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Communities of Resistance

In 1970 the UK Gay Liberation Front (GLF) was founded at the London School of Economics.

The GLF initially included gay men and lesbians committed to feminist goals and revolutionary change. By 1971, the GLF was forced to leave the LSE.

Weekly meetings were then held at the Middle Earth nightclub in the cellar of 43 King Street, Covent Garden before moving to All Saint’s parish hall, Notting Hill Gate. Attendees numbered in the hundreds.

A demonstrator wearing a plaque that reads 'Please note I am a homosexual. I live at 5 Martindale Road, SW12'.
Gay Liberation Front Demonstration in London, 1972 © Clive Dixon/REX/Shutterstock

First organised demonstration

The GLF’s earliest protest was against the prosecution of Louis Eakes for alleged importuning at the public toilets on Highbury Fields, north London.

On 27 November 1970 some 150 GLF members held a torchlight rally against police harassment on Highbury Fields. It was the first organised gay rights demonstration in England.

Plaque marking the site with the first gay rights demonstration took place in 1970.
This plaque marks the site where the first gay rights demonstration in Britain took place in 1970 © Creative Commons/John Levin

Direct action events

The GLF was known for ‘zaps’, or direct action events. The most famous protested against Mary Whitehouse’s National Festival of Light. This evangelical Christian movement promoted ‘family values’ and lobbied against homosexuality.

At its launch at the Central Hall, Westminster on September 9, 1971, GLF demonstrators undertook a counter-assault called ‘Operation Rupert’. Fifteen GLF groups infiltrated the hall in a coordinated non-violent protest to mock and disrupt the proceedings. Male nuns danced the can-can, and lesbians staged a kiss-in. Others released mice and stink bombs. A girl guide blew bubbles.


In the early 1970s, the GLF held ‘gay days’ and other events across London in locations like Primrose Hill, Victoria Park and Finsbury Park that brought LGBTQ people together. GLF organised England’s first Gay Pride march on 1 July 1972. Two thousand men and women marched down Oxford Street to Hyde Park for a public picnic and visible demonstration of their existence.

Procession of marchers and police at Gay Pride march, London 1974.
Procession of marchers and police at Gay Pride march, London 1974 © Courtesy of London School of Economics, IMAGELIBRARY/1374

By the mid-1970s separate interests and goals created fissures along lines of gender and politics and the GLF soon splintered. Its direct action politics would influence later LGBT activist groups such as OutRage!


In March 1974, 78 Railton Road was squatted by South London Gay Liberation and became the UK’s first gay centre. It offered events such as film screenings, fitness classes, wrestling classes, a knitting circle, weekly Saturday discos and a gay telephone helpline. The South London Gay Liberation Front, the journal Gay Left and the Brixton Faeries all were based at times in buildings in the area.

Black and white photo of a policeman standing in the doorway of the South London Gay Community Centre while three men look at notices in the window to the left of the door.
Eviction of the South London Gay Community Centre, which was opened by South London Gay Liberation in 1974 © HCA/TOWNSON/TEMP/16/139/1

Railton Road was a place for multiple forms of activism and political affiliation. The National Gay News Defence Committee was originally based at 146 Mayall Road and then 157 Railton Road. Also on Railton Road were two women’s centres, an Anarchist News Service, squatters groups, a claimants’ union for those on benefits, the Brixton Advice Centre and the Icebreakers gay liberation counselling group.

Flyer for Brixton Faeries Halloween Dance, 1982.
Flyer for Brixton Faeries Halloween Dance, 1982 © Ian Townson

121 Railton Road became the centre of black feminist organising in the area after first being squatted in 1972 by Olive Morris and Liz Obi.

In the 1980s and 1990s, 121 Railton Road became the 121 Centre, an anarchist squat and information centre. Women’s liberation groups, black feminists and other community based groups found a home in Railton Road alongside gay and lesbian groups. Black bisexual artist Pearl Alcock ran a shebeen (bar) on Railton Road.

The Squatters' Handbook, with an image of Olive Morris climbing the roof of 121 Railton Road, Brixton.
The Squatters' Handbook, with an image of Olive Morris climbing the roof of 121 Railton Road, Brixton © Reproduced by permission of London Borough of Lambeth, Archives Department

HIV/AIDS activism

On 4 July 1982 at St Thomas’s Hospital, London Terrence Higgins was among the first to die from AIDS-related illnesses in the UK. His death inspired friends to found the Terrence Higgins Trust to promote awareness and advocate on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS.

The HIV/ AIDS epidemic meant that queer men and their allies started to have a different relationship with specific places related to medical treatment and care.

Particular hospital wards, for example the Broderip at the Middlesex Hospital in Fitzrovia, London, became queer spaces, generating camaraderie as well as despair.

Family, friends and support workers created networks of care, building organisations and practical structures. The first dedicated AIDS hospices in the UK were the Lighthouse in Ladbroke Grove, and the Mildmay in Shoreditch, in London, followed by the Sussex Beacon on Bevendean Road in Brighton and [still awaiting name] Manchester.

Sculpture of 2 figures arching towards the sky with sea in the background.
'Tay', the Brighton and Hove AIDS Memorial, by artist Romany Mark Bruce © Creative Commons/Dominic Alves

Support from Local Authorities

In the 1980s, the Greater London Council (GLC) led by Labour’s Ken Livingstone was instrumental in funding the city’s lesbian and gay community groups. Grants were tied to equal opportunities policies. This helped support the London Gay and Lesbian Centre that opened at 67-69 Cowcross Street in 1985.

A group of men and women celebrating outside a building.
Opening of the London Lesbian and Gay Centre, Cowcross Street, 1985 © Photofusion/REX/Shutterstock

The GLC published a Charter for Lesbian and Gay Rights the same year, which was influenced by earlier GLF demands.

Section 28

In 1988 Section 28 of the Local Government Act barred local authorities from ‘promoting’ homosexuality. The impact was particularly strong on schools, where teachers were forbidden from teaching ‘the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’. LGBTQ people had immediately responded with campaigns against the legislation when it was still a clause in the bill.

Black and white photo of a crowd applauding at a demonstration in 1988.
Demonstration against Section 28 at Manchester's Albert Memorial, 20 February 1988 © Manchester Archives+

Ten thousand demonstrators gathered in London and were followed by an even larger national demonstration in Manchester’s Albert Square in 1988. A ‘Pink Express’ was chartered to bring protesters from London. Campaigning groups in Manchester adopted the slogan and logo ‘Never going Underground’ in opposition to the clause. Section 28 was not repealed in England until 2003.

Aerial shot of crowd at a demonstration in Manchester 1988.
Demonstration against Section 28 at Manchester's Albert Square, 20 February 1988 © Manchester Archives+
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Communities of Resistance Photo Gallery

Please click on the gallery images to enlarge.

  • FIGHT AIDS / ACT UP was spray painted on a wall
  • Protesters marching in a demonstration against Section 28 at Manchester's Albert Square
  • Liberation '91 Rally & Rave poster
  • Lancashire Lesbian and Gay Coalition: Never Going Underground poster
  • Photograph taken at the start of the 1983 London Lesbian Strength March
  • A demonstration by the Gay Liberation Front in Bow Street, London
  • L-R: Rosemary Manning, Jenni Fletcher, Miriam Margolyes, Jimmy Somerville, Richard Cole, Valerie Wise, Ken Livingstone with Big Ben in background
  • Demonstration against Section 28 of the Local Government Act

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