Pride – the true story

Ray Goodspeed, who was a founder member of the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners group portrayed in the film Pride, fills in some more detail in the real-life struggle it depicts so movingly.

lgsm
Ray Goodspeed in those days (furthest right) as well as Mike Jackson (second from left). Both are now members of Left Unity.

Many members of Left Unity will be aware of the recently-released movie Pride, which deals with true story of the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) group and their links with a South Wales mining valley, Dulais. It is a really remarkable film for a mainstream film company, in that it is a warm-hearted, hilariously funny comedy-drama designed to reach a wide audience but which still preserves the essential politics of the original campaign.

Original members of the LGSM group and the Dulais mining community were involved in the making of it (indeed a few of them are extras in it!) and they are happy to endorse it. I am proud to say that three original members (including me) are now members of Left Unity, including Mike Jackson, a central figure in the film portrayed by Joe Gilgun. For me, Left Unity is an heir of LGSM in its attempts to unite the left and campaigners from wider struggles around issues of solidarity and common action.

The film deals with the appalling situation of LGBT people in the mid-80s, who faced a battery of legal, social and employment discrimination and oppression, and it deals with the issues around the beginning of AIDS. The film also portrays the links made between the two disparate groups and how all sides deepen their understanding of the issues involved. The role of the women of the mining communities is central, and how the strike transformed many of their lives.

There is an in-built sadness to the film as it deals with the failure of the miners’ strike and the most important victory of Thatcher, which led, as we know, to the triumphant victory of neoliberal ideas and the present austerity, as well as to the rise of New Labour and their capitulation to pro-capitalist ideology. The mining communities were effectively destroyed following the strike and those vibrant, supportive communities taken to pieces as problems of mass unemployment, poverty, and drugs and alcohol took their hold.

Yet the film still manages to create an upbeat, feel-good movie full of idealism and hope, which I would love to inspire a new generation of activists to take up the struggle.

To go with the film I thought members would appreciate an edited form of a longish article which I wrote back in 1989, which tells the true story of LGSM. In the film some characters have been amalgamated and details changed. The most obvious change is that the antagonism towards us in Dulais has been exaggerated for dramatic effect. The welcome we received was actually even better than in the film, which also downplays the extent to which the original members were actively involved in the organised left, and reduces the numbers of those involved to tell a manageable story. Most of the important things portrayed are true, however, and Pride stays true to the spirit of a wonderful episode of British labour history.

Hope you enjoy it – but beware of spoilers, watch the film first!

Here We Go! – Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners 1984-1985
by Ray Goodspeed (1989)

The 1984-85 Miners’ Strike was, without doubt, a watershed in the history of the British labour movement and of British politics as a whole. All the pretences behind which the capitalist class usually hide behind were torn away, as battles were fought between striking miners and their supporters on one side, and the armed might of the state, the courts and the lie-merchants of the press on the other. Society was polarised as never before and in that year the only political dividing line that mattered was whether you were for or against the miners.

Similarly, the work of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) was a watershed for the left and the lesbian and gay movement. There had been attempts at this kind of solidarity work before. In the 1972 Miners’ Strike, Lancaster University Gay Liberation Front made warm and close links with Parkside colliery near Preston, Lancashire. Other attempts were made, such as a gay contingent on the 250,000-strong march against the Industrial Relations Act in 1971 and solidarity work again in 1974 in the Barnsley area. However, it was LGSM which achieved the breakthrough which led to its almost legendary reputation and interest shown from all over the world.

So what was it all about?

LGSM was formed in July 1984, four months into the strike, from an initiative of taking a collection on the Lesbian and Gay Pride March in June, where there was also a successful fringe meeting addressed by a striking miner. Many, though not all, of those involved from the beginning were active in unions and/or left parties and were already involved in collecting at work, in the street and so on, and they had the quite modest aim of extending this to collecting for the miners inside the lesbian and gay community.

Their support for the miners was unconditional, as the success or failure of their struggle would have dramatic implications for all workers, regardless of sexuality. However, there was a tentative hope that a breakthrough in the understanding of the mining communities of the situation of lesbians and gays could be achieved. It was thought that there would be more chance of this if one main community was targeted, so Dulais Valley, near Neath in West Glamorgan (and Powys) was chosen, and this was through a previous contact in the area of one of the founder members. Twinning was actually the norm for all support groups, as the funds of the main NUM had been sequestered [confiscated] by Thatcher’s government.

However, the response of that mining community and the success of the group exceeded the wildest expectations of its founders. Within a few weeks, regular collections were held outside every main gay or lesbian venue, sometimes two or three times a week, and outside ‘Gay’s the Word’ bookshop. A striking miner addressed an ecstatic crowd at a pub in Kings Cross, interrupting the disco! The weekly meetings became larger and larger. At the peak of the campaign there were 50 regular attendees. More importantly – these 50 were all activists. A broad ruling was agreed early on that only those who did at least one collection a fortnight could vote, regardless of any other administrative, creative or fundraising work etc. that they did.

For many members, it was their first political activity, and for those who were more experienced, in either the left or the lesbian and gay movement, it was different and refreshing (if occasionally exasperating). It was a down-to-earth group focused around the achievement of practical tasks, and it managed to create a united front from a baffling array of differing political and non-political views. The concentration on taking issues (as well as collecting buckets) deep inside the gay and lesbian ‘scene’ was a departure from the lobbying tradition of many lesbian and gay rights campaigns, in or out of the labour movement.

In particular, the group managed to assemble many young working-class gays and lesbians. Part of the reason for this was that LGSM put ideas of class solidarity at the centre of lesbian and gay debate, as a review of the gay press at the time will confirm. The feeling of taking sides in an historic event was very powerful. This inevitably highlighted the divisions inside the lesbian and gay community itself and provoked some bitterly anti-working class responses, particularly from some well-heeled gay men.

In addition, many of those involved in LGSM felt it was a way of identifying again with a class and a set of values from which they had been exiled by their sexuality. Many, although living in London, had left working-class areas throughout Britain and Ireland – not to mention the working-class Londoners. Those collecting were often struck by how many of those they spoke to were not only from working-class communities in general, but from mining communities in particular. It is true, of course, that some had very unhappy memories of prejudice or violence from those mining communities.

When 27 members went down to Dulais for the emotionally-charged first weekend visit to Dulais to stay with the miners and their families and to share in their meagre rations, the welcome they received was astonishing and deeply affected those present. Onllwyn Miners’ Welfare Hall was suddenly transformed into a mixed/straight/gay club with everybody singing, dancing and hugging everyone else. Mike Jackson, the secretary of LGSM throughout its existence, has said “it was like returning home.”

There were many other visits to Dulais, including one which coincided with the decision to return to work. People from Dulais made many visits to London, often to speak to LGSM’s weekly or public meetings and they visited gay and lesbians venues. They also attended a massive benefit at Camden’s Electric Ballroom – Pits and Perverts – on December 10th which featured performances from many lesbian and gay performers, notably Bronski Beat. The benefit and all the raffles raised more than £5,000. The event was free to striking miners and many who were based in London for the strike attended, along with over a thousand lesbians and gay men. At all these events moving speeches by the miners or their wives or girlfriends were always greeted by thunderous applause and cheering.

The group also produced a famous miners-style badge, T-shirts, a mega-jumble sale/fashion show, videos, exhibitions and many other things which testify to the enthusiasm and vitality of the group. LGSM members were caught up in the violent police attacks on a miners’ demonstration in Whitehall in early 1985 where one of them was arrested.

In Dulais, the strike and the involvement of LGSM allowed lesbians and gay men an unprecedented opportunity to ‘come out’. This is important. Geographical and cultural differences between LGSM in London and Dulais, a traditional, rural, working-class community, tempted some to see the campaign as ‘two communities’ learning to understand each other. But there are lesbians and gays in South Wales and in all mining villages, and there are militant class fighters among lesbians and gays in London. It was not really so much about ‘community’ as socialism and class unity.

So what did it achieve?

Firstly, LGSM raised more than £20,000 for striking miners and their families [a lot of money in 1984 – RG]. It played a major role in feeding mining families from three pits in South Wales, pits which were 100% solid until the end of the strike. Secondly, it established links of friendship and comradeship which, contrary to the carping of some cynics, survive to this day [and are still going strong in 2014! – RG]

The Dulais Valley Support Group minibus carried LGSM’s name and a pink triangle logo. The 1985 Pride march was led off by miners’ banners, and visits have been regular ever since, on happy occasions and very sad ones, such as the funeral of Mark Ashton, LGSM’s founder, who died of AIDS in February 1987.

But it had a much wider impact on the fight for lesbian and gay rights inside the labour movement. The NUM had been notoriously backward on issues of sexism in the past, including its general secretary Arthur Scargill, and had totally dismissed gay rights lobbyists. The role of women in the strike and the role of LGSM totally reversed this position. Henceforth the NUM was in the forefront of campaigns for women’s, lesbian and gay rights issues leading to favourable resolutions at both TUC and Labour Party conferences in 1985.

LGSM proved that issues of sexuality could be taken directly to working class communities, especially those in struggle themselves, and get a positive response, rather than just relying on lobbying of politicians or union leaders. It pointed the way for LGBT people to play their part as integral members of the labour movement, individually or as a group, committed to united struggle of the movement as a whole.


18 comments

18 responses to “Pride – the true story”

  1. adrian stimpson says:

    thanks for the article .I must say the last scene of the film on the bridge made me cry.i went to hull uni as an ex public school boy with some left views but also racist and homophobic.i remember to my shame saying to a woman selling socialist worker that king Arthur was just like hitler.she gave me a mouthful and she was quite right too.my only concern with left unity is that it should be a comfortable environment to work in for revolutionaries and left reformists.whatever their faults the swp were the biggest and involved left group on campus in hull and relentless in collecting money etc.of course it depends on their members in left unity not trying to turn it into a front for them as with oyher left groups too.and my one problem is eith Stalinist groups being involved but thts just me and we all have to compromise.thanks to anybody who cld be arsed to read my comment

  2. John Pearson says:

    Brilliant article Ray! I saw the film on Wednesday and it is excellent. Your real life report doesn’t act as a spoiler but as an appetiser for many more people to go to see the film in my opinion.

    Let’s get the link to this article widely shared comrades! Learning what was done by all of the actors in this real life story is just what we need to give our movement a big boost in these dark times.

  3. Ian Mitchell says:

    Truly brilliant film about an amazing story of solidarity.Also i think the strength of the film is that it is as much about being gay/lesibian in the 80s as it is about the strike.The year84/85 that was the miners strike transformed all of those who played an active part.If it wasn’t for groups like LGSM along with the women of the mining communities & support from millions of trade unionists, we would not have lasted two months never mind 12 months.At the end of the strike the LGSM badge sold like hot cakes at my pit.We sold badges from all the support groups to raise funds for the sacked miners.It was not unusual to see men out for a pint sporting the LGSM badge .
    Of course in time some of the old prejudices creeped back in.However one good turn deserves another.I remember with pride the NUM supporting the campaign against the vicious clause 28.This came from a resolution of support being passed at a number of NUM branches that led to the NUM nationally supporting the campaign .At my pit Silverwood i was the mover of the motion….when the chair asked the meeting if anybody wanted to oppose one hand went up.The guy said that as a catholic he should vote against it ….however he went on to say that as a trade unionist who was on strike for twelve months he knew who is friends were & urged the meeting to vote for the motion.Yes we lost the strike but the changes of how we looked at the world & alliances we forged….. be it on the question of women,race or sexuality was a victory in itself .Please go see this film & also the powerful documentary ‘Still the enemy within’
    Ian Mitchell Silverwood NUM 1974-1988
    PS if any one as spare LGSM badge i would be interested ,i gave my last one away to a gay socialist many moons ago !

    • Mike Jackson says:

      This is fantastic Ian, and it really warms my heart to read it. Would it be OK if LGSM copies this to our facebook page?

    • Ray G says:

      Lovely comments, thanks very much!

      Its comments like yours, Ian, that just make us so proud to have done what we did, and so thrilled that after all this time the story is being told again. We are learning new stuff about the strike all the time as a result of the interest in the film.

      Victory to socialism!!

      • Ian Mitchell says:

        Well said Ray……you are right to say we are learning new stuff about the strike.It’s been a very interesting anniversary.However i’m so pleased that your story is being represented & told so well with the film.

      • Alison Livesey says:

        A fascinating read and some stuff I didn’t know. My daughters are also completely fascinated by what you did during the strike.

  4. Lee Ashton says:

    Needless to say I have seen this film three times, I have an emotional link as Mark is my Brother and the story is so inspirational and filled many gaps in my understanding of Marks movements after he left home as I only manage to see him 8 or 9 times in 5 years.
    Pride is the best title …..

    • Ray G says:

      So great to hear from you Lee, and I am pleased that it has allowed you to get even closer to Mark and what he got up to. All the best mate. Are you a member of Left Unity??
      Ray Goodspeed

  5. Mike Jackson says:

    Well said Ray, thank you for sharing the piece. We urgently need comrades to encourage people in the north, Scotland and Wales to go see Pride. So far it has gone down well in the south-east and London and less people have seen it in those other areas. This is a movie which the entire labour movement should be proud of because of it’s messages. I have met several people recently who have been inspired to get active in politics as a direct result of seeing the movie. Perfect! So let’s make sure it is a great success and seen as widely as possible. Bang the drum.

  6. Ian says:

    Having seen this film without knowing any of the back story of LGMS it really opened my eyes to the preduice and outdated views that still excisted in the 1980s.

    This film should be set as a examplar of a fight against oppression and how communities can work together, no matter what their background, to support each other, to accept who we are no matter of our race, sex or culture and how moments in history shape our future.

  7. The film PRIDE Is an inspirational and moving film everyone should see it. I was lucky enough to meet Mike Jackson last night at the welsh premier of Still The Enemy Within, very charismatic gentleman, he bought my book How Black Were Our Valleys – A 30th Commemoration of the Miners’ Strike, telling stories of individuals, men, women and children of the strike. I wanted to contact him with regard to showing PRIDE at my University Campus in Treforest (University of South Wales) our head of history is keen to get it shown. Please can you get in touch. Many Thanks Debbie

  8. Ray G says:

    Hello Alison !! Good to hear from you.

    Are you a member/supporter of Left Unity??

  9. Daniel Scott says:

    Hello-
    Great article, and fantastic film. I was in school in England in the mid-80’s, and while aware of the miners strike, had no idea that this unity existed between both groups.

    Question for you. I realize your group is very much to the ‘left’ of the political spectrum, but wondered if over the years, and with this film coming out, if you’ve had more support from the ‘right’ and conservatives? Seems to me, whatever party you belong to, what was done here was pretty damn impressive. ..and of course times, and peoples views change.

    Anyway, I’ve done nothing but search out articles about this period of time since seeing the film-TWICE. Nice job, and well done.

    Cheers-
    Daniel

    • Ray G says:

      Daniel – I am pleased to report that we have not been given any support from right wing commentators – although we had good reviews from the Sun and the Mail.

      The FT gave the film a terrible review (as did the ludicrous people behind the World Socialist Web Site WSWS) I like the idea that we are still too dangerous to be treated as national treasures!!

  10. jean says:

    absolutely loved the movie, most inspiring laughed & cried

  11. Bethan says:

    I really enjoyed watching the film. I was left feeling that there should be another chapter to this story and that should be a printed apology from the Sun newspaper to the gay and lesbian people that they called perverts.


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