Sunday, January 10, 2016

Out and Proud in North London: Haringey Stories (1)

From: Radical History Network of North East London (RaHN) Meeting 
held on 25th Feb. 2015

Out and Proud in North London
Two stories and opinions from people who campaigned
in the 80s for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Haringey

Chris’s Story
Chris grew up in the 1950s in Tottenham to a working class Irish Catholic family. At the age of 12 he knew he was gay. Being gay was illegal and it was a very difficult time for an effeminate boy to be growing up. Chris describes his experiences at school and his childhood as ‘awful’. During his teen years it was difficult playing along with the straight ways of his mates. He was closeted. There were no role models, support networks or obvious cultural outlets.
By the time of his early twenties he was thoroughly fed up with it so he told his parents and everyone else. His mum was good about it but his brothers not so. He had no contact with one of his brothers for 20 years as a result. Meanwhile his sister came out as a lesbian.
Chris grew increasingly concerned with politics and became active in a variety of activities including attending the anti-Vietnam demos in ’69. It was at around this time the SWP and Militant tried to recruit him. However, he had arguments about the position of gay rights within their parties. They argued that it was merely a middle class diversion from the class struggle. Chris retorted with, “Bollocks, I’m working class”, and argued for gay rights through class politics.

Labour Party Manifesto
He joined the Labour Party, though he later dropped out at some point. He voted against his party on the Poll Tax, getting into trouble in the process.
In 1982 he met people in the Labour Campaign for Lesbian and Gay Rights. They were pushing to get gay rights into the Labour manifesto. As a result, Chris went to the Party Conference as a delegate for Tottenham where resolutions got discussed. It was the first time that gay rights had been introduced at a Labour Party Conference. It was the first step in a process that led to the inclusion of lesbian and gay rights within the Party’s equal opportunities policy. However, at the time, it didn’t get through. Many Labour members argued it would lose the party votes.
In 1984, the resolution was debated again. This was the year of the Miner’s Strike and Ken Livingstone’s GLC (Greater London Council) which included a ‘Gay Rights Working Party’ and which funded the London Lesbian and Gay Centre.  During the debate Chris recalled one constituency member referring to gays as, “These germ ridden, sick people” and pronounced that, “There are so many important issues. We don’t need gay issues.” To which, Chris’s mate said, “He’s just won it for us!” They needed a two thirds majority: they got 90 per cent.  Lesbian and gay rights was now part of the Labour Party manifesto.

Haringey Councillor
This victory allowed Haringey activists to develop things locally. This included the Positive Images campaign which, for Chris, was an opportunity to counter to the terrible experience he’d had at school: the bullying and isolation that had led to suicidal thoughts. More generally it continued the debates and campaigns of the 1970s that countered the dominance of heterosexual norms in society.
In May 1986 Labour won control of Haringey Council and included, according to Chris, ‘a good set of radical Labour councillors’ though opposed on the other side by some right wing councillors. Lesbian and gay rights were now part of the Labour Manifesto included within its position on equal opportunities.
A lot of people said they would vote for it in Haringey but didn’t do anything. As the local election loomed Chris was asked and encouraged to stand as a councillor as he was so committed. He did and he was selected. On his election address he was named as a gay and lesbian rights candidate. As a result, he did get some death threats on the phone which he ignored. On a positive note a passer-by said, “You’re the only one who is honest”, and said he’d vote for him.

Haringey Positive Images Campaign
Chris focussed on the Positive Images Campaign. Opposing them was the Parents Rights Group that included the chair of parents at a local catholic school. A mass campaign in the local press whipped up fear against them. They stated that, “They’re going to teach kids to be gay; even 3 year olds.” Meanwhile, Chris’s brother condemned him, worrying because they shared the same surname.
The campaign represented a big problem for Bernie Grant, head of Haringey Council at the time. Many in the black community in Haringey were extremely hostile to the Positive Images Campaign and lesbian and gay rights generally. So much so that Bernie called Chris about it.
Chris’s colleague, Roy, had been at a meeting at the West Indian Community Centre. Things had got so nasty that he threatened to leave. Bernie suggested that maybe it was not the right time; such was the pressure on him from within the black community. But Chris responded, “No way; if not now then never!” Bernie said okay in the end.
The Parents’ Rights Group said they were going to burn books promoted by ‘Positive Images’. Chris actually had a meeting with them.  He held that, “If you have got a student of 16, and they’re reading literature, they should know if the author is gay as it is a different way of looking at things”. And that, in a primary school, when a child is innocently racist (being children) they should be gently told so. Likewise, if a child is homophobic they should be told that, for example, ‘That is not a nice word to use’.
A short time later, the press released an appalling report on the meeting. When Chris was asked about it, he stated that either they misunderstood or they’re lying. Three months later The Express headlined ‘[surname] LIES!’ regarding the meeting. And, ‘Go to centre page for our survey on lesbian and gays.’ They had used an old article to advertise a spurious survey.

The Roundway Demonstration
In 1986 they organised a demonstration that went around the Roundway, Tottenham. They chose this route as it went into ‘Murphy area’, White Hart Lane; a Tory council area that was represented by 3 nasty, racist Tory councillors (including Murphy). This was not just a few lefties but it had wide support from Haringey lesbian and gays. There were 3,000 people on the march including people from all over London.
[Add photo]
As the chair of the sub-committee, Chris set up a lesbian and gay group in order to encourage disabled, black, ethnic minority gays and lesbians to get involved. Unfortunately it did not last long.

In October 1986 a council meeting was attacked. The first half of the meeting was to do with bringing positive images into schools. It was the first education committee to do that, and they got it voted through. The second half of the meeting was with Sinn Fein arguing that there should be dialogue; this being a time of media/state censorship of the voice of Sinn Fein.
The meeting was chaos. There were Sinn Fein supporters and Parents’ Rights Group supporters in the same room. After the meeting the Parents’ Rights’ supporters left. Chris and colleagues decided to go for last orders round the local watering hole. Sitting in a car, a man appeared in front with a crowbar. He hit the glass and bonnet etc. The driver put his foot down. Chris was cut with glass. He recognised the guys. He identified them to the police. Three days, yep, three whole days later, the police went to the pub to make enquiries. Bernie implored, “You’ve got to move out from where you’re living!” Chris was very reluctant but stayed at a friend’s. However, he soon returned home and had no problems.
Oi, are you the queer councillor?”
No”, replied Chris, “gay!”
You’ve got guts!”

Section 28
It wasn’t only Haringey that was active at this time but also Manchester, Hillingdon and many others that were active but then the Tories brought in Section 28. The right wing in the Labour Party were delighted. Now it couldn’t be said of them that they’d sold them out as it was now law. Someone said it was Livingstone’s fault. “No”, he said, “It was my mate Chris did it.”
Section 28 galvanised the lesbian and gay movement. There was a huge demonstration against it. And the next Pride event was twice the size as before.

Anti-Clause 28 Demonstration


Spurs and the ‘Proud Lilywhites’
A fanatical Spurs fan since 5 years old and a life-long season ticket holder, Chris got invited and became involved in the Gay Supporters Network. They put forward a motion to set up a lesbian and gay group but did not get the two thirds majority required. However, Chris argued it was a question of equal opportunities and that they shouldn’t need this vote. Chris and the Spurs group left the Gay Supporters Network.
In the Spurs matchday programme there was an invitation for any gay or lesbian fans to set up an official supporters club. So Chris and others set up the ‘Proud Lilywhites’. They designed a badge and banner with a cockerel (the Spurs emblem) and a rainbow coming out of it. There are now 200 members, including members from all over the world. As Chris suggests, ‘It’s a long way from 30 years ago.’
There have been disagreements with the club who have helped them set up however the group have made it known that ‘if we believe you’re not protecting the lesbian and gay community then there’ll be problems’. It is still early days. They had a stall at the latest Arsenal game. People took leaflets and some took photos.
Chris is, however, firmly against the club’s plans for expanding White Hart Lane at the expense of working class homes.

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