Review of the film “Pride” (Pathe Films, UK, Cert 15) by Dave Lewis (former member of London Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners 1984/85). Image copyright Colin Clews, www.gayinthe80s.com
Pride tells one of the many thousands of overlooked stories from the 1984/85 Miners strike – that of the close links built between the London based Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners group (LGSM) and the mining community of Dulais, South Wales. The script was over 3 years in the making and most of the characters and events are based on the people and events of the time. This review contains spoilers for those yet to see the film, so be warned.
LGSM was born when a few friends, volunteers at Lesbian & Gay Switchboard, decided to organise a bucket collection in support of the mining communities at the 1984 Pride March, some 3 months into the strike. This collection raised a couple of hundred pounds and those responsible then hatched a plan to do more – with the aim of bringing left politics into the London gay community and to hopefully raise awareness of the discrimination faced by lesbians & gays within the trade union movement. LGSM’s first meeting of 11 people spiralled to a total membership of 60+ by the end of the strike and over £25,000 was raised for the Dulais Valley mining communities. And the links forged between these two essentially disparate groups remain in place to this day. But we found during the course of the 84-85 dispute that our two communities were less disparate than we might have thought at the outset.
Pride covers the first visit LGSM made to Dulais to deliver the money raised. It accurately portrays the culture clash between the visiting metropolitan gay men and lesbians (there were 27 of us on that first trip) and a predominantly Welsh-speaking tight-knit mining community. For dramatic effect, the film depicts a rather cold and hostile reception from some of the miners’ families. In fact, the reception we received was quite the opposite. We were welcomed with open arms into the homes of those we were visiting. If there were any people with reservations about our visit, they were kept well away from us during the trip.
At a time when the Thatcher Government was trying to starve the miners back to work by denying their families access to child benefit and the miners themselves access to NUM funds (NUM bank accounts and property were all frozen and seized), LGSM helped to keep food on the table and heat in the homes of the community of Dulais. And at a time when Thatcher & the popular press branded the miners and their families “the enemy within”, these families began questioning whether the press image of gay men & women being predatory child-molesters & perverts was equally inaccurate. “If they can lie about us and demonise us, why should we believe what they say about anything”, ran the thought process in many mining communities.
When the strike came to an end in March 1985, out of defeat came many victories. The South Wales mining communities travelled down to London in summer 1985 and their marching band led that year’s Pride March alongside LGSM and many other trade union contingents. “You have worn our badge and now we will wear yours”, as one of the characters in the film says, became a reality. The NUM went on to support motions advancing lesbian & gay equality at the 1985 Trades Union Congress & Labour Party Conference, announcing this intention in advance and securing the support of other trade unions by their actions.
It is debateable whether the tide was already turning in Labour & trade union circles on support for lesbian & gay equality measures, but NUM support was a significant victory and the existence of LGSM played a part in the campaign for greater equality. Pride is bringing the history of this struggle to a younger audience, accustomed to today’s more liberal mainstream views. What is indisputable is that the greater level of lesbian & gay equality we all enjoy today was not the product of corporate sponsorship by the major multinationals & the lesbian & gay business community – those attending what has now become the Pride Festival in Soho, could be forgiven for thinking this was the case. In the early 1980’s, some gay bars even refused to allow publicity for Lesbian & Gay Pride marches to be displayed or distributed on their premises. You can imagine how these same bars reacted to collections for the miners at their venues. Fortunately, this level of antagonism was far from universal & LGSM made a point of holding collections at the venues that were less than sympathetic to our cause.
I started this review by saying that this was one of thousands of overlooked stories from the strike. Whilst I am eternally grateful to Stephen Beresford, the writer & Matthew Warchus, the director, for their efforts in memorialising this story in such a masterly way, I am equally grateful to Mike Jackson, the LGSM secretary (depicted in the film), for keeping the flame alight for 30 years. And I hope that the inspiring stories of the men and women of the mining communities, whose lives were changed forever by the strike, will also be told at some stage. Pride provides a taster for this story and the film “Still The Enemy Within”, now on release, takes this story one step further.
If I have one criticism of the film, it is the way that the women in LGSM who split off to form Lesbians Against Pit Closures (LAPC) are depicted. Whilst I didn’t agree with their decision at the time and still don’t, the film does not treat their views with respect and gets dangerously near to ridicule. I feel this is unfair and unwarranted, given the rise of feminist ideology in the 70’s & 80’s. This development merely reflects what was happening within large sections of the political left at the time.
Pride is hilariously funny, inspiring and incredibly touching, in equal measure. It introduces trade unionism and the issue of lesbian & gay equality to a mass audience that may identify with neither issue very closely, without hitting them over the head. The cast is fantastic and the soundtrack pure 80’s, with a little bit of 70’s, for those of a certain age. Several of the central characters are now no longer with us and didn’t get to see their story told. Mark Ashton, one of the founding members of LGSM (played by Ben Schnetzer) died in 1987 aged 26 and Hefina (played by Imelda Staunton) & Cliff (played by Bill Nighy) died more recently. Pride ensures that their legacy of solidarity lives on.
To this end, LGSM intend marking the 30th anniversary of the miners leading the 1985 Pride March by co-ordinating a presence at the Pride Festival in 2015, with former South Wales miners, their families and friends and a trade union contingent. Please join us to mark the 30th anniversary of this historic event.