Paris – Berlin – Walthamstow: notes from a speaking tour

Over the last few months I, like many members, have had the pleasure (and the privilege) of speaking for LGSM and/or promoting the movie PRIDE. It has been an inspiring and enlightening experience and I thought I would share some thoughts that have been prompted by this mini-tour.

I seem to have cornered the market in speaking to the far left groups for LGSM, a role that I am more than happy to fulfil, as well as other kinds of events. I have spoken to gatherings in Bristol, Oxford, Lambeth, Hackney, Newcastle and Gateshead, not forgetting Paris, Berlin and my latest gig, speaking from the front of an Anglican church in Walthamstow after a Pride showing in the actual church! I have also been lucky enough to speak at showings of the fantastic “Still the Enemy Within” documentary about the strike. A couple of times I have shared a platform with Norman Strike (real name), a striking miner from 84-85 who reminded audiences of the incredible act of resistance to the power of the state that the strike represented.

The response to my speeches and to the telling of the real story of LGSM has been emotional and overwhelming, and I have been particularly struck by how the actions of LGSM during the strike have inspired and encouraged young people with no direct memories of the strike itself. Occasionally, I have been a bit embarrassed by the affection and admiration shown to me and to LGSM as a whole, as if I was some kind of heroic leader of a struggle. I am not – and after all, at the time, our actions were mainly just focused on shaking buckets outside lesbian and gay venues, though we did organise the bloody marvellous Pits and Perverts fundraiser and other impressive meetings and events. But it is obviously true that our actions and the fantastic response to us in the mining communities did capture a new mood of unity between the lesbian and gay community and the labour movement that resonated then, and it seems that this feeling has clearly been reinvigorated by the film and by our increased profile.

It is essential to always make the point, however, that the true heroes of the strike were the miners and the women and other supporters in the mining communities, and I have valued this chance to speak at meetings during this 30-year anniversary period to remind people just what a crucial, epic and sometimes savage battle that was. For LGSM, it was all about the miners, and it still is. Our support was unconditional and anything we got back from the support we gave was an added bonus.

When I spoke to LGBT training school, organised by the Fire Brigades Union, it was fabulous (if just a teeny bit disappointing for me!!) to see that it mostly consisted of lesbian and trans union activists who were there not as a refuge from the union but to learn how to play their full and proper part in the union as a whole and to fight for the rights of ALL their members. A lesbian’s place is in her union, just like every other woman! Go for it!

One of the biggest differences between now and thirty years ago is the huge increase in open, proud trans activists who attend the meetings. I spoke a PRIDE showing at a cinema in Stratford in East London organised by a lovely bunch of youngsters from an LGBT youth group (called Paris!). One of the questions was about the role of trans people, especially lesbian and gay trans people in LGSM, and I found it really hard to explain that in 1984 this issue just was not on the radar in the same way. I did not know anybody then who identified that way back in 84. Great to meet all you trans people! Come and join the struggle for the rights of all working people.

The most-asked question in all the meetings I have done (apart from “what is true and what is not?”) is how the more separatist women are portrayed in the PRIDE movie, and the response of LGSM to them. The rather mocking way they are presented has irritated or disappointed some people. I have had to point out the context of the movement and the debates of the time and explain what actually happened. I also have explained that the attitudes of many of the male members of LGSM at the time (who were the overwhelming majority) really were a bit dismissive and mocking. Times have moved on and attitudes to these issues have changed but as I recently said in Berlin, you can’t rewrite history unless you are a Stalinist! A full, clear history of Lesbians Against Pit Closures still remains to be written.

My recent trips to speak in Paris, at a conference of the New Anti-capitalist Party, and Berlin, as a guest of the Marx21 tendency in Die Linke (the Left Party) were hugely enjoyable. Having the chance to get the message of LGSM, of unity and solidarity of all working people (the 99%) to large audiences in other countries of mainly young activists in significant left parties was just what I needed in the post election depression I was in. The enthusiasm of the activists for LGSM was electrifying, and the drinking and dancing were pretty good too. During questions and debates I found a real thirst for a position that stresses working-class unity and the wider unity of all oppressed groups in a common struggle. Those trying to be active in fields in which the politics of identity are perhaps emphasised at the expense of the politics of solidarity seemed to particularly warm the ideas I put forward and my general approach. This was also true when I spoke to a group of left students at Oxford University (another fabulous bunch!) whose questions were so interesting and enthusiasm so infectious that I deliberately missed my train back to London to continue the chat into the early hours.

So there we have it so far. Exhausting, inspiring, rejuvenating! Solidarity forever!