'I’d long felt the need for a Gay Brighton Past presence on Facebook and when a queer thread arose once more on local history group Brighton Past earlier this year, I sounded out fellow queer historian Alf Le Floic to see if he would be interested in working together on it and so Gay Brighton Past was born. The excitement we both shared at the potential for such a group became similar to that felt at Pride time. We quickly realised we were two sides of the same historical coin, both having separately collected and archived LGBT ephemera since the 1980’s and so had a wealth of items to post as images. Whilst talking with Andy Garth, local social historian who has guardianship of the Argus Photographic Archive, he suggested a search of the thousands of packets of negatives to find items that had possibly been ‘lost’ over the years. So whilst I have continued to shield during the pandemic, over the last few months, Andy has deposited boxes of negatives with me to look through.
Incredibly the very first box and in the first few hundred small ‘Izal’ packs of negatives I found two gems. One was of myself aged 13 playing women’s football in 1973-I had been looking for women’s football images at this time to link with the women’s football project at Brighton Museum that I am helping with. Then-the discovery of ‘Gay Lib March 8/7/73’. I couldn’t believe what I was holding. This packet resets the timeline for local queer activism from the longheld belief of starting in the late 1980’s with the Stop the Clause/S.28 Campaign to fifteen years earlier-July 1973.
Alf had previously written on the ‘Gay Day’ held in 1972 for GScene magazine(now Scene) and there is just one photograph available of this event and is held at Bishopsgate Institute in London. Yet here in my hand were two strips of negatives-seven photographs of the most amazing bravery and campness you could ever hope to see and which had previously remained unseen. Alf and I discussed excitedly over days and weeks how we could best share them with the world. With Pride cancelled this year once more it felt like we were meant to have this opportunity to remind ourselves what Pride has always truly been about and to maybe reset ourselves as a community.
With his previous Gay Liberation front(GLF) research and contacts and with me unable to leave the house Alf ran with finding the background to the marchers in the images and interviewing when people were traced-and to these people we offer so many thanks .We had to find somewhere to show the photos at short notice and are so grateful to Wayne at the Sussex Beacon shop in St. James’ Street for his wonderful support in offering us their windows as an ‘accessible to all venue’ .We managed to secure money from the Rainbow Fund for printing costs and thank them, along with Alf’s designer friend Fraser for setting up the images so beautifully and with such clear love and support for the work. The exhibition was coming together as was Alf’s monthly article for Scene magazine which then linked to the exhibition for the background of the story around the photographs and eventually became the front page image and a four page spread inside in the August Pride edition.
The project gathered apace-as we neared the start of the exhibition we hoped others would see just what we were seeing. The bravery of those twenty marchers, less than six years after the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in 1967, marching through the streets of Brighton, proudly taking up our space and making it just that little bit easier for those who came after.
As one who was fourteen at the time of the march, as with anything else that wasn’t football, it passed me by-yet now, nearly fifty years later along with this little aged brown packet of negatives, these marchers are forever in my heart. To you, I say thankyou-you made it so I could be on the streets a decade later likewise demanding our space when it was being eroded once more, which then enabled our community to parade not march and to party not protest. To those who came before and might even be reading this-thankyou and much love and respect.
I feel the timing of finding the images to be fortuitous and yet maybe, at a time where we find our space once more being eroded, perhaps it is the baton being handed over to march once more both for pride and with Pride. Thankyou the marchers of 1973.We see you, we hear you and we march with you forever beside us.'
Photographs from the Argus Photographic Archive