A walk through Birmingham’s LGBTQ+ history in pictures

Pictures and memories dating back to the 70s

In the UK, LGBT History Month was initiated in 2005 and takes place every February, celebrating LGBTQ+ lives and experiences. Find out more here.

Birmingham’s beautifully bold Gay Village and the annual Birmingham Pride festival are the epitome of Gay pride in Birmingham.

With LGBTQ+ members of the Birmingham community providing memories and pictures dating back to the 70s, it’s time to delve into just some of Brum’s rich LGBTQ+ history.

Early Birmingham Pride

The first Birmingham Pride began in 1972 as a hastily arranged event by the Birmingham Liberation Front. This featured two ‘Gay Days’ in Cannon Hill Park and a march up New Street; rallying in Victoria Square and handing out leaflets around the Bull Ring.

This declined in the mid 70s however, resumed in 1983 – with “Five Days of Fun”. This was a social event held in Grosvenor House Hotel; a celebration compared to the previous political statement.

This was the first time that club and bar managers collaborated on a big event. Attendees recall days of sunbathing, dancing, swimming and having fun.

5 days of fun, 1991: Deano, Simon, Kerry, Megan, Lulu, Lisa and Craig.

Five Days of Fun at The Grosvenor, taken by Ian Morrall

Five Days of Fun at The Grosvenor, taken by Ian Morrall

The Birmingham Pride Festival and Parade

The first official gay pride festival took place in Spring 1997, attracting 15,000 guests.

The parade was introduced in 2000, during the times of attempts to repeal Section 28. Around 300 to 400 people took part.

Garry Jones, who ran the Pride parade workshops from 1999-2008, recalls leading the parade in 2000: “I was proud but very nervous, the city council had reluctantly allowed us to have the parade but didn’t make it easy for us” he told The Birmingham Tab.

Remembering that there was an England international football match on, he recalls “crowds of men all in England shirts pouring onto the street, it was very hostile. Luckily I was carrying the rainbow flag on a broom handle so I held it firm and waved it from side to side and we got through.

“We were spat at, pushed and shoved, wigs and costumes were grabbed” he told The Birmingham Tab. The pride flag that he sewed is still used in the parade today.

Garry, leading the parade

‘Dykes on Bikes’, 2000

The first parade in 1999

Birmingham Pride Today

Today, Birmingham Pride gathers over 70,000 visitors. The free carnival parade celebrates LGBTQ identity and raises awareness for current charities and causes.

The festival provides music artists, drag performers, fairground attractions and other entertainments.

In 2019, a Muslim group launched Birmingham Pride for the first time; promoting equal representation and universal love. This was in response to parents’ intolerance regarding LGBT education in Parkfield Community and Anderton Park primary schools.

The Nightingale Club and Brum nightlife

Not only Birmingham’s favourite and oldest gay club, but one of Birmingham’s best superclubs full stop. The Nightingale has been running since 1967, making it 52 years old.

It was allegedly opened in reaction to the harassment of homosexuals in other bars across the cities that catered for LGBT crowds, such as The Victoria (John Bright Street).

‘Cherub’, who worked at the Nightingale from 1986 till around 2005

The club originated in Camp Hill before the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Police could raid gay clubs or bars and landlords could refuse service to gay clients. As a members-only club, it only had a jukebox and a safe community who still hold special memories of the club.

Its second location, in Whitton Lane, thrived with the 1970’s disco scene. Its next location was on Thorpe Lane in 1981.  Bars were underground and doors had peepholes to check the authenticity of guests. However once inside, guests were unapologetically expressive.

The current Kent Street location is recognised as opening doors for broader inclusion. Despite being more commercial, the LGBTQ+ members are claiming visibility and representation in the club through its queer performers. Its maintenance of a vibrant gay community did not go unnoticed, receiving a lifetime achievement award at The Pride Ball in 2014.

Other notable venues include Partners/Windmill (popular for drag and cabaret, now Glamorous), The Jester (unfortunately now closed), and The Jug (renovated as Subway City, now the Tunnel Club).

Watch SHOUT Festival’s documentary celebrating 50 years of The Nightingale to find out more.

Jason, Kieran and John at the Jester, 1997/8

Lisa with Craig, and the late Simon, Deano, and Lulu at The Jester

Birmingham’s LGBT+ community: groups and beyond

The 70s marked a turning point for LGBT politics with the introduction of Gay Liberation in the UK, encouraging pride and openness. The Birmingham Gay Liberation Front was established in 1972 , and ended up being one of the country’s most active Gay Liberation Fronts aside from London.

This led to several sources such as the Gladrag newsletter and sex education pamphlets, as well as events such as the ‘Gay Sunshine Event’. This demonstration in Cannon Hill park involved giving out oranges to celebrate the ‘goodness of being gay’. Groups expanded from here.

In August 1977, the Birmingham Gay Outdoor Club met for the first time, gathering for walks, parties and camping weekends.

‘Boot Women’ is also the longest running lesbian walking group in Birmingham.

Birmingham Pride Community trust launched a political debate in 2005: “Queer Question Time”. This involved political party representatives answering questions regarding LGBTQ+ related matters.

LGBT History Month 2021 and current progressions

A funding page is currently being set up for a Birmingham HIV & AIDs memorial, inspired by Russel T. Davis’ incredible mini-series It’s A Sin on Channel 4, depicting life in 1980s London during the HIV/AIDs crisis. You can support by liking their Facebook page here, and by keeping an eye out for future fundraising events.

You can involve yourself in University of Birmingham events by joining in on quizzes, coffee socials, campaign workshops and more – find more information here. Note that many events are open to all however some are LGBTQ+ community specific.

The LGBTQ Association also have a calendar of events over the month, including workshops, presentations and socials.

Support for LGBTQ+ students

• If you have been affected by the recent news regarding University of Birmingham’s past links to conversion therapy please use the university’s Pause telephone drop in service for emotional support.

LGBT Mentoring: apply for the LGBT Mentoring scheme which supports students in coming out strategies, developing contacts, and boosting personal and professional development.

Student societies: join the LGBTQ Association which hosts social events, campaigns and activism, uniting UoB LGBTQ+ students.

LGBT PhD and staff support: the Rainbow Network, is a safe space for LGBTQ+ PhD staff and students to meet and develop contacts.

Birmingham-based LGBT services: contact Birmingham LGBT, which offers sexual health, counselling, domestic violence and trans wellbeing services (via telephone support and email referral during Covid).

LGBT listening services: contact Switchboard, which offers support for those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Open to call 10am-10pm every day or talk via a webchat service.

Support for LGBT people of colour: Unmuted is a community-directed support network for LGBTQI+ people of colour, providing meet-ups, discussions and support.

Support for transgender individuals: Trans Unite has over 100 Trans support groups across the country, catered for individuals from various backgrounds.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

• Over 400 people have signed a petition demanding UoB to apologise for its historical ‘gay conversion therapy’

• Meet the UoB student who is raising money for a local charity offering LGBTQ+ support

• A beginner’s guide to Birmingham’s LGBTQ+ nights out