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08 - Mike




Mike explains why he moved to Birmingham in 1987, and compares it with Manchester life. He talks about work and having been 'outed'. He gives his opinions on the changing gay scene, including the demarcation between men and women, and the development of the gay village, the Birmingham scene and compares with Manchester. He then talks about volunteering for Gay Switchboard, his role as Publicity Officer and his influence on making the local media more 'gay-friendly' including the treatment of a local Councillor.


Jester 1986 - 20 90
Moseley - 30
Comparison with Manchester - 40 45 50 100 130 165 170
The 'hidden' (behind closed doors) scene - 45 110
Being gay at work (hidden) - 60, 70, 75, 80
Being outed at work - 70, 75, 80
Changes in the gay scene since 1990 - 90 110
Development of the gay village - 110
Nightingale - 90 100
Peacocks - 90
Women's access to bars - 100
Partners - 100
Angels - 110
Lack of investment in gay village - 125
Volunteering for Switchboard - 140
Switchboard caller profile - 145
Swirchboard operators - 150
Cultural mix - 160 165 170 200
Switchboard publicity officer - 180
Radio - 180 220
Media attitude to LGBs - 190 195 200 205 220
Birmingham Parents Support Group - 210
Evening Mail - 190 205 210 220
Homophobic Councillor - 220
Investment in gay village - 230

10 Moving to Birmingham in 1987

Mike first described the circumstances which dictated his move to Birmingham from Manchester in the late 1980s because of his job as a manager in a sales company. He commuted between the two cities over a period of three years from 1987 before finally moving to Birmingham in 1990 - 1991.

20 Visiting the Jester on his first visit to Birmingham in 1986

Mike described his impressions of Birmingham on his first visit in 1986 and focused on his first visit to a gay bar in Birmingham early one evening before getting the train back to Manchester. "It was The Jester which is on Horsefair, just by Bristol Street and in those days The Jester was the main gay bar in Birmingham.... I think there was another one as well round the corner.... I remember walking down the stairs into The Jester and it had a large circular bar that was in the middle of the room so the bar was surrounded by the customers... and the first thing I thought of when I saw the bar was The Crossroads Motel which was a bit ironic. There weren't that many people in there because it was about six o' clock in the evening and I only had an hour spare..... I spoke to one or two people but nothing major...when you're in a big city ...people aren't that friendly when you walk into a new place but one or two people did speak to me. I seem to remember that some guy was chatting me up but that was twenty years ago so I didn't look like the person that's before you right now.....And I actually had a one-eye haircut in those days... and eighties sort of thing where your fringe came over one eye.....and there was some guy who was chatting me up but I wasn't that interested. I'd reached a point where I'd had two pints of beer and I was more beginning to think about going back on the train". (3.50)

30 Living in Moseley

Mike commented that his first main impression of Birmingham was of a very big, prosperous city. He didn't want to leave Manchester but the job offer was a good one. When Mike moved to Birmingham from Manchester, he got a flat in Moseley, and lived in the area from 1987 until 2006. When asked whether he met any gay men in Moseley he replied that he did over the years, referring to the fact that "there's always been this joke hasn't there on the south side of Birmingham that gay men live in Moseley and the lesbians live in Kings Heath and there in a certain amount of truth in that so I didn't find it a particularly difficult place to live in as a gay men." (7.10)

40 Comparison with Manchester - the 'hidden' scene

Mike discussed his impressions of the differences between Manchester and Birmingham in terms of the things he would value. "Well both of the cities have changed an awful lot in the time since 1990, that's for sure but I think that Birmingham's changed more from a social perspective because it had to.... when I first came to Birmingham in 1990 ... I mean I hate to say's going to sound awfully rude but I really did think I was being punished for having done something in a previous life!

45 But it was so quiet. It only had two gay bars. Both of them were hidden away down stairs... this was something I just wasn't used to... the fact that you would have to go to a bar where there was just a door and then go downstairs and it was all hidden from view whereas in Manchester...even though the gay scene wasn't as big as it is now it was still more public and there was a cluster... a sort of gay village type scenario and you certainly didn't go down stairs and were hidden away from view and I came to Birmingham and there were these two gay bars - The Jester and Partners - although the main one really was The Jester ... and The Nightingale was really the only gay club... and it all seemed pretty small compared with what I was used to. Not only that, what I also noticed was that it was really quiet. The city centre in those days was incredibly quiet. Trying to get a meal after eight o'clock at night in the city centre was almost impossible".

50 He described how he used to drive around Birmingham and "Greater Birmingham" and wonder where it started and finished and where all the people went at night speculating that because there was more industry and manufacturing then perhaps they went to bed early. He feels that Birmingham is more business-orientated where "people live to work" whereas Manchester prides itself on being "a bit of a wild child". (10.05) He discussed the differences in the people and their style of clothes although without a gay focus. He linked this to his own recognition of when he had "swapped over from being a Mancunian to being a Brummie" (12.32).

60 Being gay at work

Mike talked about his experiences of being gay at work in Birmingham compared to Manchester. He explained that the dynamics were different in Birmingham because he was the manager and therefore felt that he had to maintain a distance about his private life because of his position, although actually he hadn't discussed his sexuality in the Manchester office either. "I think that being out in the office is something that's much easier to be now and something that's probably changed only in the last ten years or even less. Certainly in the eighties and the early nineties declaring your sexuality in the office wasn't something that many people did, not that I was aware of and it might not have been quite so easy even 15/16 years ago as it would be today but in my situation as a person who was trying to get this office up and running it wasn't something that I wanted to do and therefore I didn't. I wasn't asked any questions and that's how it remained for a few years. My private life was a separate matter. However, having said that, I never lied, I never pretended that I was going down to John Bright Street because in those days there was no Broad Street. Broad Street was just a road of offices and a few factories. In those days the straight night life in Birmingham centred on John Bright Street. I certainly didn't pretend that I was going down on a Saturday, that I was chatting up girls. I was neutral. I said nothing."

70 Being 'outed' at work

Mike described how "eventually I was forced out at work. It wasn't something that I had planned." About 1994 or 1995 he had gone to a gay bar in Manchester where he had met up with a friend that he hadn't seen for a number of years. They were very pleased to see each other, hugging and kissing, rolling on the floor, his friend "pretending to shag me - just to embarrass me, and generally messing around". Unknown to Mike he was seen by a colleague from Manchester who "was obviously worried that I'd seen him - he had no reason to be worried but he obviously was. On the Monday he went into the Manchester office... it must have been a defensive reaction on his part ... and he went round telling everybody that he'd seen Mike having a shag in a gay bar. It was a vain attempt to take the spotlight off him. You know what it's like with these guys. They go into a gay bar... they make out that they've had their bottoms pinched or that some guy's chatted them up. We all know it doesn't happen but they've got to have something that makes their experience more salacious than it really was." The gossip that he had been seen in the gay bar went round the Manchester office and then spread to the Birmingham office.

75 "And then one day, one of the girls in the Birmingham office ...she just...she did it nicely...she just said, 'Do you mind me asking, are you gay?' and I was quite taken aback. It wasn't a question I was prepared for so I answered her honestly and said, 'Yes I am' and she said, 'Oh right. That's okay' and her reaction was fine and from that point onwards one or two people discussed it and a few people said 'Oh I didn't know' and a few other people said, 'Oh I did. I knew all along' but you always get that... people who want to be cleverer than others... but I had no adverse reaction from the team. I think that that was because they had got to know me.

80 "I think if you meet people for the first time, I don't think you should wear your sexuality on your sleeve and the reason I say that, it's not out of any sense of shame at all but who else wears their sexuality on their sleeve. Why do you have to declare what your sexual preference is. I think you should allow people to get to know the real you without there being any barriers and then six months down the line or a year down the line if they do find out or you choose to tell someone about your sexuality at least they've had that opportunity to get to know you first."

90 Changes in the Birmingham scene

Mike described the change in the social side in Birmingham since 1990. He felt that there had been a "massive change", referring again to the "two gay basement bars (The Jester and one gay club (Nightingale) " around when he first arrived in 1987, although he thought there was another bar in the basement of a hotel in the city centre just off New Street called Peacocks (1), opposite the Trocadero "That was trying to be a gay bar as well but because of its location, it didn't succeed". There was another Peacocks 2 at a later date near the Bull Ring. He wasn't impressed by the social scene and didn't go to Partners which "had a bit of a reputation for being slightly rough." (20.48) he went to the main gay bar which was The Jester which was packed on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. "It was wall-to-wall. You couldn't move."

100 Demarcation between men and women

Mike also said: "One of the things that I did notice when I came here was that there was a real demarcation between where men socialised and where women socialised. Women tended to go to Partners whereas The Jester was almost exclusively male. And the other thing as well - and this was a real disappointment to me was that there were no women at all in the 'Gale Nighingale. Women weren't allowed. They certainly weren't allowed as members because it was a members' club. They might have been allowed in as guests and consequently you could go to the 'Gale Nightingale and there'd be not even a handful, not even four or five women sometimes - it was just wall-to-wall men ... and I found that a bit was something that was rooted in the past". Mike explained that the Manchester scene was much more integrated though not exclusively so and felt that this was because the Manchester scene was much more political. "It was a beacon of hope. It wasn't the way things should be but there was certainly more integration between men and women."

110 Development of the Gay Village

Mike was asked about the rate of development in Birmingham and the interviewee explained that a big change was prompted by the change of the Nightingale's premises from Thorpe Street to Kent Street after the return of the lease to the Hippodrome. Because this was at the bottom end of Hurst Street a few older pubs and vacant premises became gay so that there was a cluster of bars around the Nightingale giving a focus for a gay village. He saw this as a "good thing because there were more facilities, more choice." He mentioned in particular Angels (about 1996) in relation to its large plate-glass windows at street level which meant that "for some of the older gay people in Birmingham, at first that was a bit awkward going into a place where you could actually be seen having a drink. But those reservations soon disappeared and I think there was a period from 1996 to around 1999, maybe a bit longer, where Angels was a very, very popular bar indeed and it really did signal the change in the confidence of the city's gay community. There was no doubt about that".

120 The Birmingham Scene today

When asked how he viewed the social scene in Birmingham today he replied that he had been very hopeful in the late nineteen nineties because of village emerging and because of what was "almost an over-supply - fourteen or fifteen gay bars at one point and it was too many really."

125 Lack of investment in gay village

What he felt had gone wrong with the lower end of Hurst Street was that there was no investment by the public authorities in terms on the street lighting, the paving, the general scruffy ambience. He found this odd in the light of the private money that had gone into Hurst Street; he felt that the public authorities should have been aware of it as an area to be cultivated. He compared this to a similar situation in Manchester after a recession in the eighties when the city centre including the area that has become the gay village was regenerated. Money was put into paving, street lights and pedestrianisation over a two year period. He felt that even now that is not happening in Birmingham compared to Manchester, Brighton and London and that therefore Birmingham will not be in the national spotlight for its gay scene.

130 Contrast with Manchester political support

Mike felt that the lack of political awareness and involvement of the Birmingham scene was in contrast to the politicisation of the Manchester gay scene in line with the general political activism in which Manchester has a long tradition. For instance there has been a flourishing (Manchester) Gay Centre from 1977/78 to the present day, now called the Manchester Lesbian and Gay Foundation funded by Manchester City Council, in contrast to the situation in Birmingham. He wondered whether "apathy was filtered into the water in Birmingham since even in the gay organisations there don't seem to be the number of people involved... and there certainly isn't the agitation that is needed to get things done."

140 Gay Switchboard

Mike decided to volunteer to work for Gay Switchboard around the age of 34 (1997) because he feels that he had been "to so many gay bars, so many gay clubs over the last ten or fifteen so many tee-shirts that it is beginning to get quite boring" so he wanted to do something that was more useful . He felt his work experience would underpin his volunteer work at Switchboard. He joined the Committee and from 1999 to 2003 he was the Publicity Officer for Switchboard.

145 Gay Switchboard Callers

Mike was asked whether he had identified any common traits among the callers and responded that about half came from the "Greater Birmingham" area - Birmingham, Solihull and Sandwell. About 25% came from the Black Country and surrounding areas - Shropshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire. The remainder came from much further afield - East Midlands, South, North. He didn't understand that at first but then learnt that people rang Switchboards outside their own geographical area because it was "safer, more anonymous" so that they felt totally free to talk about what was bothering them. Common themes from the local callers were focused on people trying to come to terms with their sexuality and wanting to talk to someone who was not biased.

150 Switchboard operators

The operators were trained not to confirm that callers were gay when they asked operators if they thought they (callers) were. Mike used "gay" as an inclusive term for men and women as he didn't like the demarcation implied by the use of "gay" for men and "lesbian" for women. He emphasised that the operators' role was not to confirm or persuade people to particular lifestyles but to allow callers to talk anonymously and confidentially about how they were feeling so that they could arrive at their own conclusions without judging them.

160 Cultural mix

When asked about this lack of confidence about their own identity on the part of the callers to Switchboard Mike said that he felt that life as a gay person in Birmingham was as positive as in any of the other big cities and certainly better than that in the smaller market towns around the region. He did feel however that the fact that Birmingham contained such a wider diversity of social class, culture, religion and background had a huge impact on a person's sexual identity and the degree to which they were comfortable with it. He also discussed the impact of ethnic and cultural diversity in communities where to be gay is a cultural taboo, explaining that Switchboard got calls from the black and Asian communities that were "quite difficult to deal with because of the experiences of the callers."

165 "When I go back to Manchester, walking round the city centre, it's nowhere near as mixed culturally as Birmingham. When I first came to Birmingham in 1990, when my boyfriend was Asian, if we went out on the gay scene there were no other Asians, except there was one who came in occasionally from Leicestershire, and one local lad I used to see knocking around on the gay scene who seemed to be comfortable with his sexuality, but by and large there weren't that many black and Asian people in evidence on the gay scene, and Birmingham was almost as culturally diverse sixteen years ago as it is now. That did seem odd, but that has changed, and over the last five or ten years we are seeing more people from the black and Asian communities on the current gay scene. Since about 2000 there are even 'Asian gay nights' being held regularly, every month, and that's a good development because it has helped people meet others with similar backgrounds to themselves". So we are seeing a slightly greater confidence in people whose backgrounds are quite different to mine or white people in general".

170 The discussion then moved on to the implications of living in a multi-cultural society but without a gay focus. He said he didn't see Birmingham as being a racist city, it has grown into a multi-cultural city, more at ease with itself than many Northern cities where there is a greater degree of separatism, on the part of all communities. He identified it as a natural inclination on the part of all groups to stick together but said that now, "on Broad Street you will see people in mixed groups out enjoying themselves. That really is an indication that the city has moved on, and is seen over the past five or ten years on the gay scene too."

180 Media

Mike worked as Publicity Officer for Switchboard, from 1999 - 2003. With a background in marketing and sales, he identified all the media in Birmingham and set out to build as many contacts as possible, including the main West Midlands radio stations, Galaxy, BRMB and BBC Radio WM were all fine and he was "pleasantly surprised at the positive response - Radio WM was actually contacting me".

185 He began to be contacted whenever a local issue needed a statement from a gay perspective and was regularly interviewed, particularly about Switchboard and coming-out issues. He found radio and TV staff to be very pleasant and positive. "When I issued a press release for the thirtieth anniversary of Switchboard it was publicised on many of the local radio stations and I was on the radio all day, which "got the g word and the l word out there".

190 He contacted the papers but had never had any success with the Wolverhampton Express and Star. However, he made inroads into the Birmingham Evening Mail after a change of editor at the end of the '90s. He described it as having been, through the 1990s, "a rag which had no relevance to the multi-cultural society that I was living in" with no mention of black and Asian or gay issues in any positive way (48.11). "It was full of letters from 'moaning minnies' complaining about the Council.

195 In 2000 the editor retired who had been there for 30 years, possibly 300 years (laughs)." When the new editor was appointed Mike wrote to him, and got a very positive response. He was invited to a meeting with the new Editor and some of his staff. Mike gained an immediate rapport with the Editor who was from the same suburb in Manchester that he was. He and the staff were very interested in addressing some of the problems that he highlighted in relation to the reporting about gay issues, such as the negative language used such as "gay haunts" and the equation of "gay" and "paedophile".

200 The issue about the positive reporting of black and Asian lives was also raised in conjunction with this to aim to reflect the multi-cultural population. He feels that since 2000, there is much more focus on black and Asian perspectives and lives as well as gay issues.

205 Mike asked for improved - and positive - coverage of the "colour" of Pride rather than moaning about how much public money had been spent on it and that happened. He asked for a souvenir issue following it but that hasn't happened. "Now they report it as a gay celebration, of course they'll put in photos of the drag queens but who cares". He also asked for more awareness of the language that was used to report gay issues, particularly difficult ones, and not to use negative language. His third request was for the paper to print the Switchboard number and within a few months they print it every day under the emergency numbers (among the plumbers and gas!) every day which "meant that the G word and the L word was given visibility every day." The Women's Editor, Dianne Parks, still there was given responsibility for gay and lesbian issues and wrote a very positive three page feature about Switchboard around 2001.

210 Through this contact other gay organisations such as the Birmingham Parents' Support Group, operating from a church in Solihull, run by a lovely lady called Maureen, for the parents of gays and lesbians, have benefited from features printed about them. He feels that the Evening Mail is contributing to a more positive image of gay life in Birmingham, "it's a much better paper today". He also mentioned Midlands Zone, the local gay newspaper, which has always been very supportive of Switchboard and other charitable gay organisations. "I would say to any community group if you want publicity let them know and they will print it."

New audio file (02/02)

220 Harborne Councillor describes gays as 'dogs'

Mike described a conflict with a Conservative Councillor for Harborne who, in response to an issue over some public funding, complained in a council meeting that "gay people were no better than dogs". He received unsympathetic coverage by the Evening Mail and Mike was called in by the local media to make a response. What he found positive was that he was able to make a response (for Heart and Galaxy radio stations) and to point out that gay people were human beings and rate payers and "whether this man liked it or not, in a big city there were going to be several thousand gay men and women living in the city whose needs need to be met." He felt that there was no point in confronting the Councillor about his views but asked whether the radio station was going to get the Councillor in to explain his views, to which the response was "You must be joking. We're not having him in this studio" which was a very positive response.

230 Living in Birmingham in 2007

Mike felt that this was an indication of how attitudes have improved and explained that he felt a lot more comfortable as a gay man living in Birmingham now than he did in 1990 because "there is a higher visibility though not as high as it should be. There is certainly a better gay scene than there was though it's not as good as it could be. The gay area is a safer place to be and there is a gay area but again it's not as good as it could be but we need some public money there to address those sorts of issues." (03.30) Apart from the need for some public money to improve the gay village, Mike was unable to think of any really negative points about his experience of being a gay man in Birmingham in 2007.