London is a congregation of communities, but many of these communities have had to struggle for inclusion and acceptance. Our LGBT population has fought hard to establish and legitimise its identity over the last 70 years. Badges and pins have been used as signifiers of support for a plethora of gay and lesbian issues, and now act as reminders of past and continuing battles.
After a small march in Islington in 1971, the real beginnings of organised gay activism came in the form of London’s first Gay Pride March on 1 July 1972. Around 700 people marched for gay rights in solidarity with the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York, where a string of police raids on a gay bar finally resulted in violent protest. Police raids on gay-friendly establishments have a long history in London too. Margaret (or ‘Mother’) Clap ran a coffee house in Holborn for the gay community, which was raided in 1726. This resulted in 40 arrests at a time when sodomy was still punishable by death.
Gays Against Nazis
As the gay rights movement gathered steam, it began to ally with other 70s activist groups. The Anti-Nazi League was founded in 1977 to fight the rise of the National Front (which was at its height in the 70s). This badge, symbolising gay anti-fascist solidarity, is exemplary of left-wing alliances in LGBT politics at the time – the work of the Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners group (as depicted in the 2014 film Pride) would later be reciprocated by the National Union of Miners joining Gay Pride marches and voting for Labour commitment to legislation against LGBT discrimination.
Gay’s the Word
Even though homosexuality had been decriminalised for nearly 20 years in England, a campaign in 1984 by HM Customs and Excise called ‘Operation Tiger’ specifically targeted London’s first gay and lesbian bookshop (which was also acting as the Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners headquarters). Thousands of pounds of books were confiscated from Gay’s the Word after being labelled as ‘obscene’, including titles from Tennessee Williams and Oscar Wilde. The shop had many supporters, including Britain’s first out politician, Chris Smith (for Islington South and Finsbury), who may’ve worn a badge like the one above. The charges were dropped in 1985, and Gay’s the Word is still in business today.
Scrap the Section
Even still, Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government remained decidedly homophobic, and in 1988 introduced the infamous ‘Section 28′ clause, which stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality”. This set back the confrontation of homophobic bullying in schools and was heavily protested; Stonewall was co-founded by the newly out Sir Ian McKellen to campaign against the clause, though it would not be repealed until 2003.
From underground activist roots and illicit medallions, LGBT rights and recognition still continues to move forward in the capital. The London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard was recognised by the Queen in 2014 in celebration of their 40-year anniversary – the first time she has voiced support or recognised an LGBT charity.