Ad from Christopher Street magazine. 1983.

Whilst there have, undoubtedly, been significant milestones in LGBT history in earlier decades, I believe the Eighties was a particularly important period.

That decade saw a major shift towards the emergence of a global gay culture. The gay genie came right out of its little pink bottle and into the streets (and the media…and politics…and the arts…)

Ironically, much of this was driven by adversity. The appearance of HIV/AIDS was most certainly a factor: it ripped through our communities but, at the same time, engendered a spirit of unity and resistance that transcended national borders.

But there were many other storms – great and small – that had to be weathered too. For example, in the US, the Court of Appeal ruled that there was no ‘fundamental right’ to be gay.

In the UK, the Thatcher government created Clause 28 of the Local Government Act, making it illegal for local authorities to support anything that might promote homosexual relationships as a viable alternative to heterosexual ‘family life’.

And, unsurprisingly, the Catholic Church continued it’s attack on gays. In 1986 Pope John Paul II labelled us “evil” and ordered the Church to withdraw all support from gay Catholic  organisations.

The battle was on – at a global, national, and local level. And I’m proud to say I was in there doing my bit!

Of course, it wasn’t all doom and gloom; every now and then there was a glimmer of hope.

Some regional legislators in places like the UK, US and Australia introduced anti-discrimination laws.

And even the US Army, who had declared homosexuality to be “incompatible with military service” in 1982, were forced to admit in 1989 that gay recruits were “just as good or better” than heterosexuals. (A finding that the US government tried – unsuccessfully – to conceal).

SPI History Walk, Sydney, 1989.

LGBT history during that period was, indeed, a rich tapestry. And that’s basically what I’m trying to document here.

Maybe it’s a sign of my advancing years but I’m increasingly coming to appreciate the value of knowing our history.

It’s not just reminiscing about ‘the good old, bad old days’, it’s also about recognising what we’ve been up against and how we’ve come through it (not least because we’re still going to be up against it for a while yet).

The great Harvey Milk spoke of the dangers of homosexuals remaining invisible in society and I think that applies to the past as much as the present. (Indeed, I think many people are unaware or have forgotten just how pivotal a role Milk himself played in global gay and lesbian history).

For me, being part of the LGBT community isn’t just about identifying with the ‘here and now’. It’s also about feeling a connection with our history – whether that’s the men with the pink triangles in the Nazi death camps or the lesbians who abseiled from the gallery in Britain’s Parliament to protest Clause 28.

Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day Poster, San Francisco, 1983

It’s about major events and others that may, on the face of it, seem small and insignificant. But they all add up and they all played their part in bringing us to where we are now.

In recognition of that my posts will be a mix of observations, personal experiences and opinions. Hopefully it will be pretty clear which is which but, either way, it will all be a bit one-sided!

That being the case, I very much welcome input from others. Your opinion or your experience – it all helps add to the picture I’m trying to paint.

You can see from the side bar what kinds of things I’ll be posting on. But please don’t see that list as set in concrete, I’m sure other areas will be added as they come to my attention.

I’m also hoping to add a more interactive function as the site develops. So watch this space! In the meantime, I hope you like what you find here and will feel happy to put in your own comments.

You can also email me by clicking here

Thank you,

Colin Clews


A Pivotal Era in LGBT History? — 18 Comments

  1. I am doing a project about homosexuals and the way they have been stigmatised, alongside the way they were treated for example through medicalisation. Some of the things I have read are quite disturbing and It actually makes me feel sick.

  2. I’m confident that someday, gays will run free through the world. Hopefully soon, I think this generation is just starting to realize it.

  3. OH MY GOODNESS! JACKPOT! I am writing a research paper on ALMOST exactly this and seeing as how I was not alive in the 80s this is like gold! Thank you so much!

  4. Thank you very much fo sharing all the experiences in the blog… It is really valuable for all us that were not there… I was a child in the 80s, and while I maybe slightly perceived a little bit of what was going on (specially AIDS) I couldn’t see how many important things we have now were fought at that time.

    • Thanks for your kind comments Leu. Obviously, I do think our history is important so it’s nice to receive feedback like yours that reinforce that view,

  5. I love your site, it made me nostalgic for the 80s, even though it was a tough time for LGBT rights, it still held so much hope. Thank you for collecting all this wonderful history.

    • Thanks for your feedback Sherrie,
      It’s always nice to hear that people find Gay in the 80s of interest and value,

  6. I have been reading your history as part of my MA assignment in professional foundation of youth work and just want to say Thanks for sharing! #inspiration!

  7. Thanks for this place to share and link up with our history in the eighties and mine working for lesbians and gays in South London. Any one out there remember GLGC in Woolwich on the Bowater Industrial Estate, I worked there from 1984 to 1991. Lots of memories of a momentous period for us all

  8. Just stopping by to thank you about this whole web. I just discovered for a project, but i’m going to be checking it out for personal reasons. So yeah, thank you

  9. I’m doing a project on the first National March on Washington DC in 1979. It is the largest recorded march for LGBTQ rights in the US, and I was wondering if you think any of these events in the 80’s was inspired by this event.

    • I don’t think ‘inspired’ is probably the right word;in my view, the events of the 80s were part of a developing social/political movement that had been running since at least the early 20th century. The 1979 March on Washington was a milestone in that development; as you say, it was the first and the biggest national LGBT rights march in the USA. One reason it happened was because activists across the country had realised the importance of building the various local initiatives into a national movement during the 70s. The National Gay Task force was formed in 1973 as part of this. They had mooted the idea of a national march even then but political and organisational difficulties meant that progress was slow – but it finally happened in 1979 (Perfect timing for the arrival of Ronald Reagan in 1980!)

      So I don’t think the National March inspired subsequent events but, more accurately, was just one manifestation (albeit a huge one!) of the LGBT movement’s increasingly strategic approach towards getting our rights.

      I guess it could be argued that the National March did influence some subsequent events because, simply as a demonstration of increasing LGBT organisation, it probably scared our enemies and spurred them into intensifying their own efforts to counter the ‘threat’ we posed. It was ‘the gay agenda’ made real – and right at the heart of America’s democracy.

      • Thank you so very much! This has helped a lot! Thank you for your time and help on this matter. Have a wonderful day!

  10. Hi Colin~ I look forward to digging through your collection of info here. I am writing a play that takes place in 1984 involving a man who is leaving his wife for another man. Though I was a teenager in the 80s, I was not exposed to anything having to do with LGBTQ folks at that point. And I am the B in LGBTQ!

  11. Colin,

    You may be interested in a five-part 15-minute drama series on BBC Radio 4 this week, part of the longer series “Writing the Century”: stories behind the National Lesbian and Gay Survey. Available at www. bbc. co. uk/ programmes/ b07btsvn

    (It’s based on 1993 rather than the 1980s, but interesting nonetheless).

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