fact that homophobia was just everywhere made many gay people internalise those feelings, including Mike.

Mike:

Bearing in mind the 1967 Offences Act happened when I was 13 years old. I don’t know where puberty and adolescence converge but I certainly had sexual feelings and they were always homosexual feelings. I had a working-class background and no kind of liberal education or values. I’d absorbed the mad, the sad and the bad about my own sexuality which I internalised and that was not good. I was a bit of a miserable teenager at times and I was a very frightened teenager because I’d been brought up to be an honest lad but I knew I was lying about something about myself. I didn’t like that but I had absolutely no means whatsoever, like role models or counselling services, nothing. In fact, I went to my GP two or three times to try and look for a cure for it but thankfully, I was so paranoid that by the time I actually got into the consulting room with the GP, I would sit there and say, ‘I, I, I, I, I’ve got a cold.’ [Laughter] Thank god I did that because back in the day, who knows? I could have been sent for ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). Absolutely awful. So as a teenager, I used to go cottaging which is having sex with men in public toilets. I was underage and although I was proactively going out seeking this, I look back and think, ‘These men were paedophiles by having sex with a teenage boy.’ I always felt very grubby after I’d had these kinds of experiences and I used to come home and bathe myself to somehow clean the homosexuality out of myself [laughter]. I then came out. Literally, I came out as a result of phoning Gay Switchboard. It would have been several phone calls and I’m sure I would have argued with them and said, ‘I know you don’t think there’s anything wrong with homosexuality but I do.’ Eventually, I think the penny would have dropped and I would   have thought, ‘Actually, maybe there isn’t anything wrong with it.’ It was then like an explosion [laughter]. I went from nought miles an hour to 110 miles an hour. They referred me to a gay disco but it was put on by a Roman Catholic priest, believe it or not. It was a bit sheltered and a safe space. It was in a church hall where there was no alcohol. There was a dance set in the corner where somebody was playing 45 rpm vinyls [laughter]. Although I’d had sex with men, this handsome young man, more my age, came up to me. These were the days when people asked you for a dance [laughter] and this young man came up to me and said, ‘Would you like a dance?’ and we danced and I think we hugged. I think we kissed as well. At that moment, as we were kissing in front of other people for everyone to see, all the scales of self-oppression just fell off me. It was like an onion just unfolding because with tongues down throats, I just thought, ‘Nobody can tell me this isn’t normal. This is what I’ve been longing for.’ [Laughter] I didn’t go home with him, never saw him again and I didn’t have sex with him but somehow that public exposure of me expressing myself just changed everything because I finally realised and thought, ‘This is natural. There is nothing abnormal about this. This is me and this is who I am.’ I was surrounded by other young LGB people who were also going through the same thing.

John:

Meanwhile, in Wales, things had been hard for a while and they were getting harder. People knew that conflict with the government was coming.

Sian:

We were members of the Neath, Dulais and Upper Swansea Valley Miners’ Support Group and that covered three distinct top ends of three valleys in the South Wales coalfield. The colliery my husband worked in, Abernant, was an anthracite coalfield. We knew lots of people who had family who had emigrated to America to go and work in the big anthracite coalfields in Pennsylvania. Although we’d seen the contraction of the mining industry and we’d seen pits close, people who stuck it out or who were still working underground were very supportive of Arthur Scargill and felt very passionately when the strike began that what we were fighting for was the dignity of work. We’d also come through five years of Thatcherism since Thatcher had been elected in 1979 and we’d known then that things were going to be difficult. We knew that she was no lover of trade unions. We knew that she didn’t believe in nationalised industries and she was also hell-bent on tackling those unions that she’d seen who had brought down previous Conservative governments. We knew that we were on a collision course and as a part of that collision, we knew that our communities had been getting poorer. By poorer, I mean less and less facilities, less and less opportunity and less and less traditional jobs. Jobs in mining had contracted; jobs in the docks had contracted; jobs on the railways and in the steelworks had contracted. We were an area that was very dependent, at that time, on traditional heavy industry. So all the things that created those communities, like the trade unions, the miners’ welfare halls, the social clubs and the very fabric of our society all revolved around the Labour Party, the anti-apartheid movement and the CND movement. Most of our friends came from that working-class background. The working class very much focused on the fact that life was very difficult for a lot of people and that this had been really compounded by trickle-down economics, by the Reagan/Thatcher years and our fear of nuclear war.

John:

When the strike began, many people thought, like the previous nationwide miners’ strikes in 1972 and 1974, that the miners would just win quickly. Some people also questioned why fighting Margaret Thatcher was just falling on mining communities.

Sian:

Not the miners’ families but at first, the local community were all saying things like, ‘Oh well, give the miners six weeks. They’ve broken Conservative governments in the past and they’ve given in. It’ll take about six weeks.’ I remember thinking to myself, ‘Why are they expecting us to struggle on? Why are they expecting us to fight the battle? Unless we all combine against Margaret Thatcher and her government…’ It was a repressive government. It was a government that wasn’t talking about the sort of communities we wanted to live in. I thought that was pretty unfair. We discussed it, as a young family, and we knew that it would be a long haul. What was happening at this point was that the strike was hardening and people were getting more and more determined. We’d got from March through to about July or August and it was starting to dawn on us that it was going to be far longer than a quick strike like I’d seen with my father in the past and we’d seen in ’82 when Martin was working underground. We were pretty much entrenched but what was happening in terms of fighting back against this was that Ian McGregor was saying things like, ‘Don’t support the miners. You’re paying for violence. You’re supporting Arthur Scargill and his flying pickets.’ We were saying, ‘No you’re not. You’re supporting hard-pressed communities. You’re providing food and support for miners and their families. You’re not paying for those sorts of things.’ The union was getting ever deeper into financial difficulties because one of the ways that the government was pushing back was with mass arrests of pickets and reading the Riot Act for illegal assembly. Men, in particular, were being arrested on picket lines and then they were being banned from every picket line in the country. If they broke that ban, that would mean that the union would forfeit the bond of the bail that they’d set up. Obviously, they were running up bills with their legal defences. So at this point, everybody was getting pretty entrenched and everybody knew it was going to be a longer haul than we’d imagined.

John:

As it became clear the strike was going to be a long, drawn-out dispute, the idea for LGSM was sparked.

Mike:

It’s well documented how LGSM came about because I’d volunteered to become a member of Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, as it was called then, which was a counselling service for isolated gay people. I’d benefited from their service and that’s how I came out. I was a very unhappy, depressed teenager and nobody talked about sexuality, let alone homosexuality. I’d absorbed all the homophobic nonsense that was around me at the time and so I felt a great debt of gratitude to Gay Switchboard. So many years later, I actually became a volunteer and the person who interviewed me to become a volunteer on Gay Switchboard was Mark Ashton. He immediately took a shine to me. He was a very charismatic young man. I was recruited and, of course, that meant that I met Mark whilst I was doing my shifts on Gay Switchboard and then we’d meet outside of that. We became great friends because we shared two things in common; one, we were both activist gay men and two, we were both socialists. Mark Ashton was born in Oldham in Lancashire and grew up in Northern Ireland because his father had a job where he had to travel quite a bit. He’d got a gay friend, a very close friend of his, called ‘Monty’, Robert Montgomery, who later became part of LGSM. Mark wasn’t particularly political at all. He was quite feisty and stood up for himself but the political stuff hadn’t really happened for him. His father had this job installing secondhand textile machinery. The British mills were updating their equipment and from what I can gather, he’d get hold of these looms and bits of equipment and install them overseas. I believe he was working in Pakistan, or it could have been Bangladesh, and he invited Mark over to go and stay with him. That experience really changed Mark. Mark saw poverty in a way that he’d never witnessed in Britain and apparently, he came back quite a changed man and a little bit more serious about life. That kind of political flame had been lit as a result of that experience and he became a member of the Communist Party and towards the end of his life, he actually became the first ever out, gay General Secretary of the Communist League. In a sense, by the time I met Mark, he was already well down that path and was a lot more what you might call politically educated and aware than I was. Such is the penalty for not being aligned to a political party that I didn’t enjoy the political education that he’d had. He put a lot of work into it and he was very knowledgeable about socialist politics. So by the time the miners’ strike happened, it was a good two or three months into the miners’ strike. I bumped into Mark one day in King’s Cross where I lived then, and still do to this day, and Mark said, ‘Hi Mike, how do you fancy taking some buckets and collecting for the miners at the Gay Pride march this Saturday?’ This is 1984. I said, ‘Yeah, good idea.’ That’s how it all started really. It was as simple as that. After the Pride march, there was a rally in ULU which was the London University Students’ Union. Another organisation, the Labour Campaign for Lesbian and Gay Rights, had already organised a meeting there to support the miners and they’d got a young Kent miner to come up to speak at the meeting. Naturally, Mark and I went to this and it was packed. It was standing room only. The miner got a very good reception from people and I believe there was another collection. Mark just said, ‘We’re on to something here.’ He set up a meeting held in his flat in the Heygate Estate, in South London. We had the very first meeting on 11th July 1984 in his flat and 11 people came to that. They were mainly people from what you might call political backgrounds but not all. There were people who were fairly new to politics. I was never one for party politics and so I wasn’t a Trot, or a Stalinist, or a communist, or a Labour Party member at that stage. I was unaligned. That’s how LGSM started.

John:

Given all the discrimination against LGBT people, Mike and Mark felt it was important that they had an explicitly lesbian and gay organisation.

Mike:

In 1984, we’d had Gay Liberation for 14 or 15 years in its various guises. We still didn’t have any rights whatsoever and, in fact, although the 1967 Sexual Offences Act decriminalised homosexuality, the arrests of gay men shot up dramatically after that act was passed. It was no longer criminal to be a homosexual but what the police were doing was entrapping gay men and they were using ‘soliciting, importuning and gross indecency’ as ways to oppress gay men. When I talk about entrapping them, they would dress up young, cute officers in ripped jeans and leather jackets, they would go into public toilets and they would entrap gay men. It was totally illegal, of course, and I think terribly unfair [laughter]. The movement had a lot still to be fighting for and so one did things, as an out and proud gay man, because that visibility and that statement was so important. Mark and I were working as volunteers on Gay Switchboard, so that was the gay thing that we were doing. The miners’ strike, however, was such a huge thing. It was the biggest industrial struggle since the 1926 miners’ strike and it completely divided the country. It drew in all kinds of people and so quite naturally, as socialists or communists, Mark, myself and the other people who later joined LGSM, wanted to support the miners. We wanted to do that together as gay men because that’s how we wanted to do it as it was part of that continuum of finding it necessary to assert yourself and to be out. Whilst we could have worked within the labour and trade union movement just as individuals, people like us felt it was a necessity to actually do that but collectively as gay men and, in a sense, to assert ourselves. That appealed to me, Mark and probably every other person who joined LGSM [laughter] because it meant asserting ourselves within the labour and trade union movement. There were instances within the labour and trade union movement where homosexuality was dismissed or scathed. During the ’70s miners’ strikes, some of the leading lights of the Gay Liberation Front went on a miners’ support march and I don’t know whether they were holding hands but they got mocked by some of the striking miners. That’s the way it was [laughter]. That’s why it was important for us to collectively be together to support the miners but united together as out, proud gay people. We were doing that every day of our lives. Mark and I were volunteers on Switchboard and we were challenging homophobia wherever we came across it. Working-class people and working-class men were just as capable of being homophobic as anybody else was but the point was to challenge it and to change hearts and minds, which is what we were used to. In a sense, when we started LGSM, we anticipated that we would have to be dealing homophobia within the mining communities. Why not? It existed everywhere else around us but we were prepared to challenge it. We certainly didn’t support the miners with any sense of mutual exchange. We were prepared to give unqualified support to them in their struggle and if we encountered individual instances of homophobia, we would deal with it but we weren’t trading off our support for them supporting gay rights. We weren’t as naive as that. What happened though was actually quite surprising for all of us because we didn’t encounter any homophobia at all [laughter]. When I met straight men who’d never really met out, gay men back then, time after time, they would say, ‘The thing is I’ve never met an out, gay man before.’ For sure, they’d met closeted gay men or suspected certain men were gay but being out was a very different thing and we knew that. We knew, politically, it was just so important to be out at every possible opportunity and asserting your sexuality and if it would lead to discussions, great. I’ve certainly had more than one experience where, at that moment when I’ve met a heterosexual man whose never met an out, gay man before, I’ve talked about it and they’ve wanted to listen. They’ve actually apologised to me for their homophobic transgressions [laughter] of people that I’d never met in my life before and it was all in the past. It made me smile that [laughter] because all I wanted was for them to wise up and learn that it was okay for people to be gay. That was something I was quite used to and when we went into the mining communities, that’s what we were prepared for but, as I said, that never happened.

John:

As the strike drew on, various organisations started twinning with the Valley’s miners’ support groups and one day, they got a letter from a new group they hadn’t heard of before. While they didn’t know it yet, it would end up changing many of their lives and contributing, in no small way, to changing Britain.

Sian:

At this point, we decided that one of the ways that we would push back as a support group was that we would invite anybody who donated money to us. They were mainly trade union groups, groups from overseas, activists or whoever. We would invite them to come and see where their money was being spent. We would say, ‘Come and see the Neath, Dulais and Swansea Valley. Come and see what we believe in, what we’re struggling for and why these communities are so precious to us and you’ll actually see where your money is being spent.’ Not everybody picked up on that opportunity but that started to broaden our horizons very much because if you got involved with hosting visitors, you met really interesting people and you got to have very interesting discussions. We hosted journalists from Switzerland and America, trade unionists from Belgium, France and Scandinavia and, more to the point, trade unionists from other parts of Britain who we’d had very, very little to do with. The big unions and the big donors were people like SOGAT, the big print unions and the Daily Express chapters. There was an awful lot of people who were supporting us and many of them came from working-class backgrounds and had family who’d been working underground. A lot of them had made their lives in London, Manchester and Birmingham but we hadn’t been exposed to people from those communities and we were pretty insular in a way. We didn’t travel greatly. You had your two weeks’ miners’ fortnight and you ended up going to places like Porthcawl, Barry, Aberystwyth or day trips to various holiday beach places. This was opening up a very different world for us and we really got involved with it because we really liked to hear from the people that were supporting us, we really liked showing them around and we met interesting people. We were fully invested in this when they asked for volunteers but the second really important reason was you got an extra bag of food. On the weekly food bag runs, if you put two visitors up, you would get an extra bag of food to provide food for them. It was a quid pro quo in a way but for us, the main driver was the fact that we were meeting activists and trade unionists from lots and lots of different backgrounds, like BAME activists. It was fascinating to hear why they wanted to support us or how they felt as strongly as we did. It was great to hear about their struggles. This is how I remember it and other people remember it in different ways but we had a letter asking us to accept this money. It was from Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners and people were saying things like, ‘What? They’re in London. No lesbians and gays support the miners.’ There was a little bit of that and then this strange little, nervous laugh that went around. People were saying, ‘What are you laughing at?’ There were lots of typical working-class jokes, like ‘You’ll have to stand with your backs against the wall.’ The women just got really cross with this and said, ‘Oh for god’s sake! We should be so far beyond this now.’ That’s the point when I spoke up and said, ‘Do you know, I don’t care who people are. If they’re giving us money and they’ve gone to the bother of collecting this money, we should just accept it. We should do what we do with every other group that collects money for us and twins with us. They should be invited down to come and see where their money is being spent.’ Do you know, there wasn’t any great argument about that. There wasn’t any dissension about that and people were pretty cool about it. I think the sort of silliness lasted a couple of minutes and there was no overt anti-gay or anti-lesbian feeling. It was just like, ‘Why do they want to do it?’ The riposte was, ‘Well, we don’t care why they want to do it. It’s good enough for us that they want to raise money for us.’ Of course, the payback of that was that LGSM became one of our most consistent funders and supported us all the way through the strike.

[Outro music]

John:

That’s it for Part 1. Our Patreon supporters can listen to all three parts now, as well as two bonus episodes. For everyone else, future episodes will be out each week. Next time, we’ll be talking about the relationship forged between LGSM members and the mining communities and in Part 3, we’ll be looking at the end of the strike and the massive legacy that LGSM left. Some of what we were told, unfortunately, we just couldn’t fit into the episodes, so that’s what we’ve put in the two bonus episodes for our Patreon supporters. We’ve also got more information, including photos and videos on our website workingclasshistory.com and linked in the show notes. This miniseries is part of our wave of new episodes we’re spending a lot more time on. As we’ve got no adverts or corporate sponsors and we want all of our episodes to be available for everyone, we’ll only be able to keep doing this if we get more support from you, our listeners, on Patreon. Patreon is a service which enables people to support us from as little as $2 a month and in return, get benefits like exclusive early access to episodes, bonus audio, access to our database of events and map under construction, our annual report, free and discounted merch and more. So if you can, please consider supporting us at patreon.com/workingclasshistory. If you can’t, that’s totally cool too but maybe you could do something like give us a review on your favourite podcast app or share our episodes on social media. Thanks to all of our existing Patreon supporters for making this podcast possible. This episode was edited by Jesse French. The theme music for this episode is by the Kellingley Colliery Brass Band. Catch you next time.

Part 2

John:

Welcome back to Part 2 of our miniseries on Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners during the 1984/5 miners’ strike. If you haven’t heard Part 1 yet, I’d go back and listen to that first.

[Intro music]

John:

LGSM was a broad church politically but it was an effective organisation based around a couple of fundamental principles and practical goals which we think are something we can learn from for campaigns today. Martin and then Brett, who are members of the group, explain more about how they worked.

Martin:

The group was formed based on unconditional support for the miners against the government, for which there was unanimous agreement. Those of us that came together in the very early days of LGSM were absolutely clear that this was what the group was to be about. It was absolutely unconditional support for the miners against the government. We set up the group and we would have weekly meetings. One of the main aims was to go into the gay community and build support for the miners and that, from the very start, involved being outside of venues, as well as inside, collecting for the strike fund. We’d identified Dulais and Neath as the area that we would be supporting and unlike in the film, we did actually have some initial links with the area through a member of the Gay Young Socialists group, a person called Hugh Williams, who was from Swansea. He was a member of the Communist Party at the time and had contact with the industrial organiser of the Communist Party who put him in touch with the people in South Wales. I think, at the time, there were various support groups all over the country, like women’s groups, supporting the miners. It was quite a phenomenon of how these groups were set up. We had our own group and from the off, we were supporting them by raising money. We set up a bank account. We got off to a really good start by establishing links fairly quickly and met with the people from Dulais and we’d arrange meetings in London. That was it, basically. We offered unconditional support, raising funds and to go into the lesbian and gay community to win over support which obviously involved lots of discussions, debates and arguments with people that we would meet.

Brett:

As Martin said, one of the first things we did was set up a bank account. We obviously wanted some way of ensuring that the money we collected was accounted for and that we had some means of sending it on to the mining community that we’d decided to support. I remember, very clearly, going into the Co-op Bank for the very first time. We met on a Sunday as we’d all collected throughout the previous week and I remember taking this big holdall full of coins and notes. It was really heavy with mainly coins. I’d bagged it all up and plonked it on the counter at the Co-op Bank in Islington at the Angel. I can just remember the look of slight surprise [laughter] and bemusement on the face of the cashier behind the counter. I could see her reading this paying in slip that said ‘Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners’. There wasn’t any particular hostility. I could just imagine what was going through this woman’s mind, like, ‘Gosh, what is this strange group? Who are these people? What are they doing?’ It all felt very exciting in a weird sort of way. Obviously, one of the things we had to do when we first started meeting, on a very practical level, was just agree a rota of who was going to go out collecting, where they were going to collect and what nights they were going to collect. One of the principal things we did was go out to the clubs and the bars, rattle our buckets and collect money. I remember one occasion and, again, I was standing outside The Bell pub at King’s Cross which was a very popular gar bar. I was rattling my bucket and I noticed, coming out, was Derek Jarman, the film director. He just dropped something into my bucket and it was a rolled-up note. I thought, ‘I wonder what that is.’ I thought it was a tenner but, in fact, it was a £50 note. I’d never seen a £50 note before [laughter]. It was just incredible. He just dropped it into the bucket, he walked away and he didn’t want any kind of fuss or anything. I wanted to say thank you to him but he just walked on his way and I just thought that was an amazing act of generosity and something I will remember for a long time. It was very important that we did that. Our primary purpose for coming together as a group, certainly in the initial stages, was to raise money and to spread the message within the gay community. We weren’t really about debating the more abstruse points of the rights and wrongs of the strike. We all agreed the strike was on, we supported the miners unconditionally and it was a case of all hands to the pumps. Let’s collect what we can and make sure we send that money down to the mining communities that desperately needed it.

Martin:

It was a fairly small group in the beginning and I think there were not many more than about half a dozen of us originally but it soon grew fairly rapidly. We all agreed on the initial principles of unconditional support and we did discuss politics from the off and there was no doubt about that because every development in the strike was of great importance to us and so we followed it really clearly and we had different perspectives. However, when it came to the job of raising money, that was a priority. The decision-making process was quite interesting because although there were people from very different political outlooks, it was very much about consensus. That was how decisions were made.

John:

While many members of LGSM were socialists of one stripe or another, rather than organising in a traditional, hierarchical way or have a party-type structure with a central committee, they were highly democratic. Mike Jackson, who was Secretary of the group, told us a bit more about this.

Mike:

LGSM didn’t believe in leaders. We very deliberately had a very horizontal structure. We were a single-issue campaign and so we didn’t need a great bit structure. We had two treasurers though because we were in the business of collecting funds for the miners and so obviously that was an important role. I was the secretary because obviously we needed a secretary but the chair, for example, was a rotating chair. Each week, we’d chose a victim to be chair the following week [laughter], whether they liked it or not.

Martin:

As the group developed, that probably changed slightly and there were some fairly fierce debates but those debates were important debates, so I don’t think there was a mistake in us openly discussing differences. When it came down to it, most of the key members wouldn’t tolerate people coming in and telling us how to do the job of supporting the miners, unless they were actually out on the streets themselves doing the collections. It was very much focused on the idea that you come to the group, you go out and you do your collections. There was no real time for people that didn’t pull their weight, basically, but the consensus thing was really good. It’s the way that I quite like doing politics.

Brett:

I agree. I think the point I was trying to make was that although we did have debates and we did discuss the politics of the strike, we didn’t let that overshadow the primary purpose of the group which was to collect money and to support the miners. We definitely didn’t want to end up becoming racked with factionalism and division. That would have been completely pointless. The strike was intense and it really was a case, as I said before, of all hands to the pumps. We tried to make sure that we didn’t lose sight of that fact. That was the real purpose of coming together and doing what we did in terms of collecting money.

Martin:

I suppose there were two groups, in a way; the politicos, the people that were active politically before and during the strike and those who weren’t. They wanted to support the strike. The country was divided and it was a momentous strike. It was one of the biggest strikes in working-class history. So there was a bit of tension, I suppose, because there was that political discussion and we were all at different levels of understanding. Some of the discussions would have seemed quite unnecessary, I suppose, or a little bit obscure to some people but it was a political education for absolutely everybody that participated in the group.

John:

For those of you who are interested in the specific details of how the group organised, Mike explains more about this in a bonus audio to this episode, available for our Patreon supporters. Initially, LGSM activists got a pretty mixed reaction from London’s gay community but over time, this changed.

Mike:

Obviously, the responses that we got from within the lesbian and gay community varied. I would say, without doubt, the majority of people supported what we were doing. I’ve got loads of stories that I could tell you, especially lesbians and gay men putting money into our collection buckets and just simply saying, ‘My dad’s a miner,’ or ‘My granddad was a miner,’ or ‘My brother’s a miner.’ There was this kind of artificial distinction between lesbians and gay men and miners or mining communities and, of course, that misses the point completely that a lot of us come from mining communities. I did. However, we did get our hostilities and I learned one little trick in that respect. Bearing in mind that most of the people in LGSM were activists, LGSM wasn’t the only thing that they’d ever done in their lives and most people in LGSM were doing all kinds of stuff. Mark and I, for example, were working on Switchboard and Mark was involved in half a dozen different things, including his tenants’ association and stuff like that. The common one we got was, ‘Why are you collecting for the miners?’ They thought we should have been collecting for our community, bearing in mind that age was just on the horizon then. What I learned to do when I came across that challenge was say, ‘Before I answer that, mate, can you tell me what you do for the community?’ I never met a single one of them who did jack shit for anybody [laughter]. They were professional moaners but not one of them said, ‘I do this and I do that.’ Not a single one of them and so I never had to continue explaining myself to them. I just said, ‘Piss off!’ [Laughter].

Brett:

I think it’s fair to say the response, initially, was mixed. There was definitely some hostility and initially, there was definitely an awful lot of bemusement as to what we were doing and why we were supporting the miners. What were these people doing standing outside a gay bar or a gay club collecting money? However, I think the longer we were there and the more our presence became known and accepted, I think the more support there was for what we were doing. I think it’s fair to say that there was a degree of hostility throughout the whole of the strike. It wasn’t fierce but it was something that was definitely there. It was clearly the case that not all lesbian and gay people thought we were doing the right thing. It was very common to hear, ‘What have the miners ever done for us?’ That was not an uncommon thing to hear. We did experience, overall throughout the course of the strike, a fairly high level of support, ultimately, which was evidenced by the amount of money that we ended up collecting. All told, in terms of collections outside clubs, bars and with the money that we raised through the Pits and Perverts concert that we put on at the Electric Ballroom in Camden in December of ’84, the total amount we raised was about £22,000 which was a pretty phenomenal amount of money at that time.

John:

In response to be being asked the question, ‘What have the miners ever done for us?’ this is what Mark Ashton would say, as recounted in a short documentary about LGSM called All-Out Dancing in Dulais.

Mark:

What do you mean when you say the miners don’t support us. The miners dig coal which creates fuel that actually makes electricity. Would you go down a mine and work? I wouldn’t like to go down a mine and work. One of the reasons I support miners a lot is because they go down and do it. I wouldn’t do it.

Martin:

There was a debate. It wasn’t just outside or inside bars and clubs where we were collecting. There was also a debate taking place in the gay press, particularly Capital Gay, the newspaper at the time. We were attacked in various columns by fairly prominent gay activists, like Brett said, who said, ‘What have the miners ever done for us? What’s it got to do with us? We’ve got our own battles to fight.’ There was always good ripostes from LGSM members who actually responded and responded incredibly well. That debate took place in the press and I think, overall, the response that we got was reasonably positive, particularly towards the end of the strike. As Brett said earlier, there was a lot going on around us in the trade union movement, particularly. Small gains were being made and people were campaigning against harassment, discrimination and the famous customs’ raid on Gay’s The Word. It was a very lively political situation. Things were developing and the lesbian and gay community wasn’t immune to that and things were happening that were affecting us, so there was a far wider debate than just the miners’ strike. I think people were seeing that things were happening in the labour movement for lesbian and gay people. That was where the fight was taking place and people were being defended and there was solidarity being built.

Brett:

For me, I think it was about trying to show to people that we’re not isolated groups of people. We all have interconnections and ultimately, whether we realise or appreciate it or not, we all have the same aspirations. We all want to live happy, fulfilled lives. We want decent housing and decent jobs. We want to live our lives free from harassment. We want to be valued and we want dignity in our lives. For me, it was about saying to people that we can’t achieve equality as lesbian and gay people without the support of other people. We’re a minority and we’re always going to be a minority. We do depend and we do need other people to value and appreciate our struggle. We need their support. The strike was an opportunity to show that solidarity is a vital element of winning any struggle. So I think it was about making links, about stressing the importance of solidarity and showing that we achieve far more together and realising that we have a lot more in common with each other than we have in terms of differences. This is not always easy to get across to people, particularly when you’re lesbian or gay and you’ve grown up in an environment where you’ve probably faced intolerance and hostility. Let’s face it, the miners and other traditional workers were not necessarily always known for, shall we say, their support for things like lesbian and gay rights [laughter]. It was as much an education for them as anything else but through that struggle, that fight and that coming together, when it was a case of all hands to the pumps, people’s ability to appreciate and see things beyond their own immediate experience was an opportunity that has to be taken. That, for me, was one of the important experiences of that strike.

Martin:

The key word was ‘solidarity’. Because we were a group of socialists, the idea that we wanted to put across was that our interests, as an oppressed group, was to link up with other progressive organisations and movements and the working-class movement was the key to making changes in society. I also think that a lot of the original founders of the group came from working-class backgrounds, so that really did inform the way that we were thinking and that sort of consciousness. You have to think, the ’70s and early ’80s was a time of real militancy and people did identify more than they do now. You could say you were working class and you were in a trade union. The trade union movement was much larger and there were massive battles taking place. This wasn’t the first miners’ strike and it wasn’t actually the first time that gay men had supported a strike. That had happened before. In those general terms, it was allying ourselves and saying that if we wanted real change, as lesbians and gay men, we needed to be in a trade union. We needed to get organised and we needed to seek out allies. I think that discussion that we would have had was also informed by the other groups at the same time. There was LGSM but there were numerous women’s groups, black groups and all sorts of groups. I think the GLC played a massive part in facilitating that by giving people meeting spaces and just encouraging that kind of self-organisation and that kind of intersectional approach, as we would call it now. For us, because of the very nature of the group, it was about solidarity and seeing the working-class as where change was going to happen and where it was going to come from.

John:

The GLC, mentioned by Martin just then, was the Greater London Council which, at the time, was the leading local government body in Greater London and run by Labour but later abolished by the Conservative government in 1986. A great moment depicted in the film, Pride, was the first visit by LGSM to the Valleys. While the film is broadly accurate, the reality of that visit was a little different to how it was portrayed.

Brett:

The film portrays that first trip as a group of about eight or nine people going down in a single minibus. In fact, there were about 27 of us, I think, who went down and we took three vans in the end. That was an incredibly exciting time. There was a certain amount of… I don’t know whether apprehension is the right word. We were excited to be going down to South Wales but we were obviously slightly apprehensive about what kind of reception we would get and whether or not it would be a wholly positive experience. We all hoped and felt in our heart of hearts that it would be. We arrived quite late, actually. I think we did get lost and we arrived quite late. Quite a number of people did stay with Dai Donovan in his house, as was shown in the film, but most of us were billeted out with different miners’ families. The very next day, when we met up, we were taken on a visit to one of the local pits. We met various miners and their families and wives. In the evening, we went to the Onllwyn Miners’ Welfare Hall for a big party and get-together and it was just fantastic. We didn’t come across a single example of hostility, any unpleasantness or any uncomfortableness. Obviously, for dramatic purposes, the film plays up the fact that there was some initial tension and hostility but, in fact, we never experienced any of that at all. Subsequently, we found out from Sian James, who was one of the principal activists and who went on to become Labour MP, that the organising committee in South Wales had met and knew that we were coming down. They’d sent us the invite in the first place. They’d made it clear to people that if anybody was uncomfortable or likely to be unwelcoming towards us when we came down, that those people better make sure they were pretty scarce because they didn’t want us to feel any uncomfortableness. As I said, we went down and we didn’t come across a single example of unpleasantness or any hostility. To the extent that there may have been some people who weren’t happy about us coming down, I think Sian subsequently said that there was an extremely small number of people and we never saw them. It’s a memory that I’ll treasure to the end of my days. Very quickly, we got talking to miners, their families and wives. We obviously shared drinks, stories and before we knew it, we were all backslapping and exchanging anecdotes. It was just great and it’s a real treasured memory for me.

Mike:

Ironically, nothing like how the movie projects it, there was no hostility from the outset. In fact, by the end of that first weekend, we’d transformed from being political supporters of theirs to personal family friends. We’d been staying in their homes, played with the kids and gone out for walks. We had reciprocal visits where we invited them to come and stay in our homes in London. We became friends and not just political allies and that was profound. That very first time we went to Wales, although I’ve said to you how different Wales was to my Accrington background and how beautiful it was and how it was just one industry, being in the Onllwyn Welfare Club was absolutely like being in one of the working men’s clubs in Accrington which I’d been going to from the age of 17. For me, that wasn’t at all alien and I was completely used to that. Whereas other people from the group had no experience of that kind of thing at all. Literally, by the end of that very first Saturday night, for me, it just felt like being home and it was a fantastic feeling. I just thought, ‘Wow! Here I am. I’m out and proud as a gay man with my gay male friends and lesbian friends around me. We’re all out and we’re all being accepted.’ Nobody gave a shit about our sexuality and that was brilliant. Indeed, there are some photographs that have unearthed themselves from that night and at the end of the night, Andy Denn is sat on Ray Goodspeed’s lap and they’ve got their arms each other. They weren’t lovers, they were just friends. There’s a miner couple in the background, a man and wife and everything is just completely normal and acceptable. How cool is that? That’s the ultimate aim where nobody gives a damn about your sexuality because it’s like having red hair. It doesn’t matter. That really was liberation and that’s why, for me, that one weekend transformed what was a gesture of political solidarity into what became loving relationships. We were part of their families and they were part of our families and we would do anything to defend them. That takes class solidarity up to a completely different level [laughter].

John:

Sian James and the other mining families experienced this coming together of two communities from the other side. A miner she mentions here, Dai, is Dai Donovan.

Sian:

When they first came down, for me, Martin and our children, it was just like hosting any other group but we were going to be learning about how life had affected them and why they felt this link with the miners. You started to learn that an awful lot of people were from a working-class background and they belonged to the same trade unions. They obviously weren’t in the NUM but there were people who were in other trade unions, like teachers and those working in local authorities. You actually started to see parallels and not the differences. The film is described as a rom-com and Matthew Warchus always said, ‘It’s not about two lovers. It’s about two communities who fell in love with each other.’ That was the amazing thing because suddenly, the conversation was all about saying, ‘What’s your experience? What’s led you to this? What’s life like for you?’ We’d been pretty disinterested up until that point. There was nobody who was saying they were openly gay in our communities but we all knew gay people. Nobody ever said, ‘Ah well, she’s a lesbian. He’s gay.’ It was just never spoken about. My father worked with two guys who were gay and they had nicknames in the colliery. I remember asking, ‘Why do they have these nicknames Dad?’ He said, ‘You know, they’re a bit fruity.’ There were all these euphemisms [laughter] but nobody was actually asking any questions. I think if you didn’t ask questions, you didn’t get answers and then it didn’t put you on a confrontational front. Personally, we hadn’t seen anybody being openly anti-gay or anti-lesbian but equally, we hadn’t seen anybody or heard anybody being pro or openly admitting they were a gay man or a lesbian woman. I think that was the thing that struck us that we were pretty shamed really that we hadn’t asked these questions before. It was those parallels that we saw that were amazing. We heard about people’s experiences as to why they’d had to leave their communities and go to cities like London to live their lives, about their partnerships, and about the problems that they had faced. We had one particular friend, Roy, who had lost out on promotion several times in his job and we said, ‘What do you mean you haven’t been promoted because you’re gay?’ He said, ‘Once they find out that I’m gay…’ You then spoke to people who were teachers and saying, ‘I daren’t talk about being gay because if I talk about being gay, that may bring retribution down on me or that might affect my future.’ Other people were openly gay but that was the time and that was the period where being gay was something that if you didn’t ask, you didn’t get an answer and then you wouldn’t be on this confrontational front or, as we then learned, maybe we hadn’t asked the right questions at the right time. We hadn’t had that opportunity in our family. The first time I heard of LGSM was that night when the letter came. We then decided to send David and two other miners, Ali Thomas and Tom Jones, off to meet them and they made the contacts and the links. As I said, the next stage then was inviting them down to our community to see where the money they’d raised for us was actually being spent. That was an opportunity to show the community off. I can’t say there was hostility. There wasn’t any hostility but  I can’t say that people behaved themselves. I remember being in a pub one night with Derek and Henry’s partner and there was this guy being pretty aggressive. I said, ‘Oh my god, what’s going to happen here now? How dare they behave like this. If they embarrass our friends, I shall give that so and so a piece of my mind.’ [Laughter] He came over, and he’d had a bit to drink, and he said, ‘You’re one of them, aren’t you? You’re one of them.’ I bristled up and I said, ‘One of them what?’ He said, ‘One of them fucking teachers!’ [Laughter] Derek said, ‘I am a teacher.’ [Laughter] I sat there thinking, ‘What the hell has this got to do with it?’ It turned out that this guy had had a really tough time with his teenage daughter in school and she’d been excluded. He was on a real downer on teachers and it ended up with Derek giving him advice on what he should say to the headmaster about getting his daughter reinstated in school [laughter]. I remember thinking, ‘Phew!’ We’d assumed that he was being difficult because Derek was gay but it was nothing to do with it. What he was really on a downer about was with teachers [laughter] and somebody must have said, at the bar, ‘Sian and Martin’s mate from London is one of them gays. He’s a teacher in London.’ What he’d cottoned on to was the teacher bit. Yeah, you did have misunderstandings but other people in the community, like our older neighbours, would say, ‘Ah, they’re lovely boys and girls, aren’t they? When are they coming next time, Sian? They’ve got lovely manners. Ah, they’re so nice and they stop to have a chat with us.’ People were being introduced to each other and learning about the community in very normal ways. That doesn’t mean to say that everything was hunky-dory. I remember my cousin saying, ‘I can’t go up the Onllwyn tonight.’ I said, ‘Why is that?’ He said, ‘Those gays are going to be there, aren’t they?’ I said, ‘Yes, what’s that got to do with it?’ He said, ‘Will I be safe?’ I said, ‘What? Are you so bloody irresistible that somebody’s going to grab you?’ There was all of this how they thought people wanted them to behave. I remember somebody being rude to a couple of people and it was all getting quite… what you were really seeing was young men who were quite interested and quite fascinated and yet didn’t want to show that interest and that fascination. They wanted to be seen as macho young men but once they got into conversations and people were starting to talk to each other, you saw the parallels and you didn’t see the differences. You saw those things that made us similar and we all had one massive thing in common and we should never forget what that one thing we had in common was; we all hated Margaret Thatcher. That brought us together like nothing else could because we were communities that were under attack. We were learning about how the BAME community had been poorly treated and how the lesbian and gay community had been badly treated. We were then in that group of it being okay for miners to be beaten up, to be poorly treated and their wives to be vilified. Even with regard to the behaviour of children in school, it was affecting them like when one of the local policeman’s children told my children that Father Christmas wasn’t going to come to our house because Arthur Scargill had made their father come out on strike. Rhodri and Rowena thought Arthur Scargill was wonderful and they’d met him on several occasions by this point. He’d always been very kind to them. They said, ‘Why is so and so saying that Arthur Scargill is horrible and mean?’ It was affecting all sections of the community and kids were playing Pickets and Policemen on the schoolyard. Instead of British Bulldogs, or Germans, Messerschmitts and British Spitfires, it was all about pickets and policemen. We had a Swiss journalist staying with us and our children had gone out for the day. My mother-in-law had taken them to a local agricultural fair and when they came back full of things they’d seen and they were explaining to Alice that they’d been to an agricultural fair, Alice said, ‘What did you see?’ They said they’d seen this and that and they’d been in the fur and feather section and seen all these rabbits. Rowena said, ‘We saw some pigs,’ and Alice said, ‘little pink pigs?’ Rowena said, ‘No, they were sitting in the police car.’ It was affecting the children because the whole community was suffering the fallout, even if you weren’t working underground. The takings of local shops were down because people weren’t buying so much and spending so much. It had been a lean time anyway and as one friend said, they were Mickey Mouse jobs and Mickey Mouse factories. There wasn’t proper training and there wasn’t any opportunity or hope for the future. It was all about keeping people in their place and I think people lost heart. I know several of my relatives did and they couldn’t see a way out because you couldn’t get opportunities if you didn’t have the educational ability for going to university and escaping. The only well-paid jobs were in the collieries and that’s what we were afraid of losing. That’s how the people in the community met people from LGSM first of all. The people who were hosting them were taking them out to meet their families and friends and taking them to their local pubs. So although the Onllwyn would be a focus, they were really experiencing life in different parts of the community then. There were beautiful little bits in the film about teaching people to play bingo or going to the local butchers and faggots being on display and Gethin saying, ‘Do you think we should have that word up there?’ and explaining that a faggot in our community was like a meat rissole [laughter]. Someone said, ‘Don’t say anything. Don’t say anything till we’re outside. I’ll explain. I’ll explain.’ It was about two communities that collided but really got on very well together.

John:

As miners took LGSM members into their homes, so LGSM members hosted miners and their families with them in London.

Mike:

We had four visits, I think, when we went to Wales and maybe three when they came down to see us in London. They were all delighted to be in London because it’s London and it’s the big, bad city. They used to love coming down and staying with us. On the first visit they paid to us, we took them to the Tower of London but not inside it. Bear in mind, we were all quite young and they were on strike, so they had no money and so we couldn’t afford to go inside the Tower of London but you can walk around the outside of it and see Tower Bridge and the river. It’s all iconic stuff. We were out with Dai Donovan’s then wife, Margaret Donovan, and their two children, Owain and Llinos. Owain was four years old and he saw a Beefeater. [Laughter] He put his hands on his hips and went up and challenged this Beefeater and said, ‘You’re a scabby piggy, you are. You’re a scabby piggy. You want to lock my daddy up.’ Margaret Donovan had to lean forward and drag him back again and said, ‘Owain, he’s a Beefeater and not a policeman.’ [Laughter].

Sian:

Did we ever visit London? They couldn’t keep us away from there because now, we weren’t going to London to stay with strangers. We were going to stay with friends. The first time that would happen when we turned up there was that they would pile the kids into the car. He’d then drive them down to Nine Elms Tesco and let them pick anything they wanted in the trolley. I would say, ‘For god’s sake, don’t do that because they’ll pick really expensive things and they’ll pick things that I don’t allow them to have, like Sugar Puffs, chocolate spread and crap.’ Derek would say, ‘Let them do it.’ The result would be that they’d be bouncing [laughter] off the ceiling with all this sugar [laughter]. It meant that we met their families, their partners and their friends. When we got to Roy and Duncan’s flat, they had the most amazing bath. It was a really deep bath. By this time, the children were only eight and five and the first thing they would do when they would get to Roy and Duncan’s [laughter] was fill the bath with water, get in and have a bath. This bath was ginormous and so deep with so much water, they literally thought it was like a swimming pool. They’d have a great old time in this old council flat in City Road. They were part of other people’s families and one of the nicest things Derek ever said to me was, ‘Thank you for letting me be part of a family because, through your children, I’ve been part of the family.’ I’ve got cards and letters from Mark Ashton when he was abroad and sending little messages for the children. I remember having a postcard from him in New York and it said, ‘Tell the kids I wouldn’t say that New York was manic but even the cats are on skateboards.’ We were being exposed to their lifestyles but they were being invited into our homes and experiencing family life. I think the big point for us was when we went to a club one night with friends and it said ‘no breeders allowed’ and we didn’t understand what that meant. Being taken out clubbing was like, ‘Wow!’ This sign said ‘no breeders allowed’ and I said to Gethin, ‘What does that mean?’ He said, ‘It’s what we call heterosexual couples. I don’t want to go in there if I can’t take you and Martin in there. Come on, let’s go.’ After that, Gethin said, ‘I don’t really want to go to clubs where I can’t take all of my friends.’ That’s the other side of the coin, isn’t it? Suddenly, we were seeing the differences. I remember us being at a party and it was Nigel’s, Johnathan’s partner, 40th birthday party and somebody turned up in full BDSM costume. All the lesbians huddled into a corner and said, ‘No, we’re not putting up with this. You’ll have to go and put some trousers on.’ [Laughter]. It was that clash of cultures really because one of the things that I was particularly shocked by was the cannabis. I can actually say, as a politician, I’ve never inhaled and that caused lots of jokes that I was quite puritanical about drugs and things like that. There were funny little things like [42:24 – unclear] to Derek’s and me having to march downstairs and say to him, ‘Right, you can get those plants out of that bath now.’ [Laughter] We went to Nigel’s 40th birthday and I was presented with the first slice of cake. I was thinking, ‘Why am I being presented with the first slice of cake? This is a singular honour.’ Everybody was just looking at me and waiting for me to take this slice of cake. You know that moment you know [laughter] and Johnathan has always said that he puts his longevity down to cannabis which I was always lecturing him on. So there were all these little stories and these little things but what we learned was that our friends were socialists like us. They were activists. They were fighting against the repressive Tory government under Margaret Thatcher and those were the things that mattered and not our sexuality or where we were from. It was that which made us similar that was important.

[Outro music]

John:

That’s the end of Part 2. In Part 3, we look at how the group developed, what happened when the strike ended and how LGSM and the Welsh miners played such a big role in changing the country. Our Patreon supporters can listen to this now, as well as bonus audio. For everyone else, it will be out next week. You can support us on Patreon, get early access to episodes and more at patreon.com/workingclasshistory. In this week’s bonus episode, we hear more from Mike about the history of the mining communities in the Welsh Valleys and Mike gives some more detail on exactly how LGSM organised which also helped its history be preserved today. We think it’s really interesting but we are nerdy about that kind of stuff, so we recognise that level of detail might not be for everyone. To all of our current patrons, we’d like to send you a heartfelt thanks for your generous support which makes this podcast possible. As always, we’ve got more info, further reading, photos and videos about LGSM on our website workingclasshistory.com and linked to in the show notes. This episode was edited by Jesse French. The theme music for this episode is by the Kellingley Colliery Brass Band. Catch you next time.

Part 3

John:

Hi and welcome back to the final part of our miniseries on Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners during the Great Miners’ Strike. If you haven’t listened to Parts 1 and 2 yet, I’d go back and listen to those first.

[Intro music]

John:

Where we left off last time, LGSM was in full swing. In terms of its size, the London group had around a hundred people go through its meetings at various points with a smaller central membership. As secretary of the group, Mike Jackson kept track of everyone in London who was involved.

Mike:

Although we did have lots of people pass through the meetings, there was no membership of LGSM. You just turned up [laughter] and you were lesbian and gay. I say that quite deliberately because the BT+ thing hadn’t happened then. There was no such thing as being a member of LGSM in any formal sense. At its core, I would say there were 10-15 of us who were the core people and who consistently went out collecting, consistently came to meetings and went on every visit to Wales.

John:

I asked Martin and then Brett to explain a bit more about how LGSM grew around the country.

Martin:

We were very much focused on what we were doing in London. Other groups did spring up and I think there were about 10 or 11 groups but I think they were smaller groups. I think there was a reasonably sized one in Manchester. Obviously, we had friends and supporters around the country but when those groups did spring up, it was very much a do-it-yourself or do-it-your-own-way kind of approach. There wasn’t any sort of national organisation. It was people linking up with pits that were close to them geographically, in the main. I think that was just the way it happened because other groups were forming. The support groups were a national thing. People would just set their groups up, raise their money and send it on. In London, at its height, we would probably have maybe 40-50 or sometimes 60 people coming along to the meetings. Lots of people became involved and became politicised. It was quite fascinating. It’s fair to say it was mostly men, predominantly younger, but there were some significant other people who had been involved in the Gay Left magazine which was quite an important development. Nigel Young, who was a prominent member of LGSM and Johnathan Blake’s partner, was involved heavily with the Gay Left Collective which was a significant organisation. We were influenced by that particular organisation. I would say quite a few of us were. Gay Left Collective was an important thing at the time.

Brett:

The group was mainly white and it was mainly male. I don’t think there were many people of colour who were involved at the time. Maybe one or two came to a couple of meetings. I think, to that extent, we were probably typical of a lot of political groups and organisations of that time. I’m not saying that’s a good thing. It was just a crude reality of where we were politically at that time. There were a small number of women who came along to the meetings. Famously, some of the women decided that they wanted to set up Lesbians Against Pit Closures as their own self-organised group and I think that happened in about November 1984.

John:

Here, Nicola Field of Lesbians Against Pit Closures talked at the time about why they started the group and what they did.

Nicola:

When I first went along to Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners meeting, initially, I was the only woman there, although some other women did turn up for that meeting. What became clear was that the reason that not many women were involved in the group was partly that there was a core of men who were all actively involved in party politics and were all trying to push their party line and make that the line of the group. That intimidated and bored a lot of women who weren’t involved in politics in that way, so they stopped coming to meetings. So what some of the women in the group and I did was formed a separate lesbian group called Lesbians Against Pit Closures which we saw as being part of the nationwide network of women that were working in the strike and we started organising separately.

[Member of Lesbians Against Pit Closures interview on demo]

We do regular collections around lesbian pubs and clubs. We’ve planned a benefit for March 6th, we do collections outside supermarkets as well and try and involve other people in what we’re doing, as well as the normal activities in colleges and workplaces that other people are involved in.

John:

Our podcast episode 13 is about the crucial role played by women in supporting the miners’ strike. Another thing people did to support striking miners was supporting them on picket lines and trying to spread the strike to other groups of workers. In this clip from Dancing in Dulais, some LAPC members, who were helping picket a power station, talk more about their activities.

[Member of Lesbians Against Pit Closures interview on a picket line]

We came along to this picket because it’s necessary to picket power stations to stop the supplies of coal. I don’t know if this picket in itself is going to be that successful in doing that but certainly, it’s a focus for all the people that have supported the miners up and down the country.

John:

At the time, some of LGSM were unhappy with what they saw as a split in the organisation but others thought that autonomous organising was what LGSM was all about in the first place, so they couldn’t really resent others doing the same.

Martin:

At the time, I just didn’t see the need for it. Retrospectively, I think it probably wasn’t a bad development. At the time, I think it was quite different politically because I think it was more influenced by a kind of radical feminism than anything else but then again, they did their thing and they collected the money. Some women wanted to organise in that way, so there was absolutely no problem with it. It just seemed, at the time, a bit of a shame that we were dividing up. It was quite a shame at the time but looking back, it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing and maybe it was just a logical thing to happen.

Mike:

The movie kind of looks like there was an acrimonious relationship between the two organisations. That’s fine because it’s a movie and it’s not a documentary. There wasn’t any acrimony between the two groups at all. There were certainly a few comrades, both gay men and lesbians, who didn’t appreciate a separate lesbian support group but that was because of their particular politics. For me personally, I didn’t care really. I could understand why women might want to do that. If we were organising autonomously as lesbians and gay men, why shouldn’t the lesbians organise autonomously as well? I completely fully understood and accepted that. I can understand the more orthodox socialist line though that you’re better off doing things together united as one but that was the politics of the day. In some respects, that kind of division and separation is still continuing to this very day.

John:

It wasn’t just a novelty that LGSM was raising money for the miners. They were extremely effective fundraisers which was absolutely essential, especially given that the government had sequestered the funds of the union, the NUM, and miners and their families were really struggling financially.

Brett:

Apart from the obvious political and moral support we were providing to the mining community, we were a real financial lifeline to the mining communities that we supported. We were sending much-needed funds down to them to buy food and clothing, to help with bills or whatever the miners and their families decided they needed to spend the money on. At one point certainly, with regard to the mining community in Swansea, Neath and Dulais Valleys, we were amongst the highest financially supporting groups that they had. It really was very much, as I said, a financial lifeline which was keeping the wolves from the doors, if you like. That was incredibly much appreciated by the miners and their families. It really is very hard to imagine now, I guess, for people but at that time, the government was literally trying to starve the miners back to work. It really was that bad and that serious.

Sian:

The financial support that was given was really, really important. It was consistent. After the trade unions, they were our biggest single donor. We’d seen them raising money in London. We’d been to the events, like the Pits and Perverts concert that Martin and I were at. We met up with people, we saw how they raised money and how hard they worked. [S.l. Veena – 10:18] and I carried the money back in [s.l. Veena’s – 10:21] bag. She had this bloody great, big, fake, snakeskin handbag which we put all the money into and then lugged it back [laughter] on the train or on the bus.

John:

The most high profile fundraising activity LGSM organised was Pits and Perverts, a gig at the Electric Ballroom in Camden. It was headlined by Bronski Beat, a synth-pop band which had recently released a couple of top ten singles and a top ten album called The Age of Consent which was largely themed around homophobia.

Mike:

At the Pits and Perverts Ball, there were 1,500 people and the protocol during the miners’ strike was if there were any fundraising benefits for the miners, then miners always got in for free, obviously. There I was wandering around. I’d got my Pits and Perverts t-shirt on and this young Scottish miner stopped me and said, ‘Excuse me, mate. Have you got something to do with this?’ I said, ‘Yeah, yeah.’ He said, ‘I didn’t know you people supported us.’ You could see he was completely amazed by that and I just put my arm around his shoulder, gave him a hug and just gestured to the 1,500 people and just said, ‘Now you do.’ [Laughter] He just smiled at me, winked and walked away.

Brett:

We had the now very famous Pits and Perverts concert in December 1984 which was headlined by Bronski Beat. There were quite a number of other groups and supporters who came to help us with that concert. With the money that we collected, one of the principal things that we did was to buy a minibus for the miners and their families. When they came up to London, we presented the van to them and it had our logo on the side. In fact, they had put the logo on it themselves. Yes, that’s right. They’d got the van and they got our logo put on it. They recognised that this was provided by Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, so that was an incredibly moving thing when we saw what they had done with the van. They were using the van in a very practical way, like taking food supplies up and down the Valleys. It was used to take people to the picket lines. It was really was a very, very practical and valuable resource for the miners. I do remember, particularly, the first time I saw that logo on the side of the van. It was a very moving thing. Again, it was an act of solidarity towards us and it was really very much appreciated.

Martin:

As the strike progressed, the solidarity was a two-way process. It wasn’t just us giving them the money and the van. There were intense friendships that developed. It was an incredible feeling; that feeling of solidarity and two communities coming together. When we went to Wales, we had some amazing times and when you sat down with individuals, which could be in the miners’ welfare hall, you could have some incredible discussions. It was real consciousness-raising on their part and on our part, so it was very much a two-way process. We didn’t go in expecting anything from them but it just kind of developed from that feeling of solidarity and mutual aid, if you like.

John:

News about the lesbian and gay support for the strike spread to mining communities across the country.

Sian:

We did help change attitudes because we were going out to events and meetings in the   wider movement, like the women’s movement, for example. Friends of mine from other parts of the South Wales coalfields were meeting our friends and coming to stay with them and socialising. They were then going back to their communities and saying, ‘You know what? That’s not true about gay people. That’s not true about lesbians because we’ve met gay men and lesbian women and they’re just like us.’ It was a small ball that started rolling.

Mike:

Another incident was on some miners’ demo that started in Hyde Park or maybe it was after the demo, I can’t remember. Again, lots of people were sitting down chatting and I was having a walk through the crowd and fell in with a group of Scottish miners. They said, ‘Who are you with?’ I explained about LGSM. From this tiny group of a core of 10-15 activists in this tiny South Wales mining community, those jungle drums had swept the British coalfields because these Scottish miners said, ‘Oh yes, we’ve heard all about that.’ In a situation of struggle like that and when the enemy has got almost all the tools of information and misinformation, what happens is people hone the way that they communicate. So miners would meet from different parts of the country on a particular picket line and that’s where they would exchange stories and news. This tiny group supporting a tiny community in South Wales went right through the mining communities. Everybody heard about it and everybody was talking about it. That was pretty amazing [laughter].

John:

Of course, eventually, the miners were defeated and in March 1985, they voted to return to work. The defeat of the strike was a pretty crushing blow but the activists of LGSM and the mining communities of South Wales didn’t just give up the fight.

Martin:

The end of the strike was just so depressing and demoralising. It was absolutely awful. There was great anger amongst people who had been really active in supporting the miners that some in the trade union movement and, particularly, the Labour leadership, their heart wasn’t in supporting the miners. They were terrified of the prospects, probably, of the miners actually winning, so there was a lot of anger at the time. It was so painful. It was so painful. It was awful. It didn’t put us off from doing other stuff [laughter] but we just couldn’t believe it. It was the worst possible outcome. It was grim, absolutely.

Brett:

It was massively dispiriting. It was a huge blow and it was extremely hard to come to terms with. This titanic battle had been lost, Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government was emboldened and she had triumphed. She went on to bring forward legislation which became known as Section 28, which was the outlawing of the promotion of homosexuality within educational establishments, which was something that was hugely significant in terms of continuing the demonisation of lesbian and gay people. It was all against the backdrop of HIV/AIDS and the whole climate of the time, especially in the right-wing red tops, was just dreadful. The moral climate that we found ourselves in was just appalling. In one sense, it wasn’t so much what we did next actively. We were responding and things happened that we had to respond to and Section 28 was really a hugely significant time. It’s almost now, in a way, unthinkable that that ever happened. We look to places now like Russia and some countries in Africa where dreadful things are being done in terms of the persecution of LGBT people but actually, these terrible things happened. Some of them happened in our own country and it feels like it was almost like another world but at the time, it was just an appalling situation to find ourselves in. It’s something that meant we had to redouble our efforts and respond to and thankfully, people did. It took a long time and obviously, it took the Tories to be booted out of office before we got to the point where we could see the end of Section 28 but that was something that really left its mark in the ’80s. It was a set back for LGBT people. There’s no question. Although the miners’ defeat was a blow at the time, ironically, I think it did energise an awful lot of people to realise that you can’t just accept that these things happen. Yes, they’re a blow but you need to rally, organise and redouble your efforts. There were some things that came out of the defeat for lesbian and gay people which, at the time, were probably difficult to anticipate but not long after the end of the strike, the NUM supported moves within the Labour Party to adopt a commitment to lesbian and gay rights as part of its constitution. That was a direct result of the involvement of lesbian and gay people in supporting the miners through the strike.

John:

In Dancing in Dulais, filmed in 1985, some women involved in the group effectively summed up the legacy of the organisation and what they hoped to build on for the future.

1st member:

I think it’s true to say that Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners brought socialism onto the agenda of sexual politics in the London lesbian and gay community. At the same time, it took sexual politics onto the agenda of trade union politics. The existence of the group consolidated a lot of the work that lesbians and gay men have been doing in the labour and trade union movement for years and years and actually, was a strong factor in the passing of the resolution on lesbian and gay rights at TUC conference last year in 1985.

2nd member:

Since one of the things that Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners and the miners’ communities that have come into contact with them have learned is, perhaps, first of the existence of each other’s communities and some of the common struggles in those communities. It would be a great pity to see that dissolve and so I think it’s important that everybody remembers the lessons that they learned from looking at each other’s lives and from how we deal with the problems that we have and how we fight back against the oppressions that we find not just in the government and the state but also around us. After all, a lot of mining communities have found out what police harassment is for the first time, perhaps, and things like that which gay people have known about for years.

John:

Mike explains more about how a decisive shift in the struggle for LGBTQ rights came about.

Mike:

What happened after the strike, which was obviously devastating for us to have lost, was that they took up an invitation from us to come and join us on the 1985 Gay Pride march which is depicted in the movie. They worked with us to support the motions being put to both the TUC and Labour Party conferences in late 1985. There were other people who were doing this, like Labour Party members, as far as the Labour Party conference was concerned. They had been putting pro-LGBT motions to the Labour Party conference for years previously and every single time, it was put back and never accepted. What was significant in 1985 was that the NUM categorically came out in favour of supporting that motion. I think because they’d lost the strike, all the other major unions wanted to do whatever they could to show their respect to the miners. Basically, with the miners supporting it, all the other major trade unions fell alongside them to support it and that was a real historic moment. However, it really did take years and years for the trade union movement to take that on board and do stuff about it. I think it developed legs of its own and people had forgotten what the spur was for that to have come into being in the first place. It just became accepted and then, of course, we got a Labour government elected and that stuff was then translated into statutory law. We started to get protection and sacking people because they were gay and that kind of homophobic stuff was then made illegal. It then all culminated in the Equality Act 2010. I think people didn’t know how that had happened.

John:

As Mike mentioned, the film Pride ends with a beautiful portrayal of the 1985 Gay Pride march which, like Mike said, was led by a column of miners marching with LGSM. Sian James was there too.

Sian:

Yes, we were on the Pride parade in 1985. I actually spoke from the stage. After we’d done the march, Mike and a few others came to me and said, ‘We’re going to get you up on the stage. We’re going to rush the stage. You’ve got to grab the mic and you’ve got to start talking.’ I said to Martin, ‘I can’t do that. I can’t do that. You’ve got to be invited to go and speak and to get on a microphone. My god, people will think we’re hooligans.’ Martin turned to me and he said, ‘After what these people have done for us, you can get up on that bloody stage and you can keep talking!’ [Laughter] I thought, ‘Oh hell, right.’ Anyway, we didn’t have to do that because the organisers approached Mike and them all and said, ‘Have you got somebody from Dulais who can speak. I was nominated and I remember being backstage at Pride in ’85 and the host that year was Tom Robinson and the big star was Sandy Shaw. There I was back in the Green Room with all of these famous people and watching people coming on and off. They then said, ‘It’s your turn now.’ I thought, ‘Bloody hell. Now you’ve done it.’ I think they said there were 5,500 people there on that march. I thought, ‘Bloody hell. Now you’ve done it Sian. Now you’ve got yourself into a pickle. How are you going to get out of this one?’ All of a sudden, the front row popped up waving their pink banners and their LGSM placards and I thought, ‘It’s easy. I’m talking to my friends. All I’ve got to do is talk to them, tell them how we feel about things and how lucky we are to have got this relationship.’ When I came off the stage, Tom Robinson pulled me to one side and said, ‘I think I’ve missed something really special.’ I said, ‘You have.’ Apart from Bronski Beat and people like Jimmy Summerville, there was a suspicious lack of gay acts [laughter] getting involved or any stars getting involved. He said, ‘But they love you.’ I looked at him and I said, ‘But don’t you realise, we love them?’ That was a special moment when other people could see that the relationship was a very important one for both sides of the equation. That was great because that night, we got in free to every club in London. All they did was push me to the front and said, ‘This is Sian James who was on the stage today at Gay Pride.’ They’d say, ‘Oh! You can come in.’ [Laughter] We’d say, ‘How much to come in?’ They’d say, ‘No, no. You can go in for free!’ It was lovely [laughter]. People were so kind and so generous with their praise then and people were interested. They wanted to hear more about this special relationship. Why had the miners come up to support them? Why had we bothered to come?

John:

We tell the story of the origins of Pride in our podcast episodes 21 and 22. Anyway, after 1985, LGBT young people set up similar strike support organisations to assist different groups of workers in major disputes, for example, at Rupert Murdoch’s News International, when he was trying to break the influence of the then powerful organised printworkers.

Martin:

One of the outcomes of our support group, LGSM, was the formation of Lesbians and Gays Support the Printworkers and that was a really significant and slightly overlooked group. They were a bit overshadowed by us because of the film Pride. It was lesbians and gay men coming together with similar ideas and a similar way of working to LGSM. I was involved a little bit in that, as were other members, but it was a whole new group of people that had set that group up and who inspired by the work of LGSM. They did some brilliant work and they were involved in the thick of it at the various battles of Wapping when the police would attack the pickets at the printworks. That was good and when the film came out, there was a lot of interest in that kind of approach that we adopted. Now we have Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrant who, again, are a significant group and doing some absolutely brilliant work, particularly in London. It was great that they took up the name Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants [laughter] to carry on the tradition and our way of building unconditional solidarity.

John:

Some of the original LGSM crew also reformed the group in 1992 to support miners once more over further pit closures. Something which was really important to preserve in the memory of LGSM was Mike keeping detailed records which is a good lesson for any of us involved in organising work today.

Mike:

If you lose a fight, you lose your history as well and so many of us, immediately in the wake of the strike, were so disappointed by it. We’d put all that effort into it and all that passion into it and we were beaten. I certainly include myself in this and I was a bit defeated. I’d got a job by this time and I just threw my energy into my job and got on with life. I think that was true for a lot of the miners in the mining communities. They really didn’t want to talk about the strike and I get that. That’s kind of an obvious reaction. So people weren’t going around archiving the history or acknowledging what they’d done because we’d been beaten and people just needed to pick themselves up, dust themselves down and get on with life. We were in danger of what little old LGSM had achieved with this little old mining community in South Wales. Timed moved on and people were dying, both in South Wales and, of course, within our community because of the onset of HIV. I was prepared to go to my deathbed thinking, ‘That archive that I’ve left in the People’s History Museum in Manchester isn’t going to be of any use because it’s a circular argument. If nobody knows about the history, why would anyone go looking for an archive on it?’ I just imagined that archive gathering dust year after year and then perhaps somebody in 50 or 100 years’ time discovered it and saying, ‘Wow! Look at this!’ I kept copies of press releases and even things like raffle ticket stubs which now, of course, make great reading for younger people seeing all these stuff because we’ve got the ability to put it online now, so it’s readily accessible to people. That really came from Mark Ashton because I think after that very first visit that we paid to South Wales, it was such an extraordinary experience what happened that weekend and driving back to London, we were absolutely buzzing from it all. I think we were already preparing press releases for the gay press to tell people what had happened and how well we were received. Mark said, ‘Mike, you’re the secretary. Keep everything. Keep it.’ As it says in the movie, ‘Whatever Mark says, Mike does.’ [Laughter]. But I’m so glad because Mark had the vision to realise that was important. I think we all knew that what we were achieving was extraordinary. We never expected to receive the kind of reception that we got. It was a wonderful surprise to all of us. At the best of times, working-class culture doesn’t get recorded or archived because we haven’t got the means or whatever, so I’d really implore people and say it doesn’t matter how small your campaign is, and it can just be two people at a meeting or in a group, record stuff because it’s really important for future generations to be able to touch that history.

John:

At the same time LGSM was forming, autoimmune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) had started killing hundreds of people, disproportionately gay men, and the virus causing it HIV had just been discovered. A number of LGSM members contracted the virus and tragically, several have since died as a result, including the co-founder of LGSM, Mark Ashton, who died on 11th February 1987 aged just 26. Sian remembers some of those friends she lost.

Sian:

We knew that Derek was HIV positive. He was one of the first people to go into London Lighthouse. He passed away in London Lighthouse. I heard Bette Midler speak during the ’90s and she said she spent an awful lot of time at friends’ funerals. We spent an awful lot of time at friends’ funerals and that was soul-destroying because you saw young, bright, shining… Mark epitomised this but Derek was so important to us than other people. They were balls of energy and activism who had such an influence on other people. It was so sad. Mark went so quickly but we watched Derek struggle and we were part of Derek’s struggle. I remember us being really worried that he nobody. When Henry passed away, he had nobody to look after him and Martin said, ‘Right, that’s it then. He’ll have to come here.’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘He’ll have to come and live with us. If he hasn’t got anybody to look after him, we’ll look after him.’ Now that really shows you how far we’d come in those relationships. It was this big, massive thing that was affecting our friends and the fact was we had to look after each other. [Crying] These were very, very attractive, shining personalities.

John:

Today, for Sian, it’s important not to forget what life was like for LGBT people in Britain just a few years ago.

Sian:

I have to tell young people now about how tough it was for our gay friends in the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s because now, my granddaughter and my nephew can come back from school (there’s a year between them) and they take it in their stride if somebody in their class comes out. They say, ‘So and so has come out in class.’ There’s nothing like what would have been there when I was a child, like tittering and hiding, or people saying, ‘This is terrible,’ or ‘teapot’ jokes. They’re just like, ‘So? So and so has decided to express their sexuality in this way.’ I think that’s reaching out now to the transgender community as well where I have friends whose daughters, granddaughters and sons are transgender and there’s not this lack of understanding. That’s not to say that there aren’t terrible examples still there and that we don’t need to support young people when they’re coming out. Of course we do. That’s not to say that there won’t be discrimination because I think where you’ve got human beings who are not as open or being difficult, like the far right, you will get that but I think we’re getting to the point where we’ve got more people in the community now who are going to say, ‘Do you know what? That isn’t fair, mate. I’m not interested in this argument. We’ve moved on from that.’ Now, our job is to tell young people about the bad old days because our local colliery’s motto was ‘the price of freedom is eternal vigilance’. Basically, what that means is if you take your eye off the ball, things start splitting very quickly. As I say, we have to tell young people now. It’s really surprising that lots of teachers say to me, ‘Tell them how bad it was. Tell them what it was really like.’ I say, ‘Why? Why?’ They’ll say, ‘Oh god, they’re right complacent now.’ There are four words that we don’t use in the left now in Britain and those words are struggle, strike, activism and action. Those four words, somehow or other with all the intervening years, either got washed away because they were not necessary or people moved on to their own agenda. Now, when I do any public speaking, I talk about those words. I talk about activism and I talk about getting stuck in. I talk about struggle. I talk about getting involved and I often say, particularly to the Youth Parliament and young people I speak to, ‘I don’t care what you get involved in. Just get off your arses and get involved in something.’ That’s what the strike did for us and all the people that we met.

John:

In 2014, the film Pride, which is about LGSM, directed by Stephen Beresford, came out. It did well at the box office and it received a lot of critical acclaim with a score of 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, although the reviewer for the Financial Times gave it one star, denouncing its ‘political correctness’ and support for the ‘Luddite miners’. Personally, I loved it and definitely encourage anyone who hasn’t seen it to check it out yet. It’s not something which you have to be a politico to enjoy. It’s enjoyable just as a human story.

Mike:

Hopefully, this movie and certainly, with the experience I’ve had for the last three and a half years of going around doing Q&As and speaking at meetings, goes down particularly well with young people under the age of 21. That took everybody by surprise. It took the movie company by surprise. It took Stephen by surprise and it took us by surprise. Yet time after time, that’s exactly the age group that adore this movie more than any other age group. Older people love it too as well but I think that’s particularly telling. The movie couldn’t have come out at a better point in time where we’ve descended into a politics of absolute despair and hopelessness and yet this movie shows you that ordinary people can and do affect huge change. I think it stands as a metaphor for them and as an examplar for them. The politicisation of that younger generation is fantastic and it will carry on carrying on.

John:

We talk more to Mike and Sian, who are both portrayed in the film, about their involvement in its production in the bonus audio for our Patreon supporters. After the film came out, LGSM and the mining community they supported were again invited to lead the Pride parade in 2015, 30 years on.

Sian:

The crystallising moment was 30 years later when, in 2015, LGSM was asked to lead the parade again. When I was on Pride in 2015, as we were marching down the road, a photographer jumped out and took some photographs of me. She said, ‘You won’t remember me, Sian.’ I said, ‘No.’ She said, ‘I took some photographs of you during the miners’ strike and I’m still making money on them.’ [Laughter] There were a couple of funny little things that happened. As we came on to Oxford Street, there were men on scaffolding and building on a building there. They’d knocked an old building down and were obviously putting up some sort of new shopping mall or something. They were all up on the scaffolding and waving their helmets and cheering. Martin said to me, ‘Look at them. 30 years ago, they were spitting at us. 25 years ago, they were spitting at us. 10 years ago, they were spitting at us.’ Things had changed so much. You weren’t seeing those people saying, ‘Disgusting,’ or turning away from you. People were cheering, singing along with us, shouting out that they’d seen the film and how much they’d enjoyed it. That was such a difference but, as Martin said, 30 years ago, they were spitting at us. They weren’t spitting at us but people on the parade. I hadn’t realised that that was the first Gay Pride where family and friends were allowed, so we’d been part of a very special thing anyway. Up until that point, only gays and lesbian people could take part in Pride but they decided that year to open it out to family and friends. That was great to be involved with that and to be on that march with our granddaughter. We were talking to people and people were coming up and telling us about how much they’d loved the film, how much they’d enjoyed it and how much of it was true. People were very warm to the film. That’s the thing that’s amazed me that wherever you go with the film, people get it.

[Outro music]

John:

Well, that’s it for the final part of our miniseries on LGSM. We hope you enjoyed it. We certainly loved talking to all of our interviewees. We did talk more to Mike, Sian, Martin and Brett about the film, Pride, and their involvement in the making of it and their thoughts on its impact which we couldn’t fit into these main episodes, so we’ve put that together into a bonus episode for our Patreon supporters. You can support us on Patreon, get access to bonus audio like this, as well as exclusive early access to episodes and more at patreon.com/workingclasshistory. Like we said at the beginning of this series, we’re only going to be able to keep devoting this amount of time to the podcast after 2019 if we get more support from our listeners. So, as always, we’d like to say massive thanks to all of our existing patrons for making this podcast possible. Thank you. As always we’ve got more info, further reading, photos and videos about LGSM on our website workingclasshistory.com and linked to in the show notes. The LGSM crew also collaborated on a great book about the group called Pride: The Unlikely Story of the True Heroes of the Miners’ Strike. We’ll pop a link to get that in the show notes as well. This episode was edited by Jesse French. The theme music for this episode is by the Kellingley Colliery Brass Band. Catch you next time.

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One thought on “E27-29: Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners

  1. If all the oppressed support each other, they can be strong. If each group only focuses on its minority issues, they will be ignored. If they fight each other for prominence they weaken each other.

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