River Cultures Festival - Heritage

Walking Proud in East London

River Cultures’ oral history project comprises a collection of fifty-one remarkable East London lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans memories. They are from a wide cross-section of ages, ethnicities, abilities and occupations.

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The testimonies in this collection reflect the rich diversity of London’s East End, offering insights into the experience of LGBT people from all walks of life. Some of us have lived here all our lives, while others may have only just arrived. Whether we have chosen East London as our home, found ourselves here and stayed, or are just passing through, the physical and symbolic landscape in which we live our lives forms a critical component of our individual identities. We can only benefit from deepening our understanding of its rich and varied history, and our where we fit within that. But it is not just a backdrop that connects us, and nor is diversity the only uniting thread of this exhibition. The archive is perhaps best understood as telling the story of the connections we have made; both to each other, and to something larger.

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Walking Proud in East London

Walking Proud in East London is River Cultures’ oral history online resource featuring fifty-one remarkable East London lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans memories. They are from a wide cross-section of ages, ethnicities, abilities and occupations.

The interviews are mainly videos but also include oral recordings and word transcripts. Apart from the introductory videos, these interviews are presented in their entirety and have not been edited. They were collected with the comfort of interviewees in mind, not always under ideal recording conditions and may contain technical flaws. We hope that these will not detract viewers from enjoying the content of the material.

This Collection

The testimonies in this collection reflect the rich diversity of London’s East End, offering insights into the experience of LGBT people from all walks of life. Some of us have lived here all our lives, while others may have only just arrived. Whether we have chosen East London as our home, found ourselves here and stayed, or are just passing through, the physical and symbolic landscape in which we live our lives forms a critical component of our individual identities. We can only benefit from deepening our understanding of its rich and varied history, and our where we fit within that. But it is not just a backdrop that connects us, and nor is diversity the only uniting thread of this exhibition. The archive is perhaps best understood as telling the story of the connections we have made; both to each other, and to something larger.

“I thought how can all these people be around, but you don’t know them? Setting up these groups has given me much more of a sense of community because you know that person lives around the corner, and you can pop in to them in the way that I suppose, heterosexual families have had the blessings to do, you know like neighbours and friends.” Teresa Edmans

Celebrating LGBT history means honouring the institutions we have built and needed at different times and places. We might find each other through football clubs, politics, dance classes and youth groups; in bars, bath houses, book clubs or churches. Each of these spaces represents a significant part of our shared cultural history, and they have all, at some point, provided LGBT people with the tools to forge connections and carve a place for ourselves within a dominant culture that hasn’t always been welcoming.

“My relationship with God was still there, I just couldn’t be in that Church, because I thought, this is not right, what you are saying. It, God would not do this to someone you know?” Kam

“We started a church in Nigeria so that people can find a place they can call home. Even in London, we’re helping people of African descent, Caribbean descent, in fact, people of all races to walk on their journey, to understand their sexuality and be able to reconcile (with their religion).” Rev Rowland Jide MaCaulay

In the quote above, a pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church talks about the need many LGBT people have to reconcile their sexuality with deeply held religious beliefs. Growing up as part of a religious community, the conflict between family and ties and a sexuality that sets us apart from those we love can be very painful. Some stories in this collection talk about developing separate identities, in an attempt to stay true to both worlds. Others describe the relief at finding ways to maintain relationships with a religious community that does not require the denial of their sexuality.

“It can be quite difficult sometimes because you can be made to feel that maybe you should only like one particular type of thing you know. You should like this certain music or you shouldn’t really be into sports.” Oliver Daly

Gay football teams are another way in which LGBT people have taken existing institutions and transformed them into something that allows us to bring together aspects of our identities more often seen as in conflict. Many mention being very involved in sports from childhood, and gradually feeling that this was something that they would have to give up, as sexuality became a seemingly insurmountable marker of difference.

“In Uganda I would never be able to ‘admit’ my partner, let alone live with a man. You get threats. So I am very happy here. When I moved here I think I knew deep down I was gay, but I never would have dreamed of being with a man if I was at home. Probably by now I would be married and with a child somewhere.” Kezron Ntulume

“In Mexico, the LGBT community is attacked, and we tend to be quite strong and quite close to each other. And here, well, it’s not really the case. I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m just saying it’s different. You just hang out with your friends and if you’re having a good time with your friends, well you don’t go out and talk to strangers. Maybe that’s not the culture.” Angel Campazuno

For some, just coming to East London means a new freedom to be who they are. But many also express sadness at losing the sense of togetherness they found in more difficult times. Wendy talks about the shock of emerging from a long term relationship to find a lesbian scene quite different to the one she came out in; Angie too, mentions a loss of community feeling;

“I have a strong sense of myself and community. Sometimes I feel when young women only see it as a sexual preference, they don’t have the same kind of ‘fight’ for our community.” Angie Bates

“We have more than a fabulous life. Gay people, lesbian people, transsexuals, everything, they, we have an amazing life. The journey to get to where you want to go is hard…many tears…many tears… But when you reach it, you know, or you find a love. Whooooo…how wonderful is that.” Ann Edmead

While within living memory LGBT lives once subject to oppressive secrecy now benefit from legal and social freedoms, this is not the only way of understanding our history. Narrating her compelling life story, Ann traces a journey from East End children’s’ homes, through the merchant navy, gender reassignment, and nearly thirty years of running homes for the elderly. As we listen to how she found ways to negotiate both her sexuality and gender in each of these predominantly heterosexual spaces, we can begin to understand the complex relationship LGBT people have had with the idea of being ‘out’, throughout the latter half of the twentieth century.

Nowhere are these contradictions more evident than in the vibrant history of London’s East End. Dockside pubs catered for and protected gay punters long before Stonewall, and while cruising grounds may have operated in shadowy corners, widespread knowledge and tolerance of their existence calls into question any clear cut division between clandestine and public life.

“The guys, by and large, weren’t frightened of gay people. ‘Hello babes. Come in.’ They weren’t frightened… ‘cause that’s the biggest thing I think about this gay stuff is that people are frightened you are going to do something. What kind of a butch man is frightened of a fairy?” Brian Manly

In building a resource to preserve and celebrate the stories of LGBT East Enders, it is vital that we look beyond what we think we know about victimisation, tolerance and assimilation. While these are certainly a part of most LGBT experience, our relationships to them vary widely, and each person’s story enriches our shared history in a different way. As the archive grows, so will our understanding of the many ways in which people often dismissed as marginal have played a fundamental part in creating the East End we know today.

“People often think that’s their place, that’s got to be their place. And the gay scene isn’t necessarily anybody’s place. The pier at Brighton is not necessarily anybody’s place. It’s where lots of people go and find each other but if you take it all away, it’s just a lump of metal sticking out in the sea with lots of lights.” Emma Hunt

East London LGBT Heritage Trails

1. Pubs and clubs

The phenomenon of the ‘gay bar’ is by no means a modern one, although prior to the Sexual Offences Act 1967 (in which adult male homosexuality was de-criminalised – albeit to a limited extent) it was necessarily a clandestine and shadowy one, for which only patchy records (and those mostly hostile) exist.

So oppressive was the mainstream culture of the gay sub-culture before the late-1960s that a gay slang was developed, a kind of secret language, called Polari. This was commonly used in gay pubs and clubs, or in public places where gay men might not wish to be understood when overheard by straight people. It is now virtually extinct, although a few terms have found their way into common parlance. For more information visit: www.chris-d.net/polari and Paul Baker’s British Library talk of 15 February 2011, ‘Fantabulosa: gay languages from Polari to the bear code’: www.bl.uk/whatson/events/event116311.html

In the 18th century there were several so-called ‘Molly Houses’ in London where gay men would congregate, some of whom would cross-dress and participate in parodies of ‘straight’ rituals such as wedding ceremonies and even giving birth. The most famous (or infamous) of these was Mother Clap’s Molly House in Holborn, run by Margaret Clap. Many molly houses were raided (including Mother Clap’s in 1725) and gay men prosecuted and even hanged for ‘the vice of buggery’. As lesbianism was never recognised in law there are even fewer historical records than there are for gay male social and sexual activity in London.

Another problem in identifying gay pubs and clubs specifically in East London prior to the 1967 Act is that many areas only became classified as part of London in 1965 as a result of local government boundary changes, prior to which most of what is now referred to as ‘East London’ was either in the counties of Middlesex or Essex. The ‘East End’ (in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets), however, has a long history of gay venues, possibly due to the proximity of the docks, where alternative lifestyles, prostitution and other forms of ‘vice’ were more prevalent and tolerated.

There are several long-standing gay pubs remaining in the East End and others dotted about East London. Sadly, many more are now defunct. There are also gay and lesbian club nights at various venues, although these tend to come and go quite rapidly. The following list includes current and defunct venues:

Important disclaimer: Listings of venues and club nights rapidly become out-of-date so it is always advisable to check carefully that your chosen venue is still gay or gay-friendly before visiting for the first time. Whilst ‘Walking Proud’ has taken every reasonable care to check the information contained herein it cannot be held liable for any consequential loss, damage or inconvenience caused by reliance upon it, nor does it endorse any of the websites or blogs whose links are given in this document.

Barking & Dagenham: None identified (please let us know!)

Club Jolene Visions Video Bar, 588 Kingsland Road, Dalston, London E8 4AH. Monthly. “Any lesbo-queer party that takes its inspiration from Dolly Parton already gets a hat tip from me! Here we have yet another indie, somewhat ironic and fun dance party for all the gay ladies” Not clear if currently operating.

Dalston Superstore 177 Kingsland High Street, London E8 2PB. “The hippest new venue on the scene is not officially gay, more like post-gay. Situated in Dalston, north-east London’s most über-arty district, it is suited to its surroundings: a confidently cool and slightly camp New York-style dive bar split between two floors,” Time Out

Other People’s Property Korsan Bar, 161-165 Kingsland Road. London E2 8AL. Lesbian club night Saturdays monthly. “Hosted in a pirate-themed shed, Other People’s Property play electro disco and thanks to good DJs get the dance floor really kicking. Crowd is young, hair is high, if you’re looking for energetic Shoredykes, this is where you’ll find them. Fun and noisy.”

Red Lion 41 Hoxton Street, London N1 6NH. “Great little pub, attracting a mixed crowd, brimming with characters, a bubbly atmosphere, nice staff and good music - also roof terrace with Jacuzzi sporadically open. Plus a Thai restaurant, too!”

Twat Boutique Dalston Superstore, 117 Kingsland High Street, London E8 2PB. Lesbian club night Thursdays monthly. ”Twat Boutique brings in big-name DJs, and an arty crowd. There’s space to sit around upstairs and a dance floor in the basement. Expect fashionable collars, ringleted fringes, undercuts and a late night – Twat usually goes at full tilt till 2am. Twat Boutique also does one-off events that are worth looking out for.”


Closet Brannigans, 64 South Street, Romford RM1 1RB. Gay club night on Tuesdays. “DJ Stevie C brings you a colourful mix of music and music videos across 2 big screens and 9 plasmas including everything from Funky House and Dance through to Camp Classics, Chart Toppers and indie!!!”

The Lodge (the West Lodge) 67 Corbets Tey Road, Upminster RM14 2AJ holds a long-standing Transgender Evening on the first Wednesday of the month

Pacific Edge Bar 80-84 Market Place, Romford RM1 3ER. ‘Cheesy Poofs’ club night 1st Wednesday of the month. ‘Dancing Queen’ 3rd Wednesday of the month

Slinky Minky OneThreeOne Club & Lounge, 131 South Street, Romford RM1 3NH. “Tuesday’s is Romford's friendliest Gay Session. Two rooms of music and a whole host of regular entertainment and theme nights.”


The Angel 21 Church Street, London E15 3HU. “The biggest gay party in Stratford for an up-for-it, unpretentious crowd. Killer pool and supersaver drinks offers during the week, top drag cabaret and disco on the weekends. Gets very busy.”

The King’s Head 11 Church Street, Stratford, London E15 3HU. “Cosy pub just a stone’s throw away from The Angel that has regular drag cabaret.”


Eastside Bar 55-57 Cranbrook Road, Ilford IG 4PG. Gay-friendly with “Cheap drinks, party tunes and Essex Boys.”

Tower Hamlets:

The Artichoke 91 Stepney Way, London, E1 3BG. (defunct)

The Backstreet Wentworth Mews, Mile End, London E3 4UA. “The UK’s longest-running gay fetish bar. Opens from Thursday to Sunday every week, as well as running parties and special events. The club's dress code is among the strictest of its kind anywhere, earning it a dedicated following among rubber and leather men worldwide.”

Bird Club Bethnal Green Working Mens’ Club, 42 Pollards Row, Bethnal Green, London E2 6NB. “Bi-monthly events for the London lesbian.”

The Black Horse 168 Mile End Road, London E1 4LJ. “Disco and top drag cabaret, karaoke and strippers, Air conditioned, huge bar, weekend dance floor, pool table”

BJ’s White Swan 556 Commercial Road, London E1 7JD. “A legend in its own lifetime. Huge venue, steeped in history. From the alternative Windypops to the infamous amateur strip contest to the Sunday tea dance with camp cabaret for good measure.” It was here in 1995, at the height of his fame, that television personality, Michael Barrymore (real name Michael Ciaran Parker), gave an impromptu stage performance where he came out publicly as gay, a position which he has since (May 2010) qualified.

The British Prince 49 Bromley Street, London E1 0NB. (defunct)

Charlie’s Bar 124 Globe Road, Mile End, London, E1 4DZ. “Probably the friendliest Bar in the east end. With genuinely friendly bar staff and punters you immediately feel welcome!”

Cock & Comfort 359 Bethnal Green Road, London E2 6LG. (see Star of Bethnal Green below)

Dick & Fanny Star of Bethnal Green, 359 Bethnal Green Road, London E2 6LG. Saturdays quarterly. “Charmingly named Dick and Fanny is a new night, First outing featured gay cutie and house purist Kim Ann Foxman behind the decks. Friendly crowd and mixed girls and boys as the name suggests.”

The Florist Arms 225 Globe Road, London E2 0JD. “gay-friendly pub with karaoke night”

George & Dragon 2-4 Hackney Road, London E2 7NS “A cornucopia of tack awaits the fussy crowd in this once-tatty Shoreditch boozer, popular with both gays and straights.” Time Out

Girlcore Catch Bar, 22 Kingsland Road, London E2 8DA, Last Thursdays monthl. “An all-girl DJ collective run this night on Thursdays in Shoreditch. Expect trendies and Colombians in bowler hats, not gay but queer-friendly, the music and the dance floor are a riotous mash-up.”

Halfway House 388 Hackney Road, London E2 7AP. (defunct)

Joiner’s Arms 116 Hackney Road, London E2 7QL. “Scruffy, but with a late licence and conveniently located if you’re out and about in Shoreditch, predictably attracts an unpredictable mish-mash of people.”

Nelson’s Head 32 Horatio St (off Columbia Road). London E2 7SB. “Not officially gay, it has a loyal queer following. Those with a camp sensibility are attracted to kitsch events like the fancy dress parties.” Time Out

The Old Ship 17 Barnes Street, Limehouse, London E14 7NW. “A cosy pub on a classic East End square, the Old Ship attracts a mix of geezers and queens. It’s full of local characters who tend to know each other.” Time Out

The Railway Tavern 576 Commercial Road, London, E14 7JD.

Rakqueen Star of Bethnal Green (see below). Monthly Thursday night lesbian club night.

The Royal Oak 73 Columbia Road, London E2 7RG. “Always plenty of queers here especially on a Sunday - getting sloshed the day after the night before.”

Star of Bethnal Green 359 Bethnal Green Road, London E2 6LG. For many years a popular gay pub known as the Cock & Comfort it is now renamed The Star of Bethnal Green. Though not specifically gay it hosts gay and lesbian club nights. “The epitome of scruffy East End cool…” Time Out

Wish Gramaphone, 60-62 Commercial Street, London E1 6LT. “The mother of all East End lesbian nights , Wish played electro in the basement and pop-indie upstairs. The block-buster nights were somehow always full of attractive women.”

Waltham Forest:

The Britannia 493 High Road, Leytonstone E11 4PG. (defunct) Went through a phase as a gay pub, with attached nightclub, ‘Farenheit’, before closing in 2005.

Central Station/East 80 Brunner Road, Walthamstow, London E17 7MW. (defunct) http://deadpubs.co.uk/EssexPubs/Walthamstow/central.shtml Formerly The Artful this traditional local boozer became a gay pub in 1997, changing its name from Central Station to East in 2006. It featured a cabaret stage and beer garden enclosed by a high wall. Its secluded but central setting off the High Street, surrounded by a light industrial estate with no residential properties nearby, made it an ideal discreet location, drawing a mixed and friendly crowd with its relaxed ambience. It was burnt out in 2007, possibly in an arson attack, and now stands as a forlorn and derelict reminder of happier times.

The Fallen Angel 2 Markhouse Road, Walthamstow E17 8BD. (defunct) http://deadpubs.co.uk/EssexPubs/Walthamstow/essexbt.shtml Formerly the Essex Brewery Tap this large Edwardian building became a gay venue. It was described as a “gay men only members’ bar, very cruisy, with the usual attractions” and “hosting an underwear party every Wednesday”. Closing in 2006, it was converted into residential and commercial premises. There was a hope at one time that it and the nearby Central Station/East would form the nucleus of a ‘gay village’ in Waltham Forest but, sadly, that was destined never to be.

Gay Lick at Club Lick 58 Hoe Street, Walthamstow, London E17 4PG. www.gaylicke17.co.uk Club night Fridays 10pm-4am

Pink Sundae was a one-off event promoted by Red Onion in 2010 to trial a monthly LGBT social evening www.redonion.uk.com/pinksundaeclub.php

The Victoria 186 Hoe Street, Walthamstow, London E17 3AX. Gay party nights.

2. Sports

According to one estimate (GLAAD) there are more than 600 gay and lesbian teams and leagues across the country, including basketball, rugby, softball, cycling, water polo, tennis, crew, soccer, football, volleyball and ice hockey.

For example, in London there is Leftfooters a “fun-based football team made up mainly of gay and lesbian players. We play every Sunday afternoon in Regents Park, and have a laid back approach of 'jumpers-for-goalposts.” www.leftfooters.org.uk Also Stonewall Football Club “London’s premier gay football club” www.stonewallfc.com and the Kings Cross Steelers “the world's first rugby club for gay and bisexual men [which] was founded at a meeting which took place in Central Station, a gay pub in London's King's Cross district on 1 November 1995” www.kxsrfc.com Goslings London is “a social sports club for gay men, lesbians and their friends” www.goslingslondonsc.com Cycle Out gay cycling club http://cycleout.wfour.co.uk and Dykes on Bikes is a London-based lesbian cycling group for leisure cycling on and off road www.dobs.org.uk Grace’s Cricket Club is “The world’s first gay cricket club, founded in 1996”. For more information on lesbian and gay sports clubs contact Out For Sport www.outforsport.org and GMFA website www.gmfa.org.uk

19 February is celebrated as Football v Homophobia Day and is promoted by The Justin Campaign which was founded in memory of gay footballer, Justin Fashanu, to demonstrate that, years after his tragic suicide in 1998, homophobia is still hugely prevalent in the world of professional football. www.thejustincampaign.com

The late Justin Fashanu joined Leyton Orient FC in March 1990 and the club, based in Leyton E10, now actively promotes anti-homophobia work.

Gay Football Supporters Network Formed in 1989, "the mission of the Gay Football Supporters’ Network is to promote the support and participation of gay men and women in football, and act as a medium for LGBT football supporters to get together." www.gfsn.org.uk

Tackle is an independent editorial addressing homophobia in football. “Through opinion, debate and interviews with fans in the arts and media it hopes to draw a more vocal response from the game itself.” http://tacklemedia.blogspot.com

LGBT History Month 2011 and 2012 will be celebrating sport in all its diversity. The sports community joined LGBT activists at a ground-breaking event at Twickenham Stadium in November 2010 to make plans for the biggest ever LGBT History Month in February 2011. www.lgbthistorymonth.org.uk

Specifically in East London, ‘Walking Proud’ has identified the following active and historic examples of LGBT sports activity:


Fit Women Britannia Leisure Centre, 40 Hyde Road, Hackney N1 5JU. “We are a group of women who meet on a Monday night from 7-9pm to play badminton. We are a friendly group who welcome women of all ages, sexuality and abilities.” www.fitwomen.org.uk

Hackney Women’s Football Club “Hackney Women's Football Club (HWFC) was founded in 1986 and was the first totally women-run team and the first out lesbian team in London, possibly even the UK. HWFC was also the first team to instigate a fair play policy, ensuring that all women are encouraged to train and play competitive football regardless of their skills, age, ethnic origin and sexual orientation. All women are welcome.” http://hackneywfc.intheteam.com

Tower Hamlets:

Dynamo Dykes Volleyball Club trains in Bethnal Green E2 on Wednesdays. “The Dynamos is the only lesbian volleyball club in London and was formed in 1992. We offer members regular coaching and the opportunity to play in the London Volleyball League as well as local and international tournaments.” www.dynamodykes.org.uk

The London Cruisers Basketball Club Bethnal Green Sports Centre, 6 Gosset Street, Bethnal Green, London E2 An eclectic mix of multi-national, multi-cultural and multi-talented lesbians and gay men, the London Cruisers is the most dynamic gay basketball club in the UK.”


London Royals Hockey Club Wapping, London E1 “…probably the friendliest, most tolerant and social hockey club in London.” www.londonroyals.co.uk

Waltham Forest:

The London Borough of Waltham Forest hosted the UK Gay Sports in July 2000 on 28-30 July of that year. This event attracted hundreds of participants from the UK and abroad was deemed to be a great success, despite some criticism of the Council's support. Disappointingly, it has not been held again subsequently.

The borough is also home to several key LGBT dance campaigners, such as Jacky Logan, Heather Gladding and Hadass Armon. Jacky Logan is vice chair of the UK Same-Sex Dance Council (UKSSDC) www.ukssdc.co.uk Heather Gladding and Hadass Armon have trained Guyz in Sync, the first LGBT Latin & Ballroom dance team to appear in the Sky TV dance competition, ‘Got to Dance’. Wonnita Olafisoye teaches in Walthamstow and has been running Hilda’s, the UK’s women-only Ballroom & Latin dance club, since 1995. Janet Clark runs a dance studio in Walthamstow and played a leading role in LGBT dance equality, being the first judge in Britain to examine men taking the followers role.

UK Gay Sports 2000

The first official Gay Games were held in San Francisco in 1982 and have been staged in different cities around the world in a four-year cycle since, with the most recent, Gay Games VIII, being held in Cologne from 13 July-7 August 2010.

Waltham Forest Council agreed to hold its own version, ‘UK Gay Sports 2000’, over the weekend of 28-30 July 2000.

The event featured an array of activities - sporting, social and cultural. The Grand Opening on Friday 28 July was held in The Theatre in Lloyd Park and featured the Beverley Sisters. During the daytime on Saturday 29 July a Ballroom & Latin American Dance Competition was held, again in The Theatre, with The Glitter Ball being held there in the evening. Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 also saw cricket, hockey, petanque, softball, tennis and volleyball competitions at Low Hall sports ground and badminton, basketball and bridge at Kelmscott Leisure Centre, with swimming at the Pool & Track. There was also a spectacular water-borne Venetian Masque Carnevale on Hollow Ponds at Whipps Cross, a disco and a final event on Sunday 30 July on Chestnuts Showground and Pool & Track featuring Bucks Fizz, Heatwave, The Real Thing and a range of sports activities, including a 5-a-side football tournament.

“The Dancesport competition was held in Lloyd Park. At the time, it was a complete sell out! The capacity was 250 people and we had to turn people away on the door. It attracted some of the top Same-Sex dancers in Europe.”

Jacky Logan, Pink Jukebox

"My greatest memory of the first UK Gay Sports festival was the sustained elation felt over the three days of events. From the opening Beverley Sisters concert to the humour and enthusiasm of the California softball team you just encountered a sea of smiles. Amongst some great professional highlights…the Gay Games stands out as my favourite event for the sheer camaraderie and joy between all the people that attended. It was just a great craic, the best."

Eamonn O’Machail, Head of Arts & Events, Waltham Forest Council

3. Personalities

East London has long been an area of creativity. William Shakespeare’s first London theatre, called (rather unimaginatively perhaps) ‘The Theatre’, was located in Shoreditch, now part of the London Borough of Hackney. When this closed in 1596, Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, moved the short distance to ‘The Curtain’ which, from 1597 to 1599, became their premier venue. Performances there included ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and it is interesting to consider that Juliet would originally have been played by a boy actor and her nurse by a man (as was invariably the case with all female roles at the time)! Some commentators consider that Shakespeare may himself have been bisexual.

In the 19th century the East End was renowned for its music halls, including the oldest still in operation, the atmospheric Wilton’s Music Hall at 1 Graces Alley (off Ensign Street) E1, opened in 1858 close to the Tower of London and now in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Most if not all of the great music hall stars played the East End venues, which were extremely popular and could afford to pay so handsomely that big-name artistes of the day were encouraged to travel over to the East End after their West End performances to give late-night shows. These included famous male impersonators such as Vesta Tilley, Hetty King and Ella Shields. www.wiltons.org.uk

A world-famous gay icon (though not himself gay) was born in Leytonstone E11 on 2 May 1975 and schooled in Chingford E4, both in the London Borough of Waltham Forest. This was, of course, the internationally-acclaimed footballer and celebrity model, David Robert Joseph Beckham!

As might be expected of an area which lay outside the walls, and therefore the jurisdiction, of the City of London (making it literally ‘beyond the pale’) East London has always had its fair share of lesbian and gay personalities contributing to the vibrancy and creativity of the area, some of whom are listed here:


Stephen Hoo, actor/performer, appeared in the feature film "Fit", written and directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair and based on his stage play, launched at the Drill Hall, to help tackle the growing problem of homophobic bullying in Britain's schools, where everything from not liking sport to wearing the wrong trainers is 'gay'. He is also appearing in 'Kick Off', a feature film to be released in 2011. In Holland he appeared in the modern opera 'Wake'.

Lady Imelda, is a popular and unique cabaret artist who came to England with a suitcase of dreams and a handbag of nightmares. Miguel Diaz, former cast member of the West End musical "Miss Saigon". ceated the character Lady Imelda. He was the last drag queen standing on the British television quiz show "The Weakest Link (Celebrity Drag Queen Edition)", making him the winner and gaining him the reputation as the brainiest drag queen in the UK.

Kele Okereke, singer/songwriter in band, Bloc Party, born 1981, lives in Shoreditch.

Dave Raval, was until recently the most senior out-gay football referee in England, officiating at semi-professional level. He was also Chair of a charity that helped people discriminated against at work owing to their sexuality and a trustee of an arts charity in Waltham Forest. He stood for Parliament twice for the Liberal Democrats, most recently in Hackney South and Shoreditch in 2010.


Wes Streeting, Chief Executive of the Helena Kennedy Foundation and former National President of the National Union of Students (NUS). He became a Redbridge Borough Labour Councillor in July 2010.

Tower Hamlets:

Michael Cashman, actor/MEP born 1950 in Stepney E1; He became a national celebrity in 1986 when he began playing the gay character, Colin Russell, in BBC TV’s long-running soap opera, EastEnders. During this time he formed and became founding chair of the Stonewall Group campaigning for LGBT equality.

Gilbert & George, visual artists (full names Gilbert Proesch and George Passmore), live in a handsome 18th century Huguenot silk-weaver’s house on Fournier Street, Spitalfields E1. Best-known for their large-scale photo-works often including images of themselves along with flowers, youths, friends, and Christian symbolism in a combination which has often shocked and sometimes outraged but never been ignored.

Ronald Kray, and his twin brother Reginald were born on 24 October 1933 in Hoxton N1. In 1938, having previously lived in Stene Street, Hoxton the Kray family moved to 178 Vallance Road, Bethnal Green E2. The Kray twins went on to become notorious East End gangsters and nightclub owners, enjoying celebrity status in the 1950s and ‘60s. Ronnie Kray was bisexual and was alleged to have had scandalous affairs with leading Tory politician, Lord Boothby and Labour MP, Tom Driberg. The twins are buried next to their mother and father in Chingford Cemetery, E4. The three London Boroughs of Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest thus have the dubious distinction of being able to claim close connections with the Krays.

Sir Ian McKellen, theatre, film and television actor and co-founder of the gay rights lobbying charity, Stonewall, lives in an 18th century merchant’s house near the Thames at Limehouse E14. Having enjoyed huge success as a classical stage actor, he shot to international stardom with his film roles as Magneto in the ‘X Men’ and as the wizard Gandalf in ‘The Lord of the Rings’. He came out publicly as gay in 1988 as part of his campaign against the notorious Section 28 of the Local Government Bill which banned the promotion in local authority schools of homosexuality as a normal relationship.

Jeanette Winterson, prizewinning novelist, owns and lives above her Georgian town house fruit and veg shop, Verde & Co Ltd, at 40 Brushfield Street, Spitalfields E1. Her 1985 novel ‘Oranges Are Not the Only (adapted for television in 1989) is about a young girl’s journey of personal discovery. When asked whether she thought of it as a lesbian novel she replied “No. It's for anyone interested in what happens at the frontiers of common-sense. Do you stay safe or do you follow your heart? I've never understood why straight fiction is supposed to be for everyone, but anything with a gay character or that includes gay experience is only for queers. That said, I'm really glad the book has made a difference to so many young women.”

Waltham Forest:

Matthew Bourne, choreographer born 1960 in Hackney attended William Fitt and Sir George Monoux Schools, Walthamstow, Bourne shot to notoriety with his controversial all-male version of the classical ballet, ‘Swan Lake’ premiered at Sadler’s Wells in 1995. In 2008, his ‘Dorian Gray’, a dance version of Oscar Wilde’s homoerotic story of decadence, corruption and death, ‘A Picture of Dorian Gray’, caused a similar stir.

Sir Derek Jacobi, actor/film director born in1938 in Leytonstone, attended Leyton County High School. Sir Derek became widely-known in 1976 for his portrayal of the Roman Emperor, Claudius, in BBC Television’s adaptation of Robert Graves’ ‘I, Claudius’. He has played many of the great Shakespearean roles (most recently King Lear), alongside film and television appearances too numerous to mention.

Sally Starshine (aka Stewart W Fraser), is a Scottish drag diva who has made her home in East London. Sally describes her poignant journey from rags to riches and back again. Currently working as a part-time waitress in the ‘Salty Seaman’s’ fish & chip restaurant in Shoreditch. Sally has travelled the world in her search for romance and through her stories of love and loss encourages others to find their own true loves. Stewart W Fraser is an actor/puppeteer who has worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and Edinburgh and Norwich puppet companies, and the Little Angel Puppet Theatre, Islington. He now lives in Walthamstow E17.

4. Faith communities

Most, if not all of the world’s major faiths have historically treated LGBT matters as highly transgressive behaviour and a taboo subject. However, attitudes in some quarters are slowly changing and groups have sprung up to address the issues facing LGBT adherents of various faiths. Only a few such organisations are actually based in East London but the following serve all Londoners and are therefore included for the purpose of general information:

Gay & Lesbian Vaishnava Association, Inc (GALVA – 108) was founded in 2003 “to educate Vaishnavas, Hindus and the public in general about the “third sex” as described in Vedic literatures. This knowledge will help to correct many of the common misconceptions that people hold today concerning third-gender people (gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, the intersexed, etc.).” www.galva108.org

Iraqi LGBT is “an all-volunteer human rights organisation established in September 2005 by Ali Hili. [It] remains the first Arabic gay rights organisation in the world.” http://iraqilgbt.org.uk

Jewish Gay & Lesbian Group (JGLG) was founded in 1972 and is “the longest established Jewish LGBT group in the world…. although the group is based in London we have many members living across the country.” www.jglg.org.uk

Naz Project London (NPL) “is the oldest and most broadly-based BME charity in London addressing the sexual health and HIV/AIDS needs of its communities.” www.naz.org.uk

Somali Gay Community “was established in 2005 by a small group of Somalian guys who, apart from sharing the same culture and background, acknowledge the fact that we are homosexuals living in the UK. The aim of starting this group is to create a space and medium for Somalian gays and lesbians to access information, share experiences and develop support networks: www.somaligaycommunity.org

Based in East London we have identified the following LGBT or LGBT-friendly faith organisations:


St Andrews (CofE) St Andrews Road, Romford RM7 9AT (celebrates Civil Partnerships) www.standrewsromford.org.uk

Tower Hamlets:

Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) founded in 1976 by the Rev Richard Kirker, is based at Oxford House, Derbyshire Street (off Bethnal Green Road), London E2 6HG. www.lgcm.org.uk

London Buddhist Centre (LBC) 51 Roman Road, Bethnal Green, London E2 0HU. LBC offers an annual summer Gay Men's Retreat in Scotland as an introduction to meditation and Buddhism for gay men: "Buddhism teaches that all beings, regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation, have the same spiritual potential; that all can develop greater awareness, kindness, compassion, understanding. On this retreat we will explore the Buddhist path of ethics, meditation and wisdom, by way of talks, discussion groups, meditation and other practices. No previous experience is necessary. The retreat will be led once again by Mangala, who has been doing these events for many years. He will be supported by a team of experienced order members." www.lbc.org.uk

MCC East London Positive East, 159 Mile End Road, Stepney, London E1 4AQ. “We believe in the inherent value and dignity of every human being, that all people are equal before God, included in God’s love and welcome in our church community.” www.mcceastlondon.org.uk

Waltham Forest:

Holy Trinity & St Augustine of Hippo (CofE) Holloway Road/Corn Way, Leytonstone, London E11 4LD. www.trinityleytonstone.org

House of Rainbow Fellowship founded by Rev Jide Rowland Macaulay, Leyton and Lagos as “an inclusive and affirming religious community open and welcome to all people including Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgender and Intersex people, a monthly gathering of “People of Faith” for “Prayer and Praise”, which focuses on the person’s journey towards reconciliation of sexuality and spirituality.” http://houseofrainbowmcc.blogspot.com

St Barnabas Church (CofE) St Barnabas Road, Walthamstow, London E17 8JZ. www.saintbarnabaswalthamstow.co.uk

Ss Peter & Paul (CofE) The Green, Chingford, London E4 7EN and All Saints/’The Old Church’, Chingford Mount E4 8AA. www.parishofchingford.org.uk


An explanation (and exploration) of some commonly-used terms:

‘LGBT’, ‘homosexual’, ‘gay’ and ‘queer’

The abbreviation LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (or simply Trans) people, sometimes, and most commonly in the United States, followed by the letter I, denoting Intersex and/or Q for Questioning. Ongoing well-meaning efforts to achieve inclusivity, which have led to the lengthening of the abbreviation over time, have been parodied recently in the spoof acronym QUILTBAG: Queer/ Questioning, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Trans, Bisexual, Asexual, Gay.

The word ‘homosexual’ is a hybrid Classical Greek and Latin word combining homos (same) and sexus (sex). Mistakenly, homo is often taken to be derived from the Latin word for man, thus implying sex between men. In fact homosexual literally means ‘same sex’ – denoting relationships between people of the same sex – and therefore includes lesbianism. The phrase ‘same sex relationships’ is now commonly used to avoid misunderstanding.

The word ‘homosexual’ was coined in the mid-19th century and was widely used from the late-19th century to define a supposed medical or psychological disorder – in other words it was seen, and treated, as an illness which could (and should) be cured. Sadly, this opinion still persists and is sometimes taken up by extreme evangelical religious groups who seek to carry out ‘cures’, sometimes including exorcisms of demons thought to be responsible.

The word ‘gay’ originally referred to being carefree or happy, as in the phrase ‘blithe and gay’. It was also used to denote something bright and colourful, as in gay flags. From the early-17th century it acquired connotations of immorality but only became applied to homosexuality from the late-19th century. From the founding of the Gay Liberation Front in 1970 the term became widely used as a generic term for homosexuality, gradually becoming attached specifically to male homosexuality with the growth in usage of the term LGBT for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans. More recently the term has been widely used by young people in the pejorative sense of something being stupid or ‘rubbish’ - as in ‘that’s so gay’ – along with a worrying growth in homophobic bullying in schools

The word ‘queer’, used in the sense of ‘deviating from the expected or normal’, has been used since the late-19th century to refer to what was seen as sexual deviance, most specifically amongst homosexual men, and was usually employed in an offensive and derogatory sense. However, with the rise of gay activism in the early-1970s the word began to be ‘reclaimed’, as had happened following the American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s with similar terms of racist abuse. Such ‘reclaiming’ was, and remains, controversial but the term is now increasingly common within the LGBT community as a generic one (perhaps given added impetus by the founding in New York in 1990 of the LGBT organisation Queer Nation) and is no longer confined to describing gay men.

‘Sapphic’, ‘lesbian’ and ‘dyke’

Named after the Greek female poet, Sappho, and Lesbos, the island of her birth (between 630-612 BC), the words ‘sapphic’ and ‘lesbian’ only became applied to female homosexuality in the early-19th century. Sappho's poetry celebrates passion and love for people of both genders. Unlike male homosexuality, lesbianism was never illegal under English law, allegedly because, when male homosexuality was included in the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, Queen Victoria refused to believe that such a thing could exist between females. One can only assume she was not amused!

The slang term ‘dyke’ meaning lesbian was first recorded in America in 1942 but had probably been in common usage as a derogatory term for some years prior to that. It has since been ‘reclaimed’ by many lesbians and the LGBT community.

‘Cruising’, ‘dogging’ and ‘PSE’s

London is internationally renowned for its many gay ‘cruising grounds’, the most famous of which is undoubtedly Hampstead Heath in West London (managed by the Corporation of London), where the West Heath has been a favourite spot for gay casual sex encounters for at least 125 years.

In East London the nearest equivalent is in the London Borough of Waltham Forest, in a part of Epping Forest (also managed by the Corporation of London). This cruising ground has been active for many years and is relatively safe, although there have been some unpleasant incidents - in response to which the police and local authority have, to their credit, acted swiftly and decisively, and in a manner which is fairly respectful of and sympathetic towards gay men, or men who have sex with men (MSM - see below), involved.

The heterosexual activity known as ‘dogging’, which often takes place in the same or similar locations to gay cruising, but in and around parked vehicles, now appears to create more public comment than gay cruising itself, the popularity of which appears anyway to have waned in recent years in response to increasingly widespread use of the internet for finding contacts. See the novel ‘The Isle of Dogs’ by Daniel Davies published by Serpent’s Tail (2008)

The Sexual Offences Act 2003, and the official designation of such areas as Public Sex Environments (PSEs), has led to an increasingly more nuanced approach by the relevant authorities towards cruising, with the emphasis now being placed on giving safety advice to those taking part. The rule of thumb now appears to be that police action against cruisers only follows specific public complaints where sexual activity has been witnessed by two or more people and has caused offence. If pursued, a complaint is dealt with under Public Order legislation.

In Holland, the De Oeverlanden Park in Slotervaart, southwest Amsterdam, is a popular spot for gay men from all over the country, and elsewhere in Europe, to seek sex partners. The park has recently been declared “godoog” (a Dutch word meaning ‘to tolerate unwanted behaviour’) and official signs have been sited to warn other park users that certain areas are recognised cruising grounds. This goes one step beyond a ‘blind eye’ policy, without actually legalising such activity. It will be interesting to see if public policy in the UK ever moves in the same direction.

‘Men who have sex with men (MSM)’

The term ‘men who have sex with men’ (sometimes abbreviated as MSM) was coined around 1990, when it arose in response to the developing HIV/AIDS crisis of the time. It is used to describe men who participate in sexual activities with other men but who do not self-identify as gay.

Tim Bennett-Goodman

‘Walking Proud’ Co-ordinator -January 2010

Tim Bennett-Goodman is a freelance arts and cultural consultant living in the London Borough of Waltham Forest where he is involved with the Council’s LGBT working group and LGBT residents’ and community representatives’ group. He contributed to Sigma’s 2010 ‘Waltham Forest LGBT Matters’ consultation www.sigmaresearch.org.uk/go.php?/reports/report2010a/ and is involved with planning Waltham Forest’s LGBT History Month celebrations and events around IDAHO (International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia), World Aids Day and Pride. He also helps organise Waltham Forest’s Police Safer Neighbourhood Teams’ (SNT) LGBT Forum. He was elected a trustee of the LGBT Consortium at its AGM on 22 January 2011.

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