Last night a new play opened at the Derry Playhouse. Pits and Perverts is written by Micheal Kerrigan and is about an extraordinary moment in British labour history. It tells the story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM).
I wrote about LGSM earlier this year in my blog about Margaret Thatcher’s legacy for lesbian and gay rights. Michael Kerrigan was, I understand, involved in LGSM. I was very much on the periphery. But it has remained an emotional and political touchstone for me ever since.
Transgressive and transformational, LGSM was magic. Magic is not my word but that of Mike Jackson, one of those at the forefront of the campaign, writing in 1988. He was not wrong and the word reverberates for me whenever I think of the strike. LGSM used to meet on Sunday evening in the upstairs room of an alternative gay pub in Islington called The Fallen Angel. It had an energy and urgency which I can still conjure up nearly 30 years later.
As the poster for Micheal Kerrigan’s play says, LGSM is a story of what happens when communities stand together. Lesbian and gay workers from across the labour movement and beyond forged a powerful relationship with miners and their families in Dulais Valley, South Wales. The play takes its name from the wonderful Pits and Perverts Ball held in Camden’s Electric Ballroom in December 1984; a strike fundraiser to rival any other. And the poster is a version of the original poster for the event.
LGSM was indeed magic. Miners on the annual Pride march in London in 1984 was a sight no one would have predicted just a couple of years earlier. And it was instrumental in securing support from the NUM for a groundbreaking motion on lesbian and gay rights at the 1985 Trades Union Congress; a motion in the name of my union NALGO and the probation officers’ union, NAPO.
I didn’t get directly involved in LGSM for various reasons. I was Branch Secretary of NALGO at Westminster City Council and we had plenty on our hands dealing with the policies of the now infamous Shirley Porter. And I was chairing NALGO’s fledgling National Lesbian and Gay Steering Committee. But always when I look back LGSM is there, colouring in the landscape of the times.
For me the power of LGSM was never clearer than when I came out to striking miners at Carcroft NUM near Doncaster. Westminster NALGO had twinned with Carcroft. The miners there had heard about LGSM and it made sense to them in a way that they themselves admitted wouldn’t have been the case previously. They understood that we had come together to defend their communities. These were old and new struggles finding common cause at a seismic moment.
I’ve recently written about the change in attitudes to homosexuality since the early 1980s. Thanks to the British Social Attitudes survey, we have rigorous long term evidence of that change. But what we know less about, is how and why that change has occurred. We know about the campaigning for sure, and I’m proud to have been a part of it. But I think what has really made a difference is personal connection.
It’s the fact that the otherness of homosexuality has become sameness within families and communities. Lesbians and gay men are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters – and friends. For sure many will have struggled with those relationships and been rejected. But for many acceptance has transcended otherness. And LGSM was about personal connection too; by creating common cause, it broke down the barriers between people who would otherwise have been them and us.
LGSM was brave, counter intuitive and unprecedented. I understand Mike Jackson was at the opening of Pits and Perverts last night and I can’t think of a more appropriate person for the play’s audience. He has said himself that LGSM wasn’t about leaders, bureaucracies or heroes. But as I looked one from the sidelines, and LGSM provided me with inspiration and courage, he and those who sustained it were undoubtedly heroes. And by bringing it back to life, Pits and Perverts creates the opportunity to celebrate their contribution.