GALOP was contacted by Larry the day after he received a black eye and a fractured skull. He had been in a well-known gay pub in South London when eight straight men started attacking the customers. Larry went outside where there were two police vans and three police cars.
When Larry asked a policeman to stop the fighting and protect the customers being attacked, the policeman had said, “What do you expect? You’re a queer in a queer’s pub.” Larry reminded the police that his taxes paid that policeman’s wages. Larry was then told to ‘fuck off, before I nick you for drunk and disorderly.’
This case study is taken from the Gay London Police Monitoring Group’s first Annual Report in 1984. It’s only one of a number that revealed the attitudes of London’s Metropolitan Police towards violence perpetrated on gay men and lesbians.
And when the police weren’t turning a blind eye to these crimes, they were actively setting up gay men for the crime of ‘persistent importuning’.
This involved the use of attractive young policemen – labelled ‘pretty police’ by gay men – working as ‘plain clothes’ police officers.
And a more accurate description of the so-called ‘plain clothes’ makes it clear just what the police intentions were. The outfit generally consisted of a tight white T-shirt and tight jeans, strategically ripped across the bum.
They would approach gay men leaving well-known gay venues and ask them if they preferred a fuck or a blow job. The officer would then suggest they go back to his place (which was always ‘just around the corner’).
Once at a safe distance from the pub a second man would appear, they’d both identify themselves as police officers and arrest their victim for ‘persistently importuning for immoral purposes’. On arrival at the police station the arrestee would be asked how he intended to plead. If he said ‘not guilty’ he’d be threatened with exposure to employers, family, neighbours and the Press in order to get him to change his mind.
In 1982 London’s local communities were given their first opportunity at seeking police accountability when the Greater London Council established police monitoring groups. Despite these groups lack of legal powers, their mere existence flagged up to the police that they were being watched.
During a conference of these groups in February 1982 concerns were raised that gay men and lesbians were not seeking support from these local bodies. In consequence, it was agreed that a specific, London-wide gay and lesbian police monitoring group might be more effective.
And in June 1982, at a conference of various parties including the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, Gay Legal Advice and Gay Switchboard, the Gay London Police Monitoring Group was established.
The conference identified two immediate areas of concern:
- Police attitudes towards and treatment of gay men soliciting and cottaging and
- The inadequate police response to lesbians and gay men who were victims of crime
Once the group got to work, the evidence began to pile up, including numerous cases of entrapment by ‘pretty police’.
In the face of such extensive discrimination and abuse GALOP was faced with an uphill struggle during its early life. But persistence – and joint working with other like-minded groups – eventually paid off. Hostility finally gave way to cooperation and, from that, positive measures to not only work with but also recruit from the LGBT community.
GALOP still exists, although its focus now is hate crime, harassment, domestic abuse and sexual violence. And the police are – finally – on side and partners in the fight against such hate crimes.
There is a detailed study of police antagonism towards LGBT communities in Australia, the UK and USA – and how our communities responded – in my eBook of Gay in the 80s. Full details are available here