Get us in your inbox


45 years of Pride: LGBT+ Londoners chat dating, culture, clubbing and activism through the decades

Written by
Amy Smith

This year marks 45 years of Pride. To celebrate we brought together different generations of LGBT+ Londoners to chat about dating, clubbing, activism, culture and erotica over the decades.

‘We thought our story would die with us’ 

Andy Parsons


Jonathan Blake, 67, was a founder of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), the ’80s group immortalised in the 2014 film ‘Pride’. He meets Savva Smirnov, 26, a member of Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, a protest group modelled on the original group. This is the first time they’ve met

Savva: ‘In the film “Pride” there’s a sense that gay people in London almost whimsically decided to join LGSM. What was actually going on?’

Jonathan: ‘It was a political time, Margaret Thatcher had galvanised everybody into activity! And there was always going to be support for the miners. It was a no-brainer.’

Savva: ‘Outside of LGSM, were other people trying to support the miners?’

Jonathan: ‘Oh yeah, but this was specifically lesbians and gay men and we wanted to be upfront. There were all kinds of difficulties because the National Union of Miners didn’t want to touch us. You have to remember it was the start of HIV.’

Savva: ‘Why did you get involved?’

Jonathan: ‘I had just been diagnosed as HIV+ in October 1982. In the December I tried to commit suicide and didn’t succeed, so I thought “If I can’t kill myself I better get out and do something”.’

Savva: ‘Wow.’ Jonathan: ‘I got my strength together, arrived in Marchmont Street outside Gay’s the Word and was greeted by this extraordinary guy with a mop of black curly hair who introduced himself to me as Nigel. And we’re still together now!’

Savva: ‘Did people ask you why you didn’t organise around Aids?’

Jonathan: ‘Oh yes, there was a lot of criticism and anger.’

Savva: ‘That’s so perverse, to accuse someone of selfishness when they’re doing something selfless.’

Jonathan: ‘I can understand it because I was both infected and affected and lot of people were. But it was nonsense! It’s like how LGSMigrants came about – because there was a need! We thought our story would die with us, that we thought we would take it to the grave. What’s great is that the original LGSM has inspired LSGMigrants. Why did you join?’

Savva: ‘I’ve always found the queer scene difficult to navigate. I’m anxious, I don’t like small talk, but politics has always helped me connect. I went to a LGSMigrants meeting about Peckham Pride.’

Jonathan: ‘What’s that?’

Savva: ‘It’s a march to raise awareness of illegal raids and deportation. The Peckham community make up a significant proportion of those who get deported. I was thrown into organising; we would go in pairs and chat to businesses. There were very few homophobic conversations, which disrupts that whole idea that all migrants are homophobic.’

Jonathan: ‘There are still battles to be won. What one wants is not just rights for ourselves but for other people and other countries.’

Savva: ‘People want a better world and to be understood as part of it.’

Jonathan: ‘Yes! I’m not as politically active now as you are, age catches up with you. But one is always pricked to be doing a little bit more.’

Both: ‘We’re here, we’re queer!’

‘I was tired of being in spaces that didn’t feel right.

We deserve better!’

Andy Parsons

Yvonne Taylor, 59, ran the club night Systematic at Brixton Women’s Centre from 1986 to 1991. She meets BBZ, a collective founded by Tia Simon-Campbell, 25, and Nadine Davis, 27, who throw parties aimed at queer, trans and non-binary people of colour

Yvonne: ‘You know I went to a party of yours in Hackney Wick and I was impressed! It was refreshing to see women of colour in a glam space with a bit of panache to it. I thought all that work I did before was not a complete waste of time.’

Tia: ‘That’s just awesome. The idea of a woman of colour who was running a night like ours thirty years ago, who acknowledges us, is so important. We have no reference. I think that is one of the reasons we wanted to start BBZ.’

Nadine: ‘Yeah, we wanted to create our own history. I was tired of being in spaces that didn’t feel right. We deserve better! We are the creators of so much culture. And sometimes as a queer person you can live in a bit of an echo chamber.’

Yvonne: ‘Just because I’m a person of colour doesn’t mean I want to listen to urban music every day. We’re a smaller community as people of colour but we’re still as diverse as the rest of the queer community.’

Nadine and Tia: ‘Yes!’

Yvonne: ‘So are you a collective?’

Nadine: ‘It was just us but the workload got really heavy, so now there’s five of us. We kind of want to create a black book of all the creative people of colour across the diaspora. But please, tell us about back in the day!’

Yvonne: ’ I moved to London and went to a couple of clubs and thought there’s absolutely no way I can survive with this music so I met up with three other women and did a club called Systematic there. We basically got this space for £20. There was a canteen and a games room upstairs, people paid £5 to get in at 10pm and we went until 10am the next day.’

Nadine and Tia: ‘Wow!’

Yvonne: ‘We were probably the most popular club. I didn’t have another job and we did it once a month. I’m not a nine-to-five person. I did hijack a barracks when I was in the army for a party.’

Nadine: ‘My G! You used to throw raves in the army?’

Yvonne: ‘Ha! Well, the clubs weren’t geared towards me. It has got better. I feel like we’re the mavericks.’

Nadine: ‘I think that’s real. For us, we love socialising, we love going to a dance, so why not create a space ourselves? I feel like our parties are still only half way there.’

Yvonne: ‘For me, I always wanted to go to a party that I would be proud to take my family to. Most of the clubs I wouldn’t dream of rocking up and going “This is my lifestyle”.’

Tia: ‘What we’re finding is that club nights are amazing but we’re venturing into more social activities. We did a Valentine’s pottery class; as cheesy as it is, it was fucking banging.’

‘When I went to a gay bar for the first time it felt like paradise’

Andy Parsons

Riyadh Khalaf, 26, is a YouTube star. He presented BBC3 show ‘Queer Britain’ that explored LGBT+ life stories. He meets Jonny Woo, 43, an alternative drag queen superstar who also runs Haggerston gay bar The Glory

Jonny: ‘What was your first experience of London’s gay scene?’ 

Riyadh: ‘The first thing that hit me was how gorgeous everyone was.’

Jonny: ‘Really?’ Riyadh: ‘Oh yeah, everyone was a big ride. I went to Heaven and was completely blown away.’ 

Jonny: ‘Going to mainstream gay bars puts me off, especially if they’re full of hot guys. You just take doing drag for granted, it’s not a thing, but people who aren’t familiar with the scene think guys who do drag aren’t sexy.’ 

Riyadh: ‘Recently I was out in Soho after shopping for some cute short shorts. A guy looks at them and goes: “Are they women’s clothing? Weird!” I realised the divide between guys who want to be macho-wacho and guys who just want to have fun.’ 

Jonny: ‘I’m amazed people in London aren’t familiar with the kind of clubs we have in east London. I’ve been in Shoreditch since 1995.’ 

Riyadh: ‘Was it more dangerous then, to walk the streets in drag?’

Jonny: ‘Yes, but I think kids still get shit now for dressing up.’ 

Riyadh: ‘I think people use the term “safe space” when they talk about The Glory or Heaven.’ 

Jonny: ‘Well, I’ve always thought nightclubs should be dangerous spaces.’

Riyadh: ‘Can they not be both?’ 

Jonny: ‘They can, but I think it’s strange when London is safer. You don’t need to go into a gay bar to have a drink with your boyfriend.’ 

Riyadh: ‘When I went to a gay bar for the first time it felt like paradise. There’s nothing as comforting as knowing that you can be as homo as you can be.’ 

Jonny: ‘I think this labelling is what I struggle with. As a venue owner it’s a responsibility I didn’t really ask for.’ 

Riyadh: ‘Well, you’re an anarchist. You were breaking rules when it wasn’t as mainstream. Maybe you miss that.’ 

Jonny: ‘Yeah, the thrill! It was nudity, it was rolling in paint. Everyone was fucked. But I think London has an incredible scene at the moment. The new kids are doing great stuff.’

‘I begged for lines about a gay love scene’

Andy Parsons

Peter Gill, 77, is a playwright, actor and director. He meets Tom Lyons, 28, who is a dramaturg at the National Theatre. They’re both involved with the institution’s ‘Queer Theatre’ season

Tom: ‘Maybe a good place to start is the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967?’

Peter: ‘It was frightening before that. You didn’t know what the fuck was going on, all these people in prison.’

Tom: ‘Did you sense the threat?’

Peter: ‘It was immoral what was happening. The ghastly home secretary David Maxwell Fyfe persecuted people.’

Tom: ‘I suppose from a theatre point of view, metaphor was a means of circumventing censorship?’

Peter: ‘The Lord Chamberlain looked at all scripts until 1968. They had to okay it all. As an assistant director I visited St James’s Palace to beg for lines in “Spring Awakening” that contained a gay love scene.’

Tom: ‘Did it work?’

Peter: ‘At the very last performance we persuaded the two men to kiss and we got in such trouble.’

Tom: ‘At the time, was the theatre world a more accepting place to be gay than London as a whole?’

Peter: ‘The theatre has always been a bit gay, but nobody actually knew who was gay, which would be unbelievable to say now. Though a few of us had boyfriends in “West Side Story”. Did people presume you were gay when you came for your interview at the National? ’

Tom: ‘No, I don’t think so. But I would say, for me, there was a surfeit of gay material when I was growing up; plays, literature, TV.’

Peter: ‘All my gay great-nephews and nieces have no problem with the subject at all. Big butch rugger players, it’s astonishing. They feel confident in who they are.’

‘The radicalism is back’

Andy Parsons

Lulu Belliveau, 57, co-edited Quim, an erotic magazine for lesbians that ran from 1989-1995. She meets Claire Kurylowski, 30, who screens queer sex-positive images through project Kuntinuum

Claire: ‘How did you get involved with Quim?’

Lulu: ‘I met the founder Sophie Moorcock after issue one. We started talking about wanting visibility for dykes, like us, who were into S&M.’

Claire: ‘Growing up my experience of the word “dyke” was as a derogatory word. It still is now. But in the ’80s people were trying to reclaim it, right?’

Lulu: ‘Yeah, we’d get yelled at in the street and reply “Yeah, I’m a fucking dyke!”’

Claire: ‘Now I’d identify with saying I’m a dyke .’

Lulu: ‘For me, it meant I wasn’t a “nice lesbian”. In the ’80s, there was this idea that being a lesbian was a political choice rather than about sex with women. I had an issue with that.’

Claire: ‘I remember discovering Quim after my friend went to a San Fran leather daddy shop and found ’80s mags at the back. It was incredible! There were bull dykes as the centrefold!’

Lulu: ‘Back then we’d develop photos in a bathroom turned into a darkroom! We partied and we created, it all fed each other. I see that in your generation too. You feel like our queer grandchildren.’

Claire: ‘Yeah, for a while there’s not been a radical attitude. Now things are springing up, like more erotic, sex-positive film screenings at BFI Flare.’

Lulu: ‘The radicalism is back!’

Here's the ultimate guide to Pride in London

Popular on Time Out

    Latest news