“I loved it. I had a very emotional response to it,” says Wendy, when I ask her about the Bafta-nominated film Pride. She’s a member of the group whose story it tells: Lesbians and Gays Support The Miners (LGSM), the London group of activists who banded together to support a Welsh mining community through the 1984 strike. From the time I’ve spent talking to its members, I gather that Wendy’s response is common. The film is close to their hearts, perhaps because the majority of events it depicts are true.
But there’s one aspect of the story it doesn’t do complete justice. It presents Lesbians Against Pit Closures (LAPC), the women-only campaign formed by some of LGSM, as little more than a punchline. “What part of this space is unsafe?” asks one incredulous character when his comrade says the lesbians need their own group. Neither Wendy or Leonie, the other LAPC activist I spoke to, are bitter about this. “In real life,” says Wendy, “when I told people about LAPC they often snorted with derision, so [the film] was accurate!”
But their role in the campaigning and activism which surrounded the miner’s strike needs recognition. As Leonie states, it “can provide a model for how effectively different people can organise as one, and how empowering it can be for women to organise on their own.” Women activists today face abuse and death threats simply for voicing our opinions: this story is one we need to hear.
LAPC came into being when a number of LGSM members decided they needed a women-only space. The society of the time dismissed their voices and casual misogyny was rampant. Even within the friendliness of LGSM they could feel talked over. Ray Goodspeed, an LGSM member, admits frankly: “The men in the meetings were generally like men in most meetings.” A space of their own was one way of getting past this.
There were practical reasons too. Some like Wendy found it difficult to be confident in as group as large as LGSM, where things could become “party-political”, while others just found it easier to organise alongside friends: Leonie got involved with LAPC partly because “they were often in the clubs, cafes and bars where I had spent time”. Their aim, whatever the reason for it, was simply to create an atmosphere where women were able to organise.
They had similar methods to LGSM: rattling buckets outside bars and clubs to raise money for the miners and putting on two women-only benefits. As one member explains in the LGSM-produced film All Out! Dancing in Dulais, they also tried to “involve other people in what we’re doing”, collecting in spots other than gay-friendly ones, and going outside supermarkets with their buckets.
Campaigning wasn’t always easy. Leonie says “outside the supermarkets we were often shouted at”, but the supportive atmosphere provided by a women-only space meant this could be dealt with and brushed off.“If you can laugh about it together, that takes some of the pain out of it,” says Wendy. “I learned to ignore people who treated LAPC with derision, which toughened me up.”
Support didn’t just come from other members. Although they organised separately, LAPC’s aim was anything but segregation: it was total solidarity with the miners. They attended pickets, and organised a day at a Kentish Town community centre for themselves and mining women, many of whom were experiencing the same battle to overcome a sexist society. LGSM too were still allies, as were people from other groups organising on their own terms – people of colour, disabled people, other women, gay men. “I met people from other groups who became life-long friends,” Wendy says. “Through them I gained strength and insight into their struggles.”
This is the key to understanding what the lesson is modern activists can learn from LAPC. It’s not simply their method of organising within a “safe space” which sets an example, although that proved a brilliant way of giving women the confidence to voice opinions and gain experience as activists. Their – and LGSM’s – triumph came through recognising that although their own oppression was important, there was no reason on earth which meant they couldn’t recognise others’ struggles alongside their own.
That mindset from groups like LAPC, LGSM and others, meant that despite the miners’ defeat, 1984 ended with new bonds forged. 1985 saw the National Union of Miners block vote at Labour conference to commit the party to gay rights legislation for the first time.
Solidarity may seem difficult to find now, with the left and indeed feminism splintering into various ways of hand-wringing, but the women are adamant about how important it is. When asked if she still supports causes other than her own, Leonie states proudly: “Solidarity with people outside of my own ‘groups’ is even more important than it was during the strike. If ever there was a time where people needed to stand up for fairness, it is now.”