Alan Butler, Pride in Our Past, Plymouth’s LGBT Community
Alan spoke about his commitment to creating, what is now the archive for Pride in Our Past the history of Plymouth’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community. A fascinating archive of stories mainly transcribed from oral history recordings, a method that Alan undertook to gather, looking at the underground movement in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Many people interviewed had never spoken out about their homosexuality and talked about the need to keep the Plymouth gay scene secret. After the 1956 Sexual Offences Act where a sexual act between two men was deemed indecent, subcultures grew up in the cities of England and LGBT communities sought refuge in places where they felt safe to be themselves. Alan mentioned how people he interviewed had spoken of those times with nostalgia, how they viewed the underground movement as exciting “It was underground and a bit shabby to begin with but to be absolutely truthful I liked it like that because there was a sense that there was something illegal
about it, it kinda had a ‘frisson’ to cruising.”
Alan’s delivery, with his soft Plymouthian burr, made the LGBT underground movement sound nostalgic to us, with interviewees looking back on the times through rose tinted spectacles, as is often the case with hindsight. His lecture illuminated how Plymouth’s underground movement (which stayed underground far longer then other cities) became a ‘social performance’ within those safe places, with bar owners dragging up, choosing which ‘costume’ to wear for which occasion, often being most outrageous when expecting trouble. ‘Social performance is the term that is increasingly being used to refer to the performative behaviours that mark every aspect of our social interactions and even the manifestation of self in everyday life.’ Gay McAuley http://www.semioticon.com/seo/P/performance.html#
There were tales of back room bars with some public houses becoming part of a coded language to understand someone’s sexuality, so that “do you know the Lockyer’s” became a direct question about sexual preferences and stories of the famous “Harry’s Bar’ became mythologized within the story of the underground movement.
I listened with interest to Alan’s lecture as it had many parallels to the story of the Hebrew congregation that I want to look at in my research. Parallels of the coded conversations that other communities would not understand; of feeling a minority and keeping your ‘social performances’ away from the public gaze. A lot of things Alan said resonated and I will look to respond to that when I research my own project and look at why, in particular, Plymouth has a reputation for keeping it’s social culture so hidden away.
Pride in Our Past. plymlgbtarchive.org.uk (online)
McAuley, Gay. ‘Performance Studies’, Semiotics Encyclopedia Online (online)