‘Pits and Perverts’: The Unlikely Partnership of Lesbians, Gays, and Miners in the 1980s (LGSM)
In the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the 1980s, for this community to unite with and gather support from miners seemed unlikely. The image of miners as brutal, conservative, and rough felt like an impossible partner for the queer cause. However, this was not the case for the LGSM movement in 1984.
LGSM: Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners Movement
Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) was a solidary movement that united two groups who had more in common than might be imagined. The story began in June 1984 when two friends, Mark Ashton and Mike Jackson, arrived at the pride march with a bucket collection to support the striking miners. The miners had stopped working for four months due to the closure of mining pits. The LGSM organisation continued weekly meetings for the next year to raise money, protest alongside the miners, and visit mining villages. The association’s primary goal was to help the Dulais Mining Community in South Wales.
The miners’ strike from 1984 to 1985 was a fight to maintain their pits as for many it was their only source of employment. The strike was met with force with the use of the Metropolitan Police in local villages and biased press coverage stigmatizing miners. For example, in the case of the “Battle of Orgeave” on the 18th of June 1984, striking miners had violent clashes with the police and the BBC’s images were filmed from behind the police lines with biased commentary. After this episode, the news channel fell under criticism from miners, supporters, and those who had seen first hand what had happened.
The LGBTQ+ community also suffered from the press and the government at this time. The emergence of AIDS was considered as the ‘gay virus’, there were police raids in queer clubs, and later Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government’s introduction of the Local Government Act 1988 which banned the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality by local authorities made it difficult for queer people to be considered as equal.
Ashton and Jackson did not think it was unrealistic to unite with the miners. The first meeting started small with only eleven people in attendance. By the end of the strike in March 1985, over sixty people were involved. LGSM collected approximately twenty thousand pounds with street bucket collections, raffles, jumble sales, and most importantly the ‘Pits and Perverts’ gig that raised over five thousand pounds on its own. The idea was to sustain the miner community with dignity during their strike.
From LGSM emerged the breakaway group Lesbians Against Pit Closures (LAPC), which was formed in November 1984 by women members of LGSM to focus more on the women’s cause and female empowerment. Their money collections were made mainly at lesbian clubs and outside supermarkets. They organized a women-only benefit for the miners on the 6th of March 1985 at the Bell Kings Cross, important for removing the male-only perspective of the movement. Also, other events were organized for the women from Dulais valley, for example, the creative workshops that included badge making and relaxation exercises.
The miner’s strike came to an end after a year of struggle. However, the lasting friendship and the legacy to promote LGBTQ+ rights proved to have long-lasting effects. The alliance between LGSM and the miners had profound effects on creating a dialogue and mutual respect between the two groups.
In October 1984 at the Labour Party Conference, the National Union of Mineworkers expressed solidarity for the LGBTQ+ community, favouring equality measures and expressing “our struggle is yours”. Less than a year after, the Union and the mining communities of South Wales joined the LGSM at the 1985 London Pride march to show their gratitude and support. This helped fuel the LGBTQ+ agenda as in the same year, the NUM supported lesbian and gay equality at the Labour Party Conference and Trades Union Congress.
The documentary ‘All Out! Dancing in Dulais – Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners’ has real-life footage of this unlikely friendship. “It’s only over the last year that we have come to know lesbian and gay people because their struggle is something similar to ours,” says a woman in the documentary. She goes on to explain how the LGBTQ+ community “suffered in the last year with the police, and you know different things what they have been suffering all their lives, and are likely to continue suffering unless we do something about it.”
“In their community, the largest, single donating group, as a gay and lesbian group, I think they would have just laughed. And I think we would as well, I mean, to imagine we would be welcomed, really, so warmly, I mean, all the myths and all the barriers of prejudice we have just broken down when we went down to the valley, it was really wonderful.”A member of the documentary.
The story of the Dulais valley and LGSM finally came to the big screens in 2014. Pride, as the name of the film suggests, depicts the trajectory of kindness, friendship, and the breaking of stereotypes between the communities. It is a drama and comedy film that has taken accurate inspiration from the older documentary and has respect for the history of the group. Its warm, inspiring ending gives hope to the best in humanity.
For those who have watched Pride, the iconic bookshop ‘Gay’s The Word’ appears as the hotspot for the LGSM meetings. The bookshop is the UK’s oldest LGBTQ+ bookshop, founded in 1979 by a group of gay socialists.
However, LGSM’s first meeting was in the home of the founding member Mark Ashton, then as members grew, a space at the Greater London Council’s Country Hall was used, which illustrates some differences from history. But, Gay’s The Word was still relevant as they would meet at the bookshop whenever the Hall was unavailable.
Later, the group was able to have a permanent spot at the upstairs home of Fallen Angel, a newly opened gay café and bar. Nevertheless, Gays The Word was still a major place to collect funding just like in the film, as every Saturday bucket collections and food parcels would be collected.
This movement and the film seize the opportunity to show how different causes can unite to create history, which resonates with the founder’s beliefs. “It’s quite illogical to say ‘I’m gay and I’m into defending the gay community but I don’t care about anything else.’ It’s important that if you’re defending communities, you’re defending all communities and not just one”.Mark Ashton