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Inge Thornton

Inge Thornton, born 1961


Coming out 10
Coming out at work 10 20
Women Oppose the Nuclear Threat 20
Old Mo 20 30
Fashion 30
Butch/femme 30
Lesbian Line 40
Matador 40
Music 40
Malt Shovel 95
Women only events – stopping men coming in 40 95
Feminism – 60
Non-gay political groups – 60
Clause 28 – 70
Libraries and literature – 70 75
Coming out at work – 70 75
Homophobia – 75 96
Midland Zone – 75
Council’s attitudes – 75 80
Women’s venues in the 80s and 90s 90 95 96
Sheila’s Bar (Station Hotel, Kings Heath) 97
Pool 30 95
Peacock’s Disco, Imperial Hotel 100
Fox 110
Age mix 120
Loss of political drive 130
Birmingham Pride Community Trust 130 170
Birmingham Pride – 1997 140 145
Outpost 150
Henrietta’s Out 106
Slice of Lemon 106
Hare and Hounds disco107
Boot Women 160 165
Boot Women socials 165
Women’s Discos 165 106 100
Birmingham localities 170
Changing nature of socialising 170

10 Coming Out

Inge was born in 1961, and went to University in Birmingham from 79 – 83. She had her first lesbian kiss outside Gun Barrels pub (near Uni) on 17th June 1983. She was shocked, but it made sense of her previous life. She pondered for a year while coming to terms with her sexual identity. She didn’t tell anyone for a year as she was unsure of the response, but in 1984 first told a work colleague in the University Library who said ‘Oh fine’.

The second person she told was a friend she shared a house with, who knew a woman who knew some lesbians in a group ‘Women Oppose the Nuclear Threat’. This friend invited her to the meetings, then she was invited to a pub, and generally built up knowledge and a small social network. She lived in Selly Oak and spent a lot of time walking home from the Moseley area. She got invited to the ‘Old Mo’ (Old Moseley Arms), where lesbians used the back pool room. The next time she decided to go alone, but in the meantime, the lesbians had had a row with the landlady and no-one was there that night so she went home!

30 Lesbian fashions
Later Inge socialised at the ‘Old Mo’ in the pool room. “The women there were mostly radical feminist intellectual types. Dress code (in the mid-late 80s) was Doc Marten (boots), jeans, plain shirts with waistcoats, checked shirts and spiky hair. Some of the more radical had hair shaved up the sides or Mohicans. It had definitely moved away from butch/femme roles of 1960s, “We all looked butch; I’d occasionally wear a tie”.

40 Lesbian discos at the Matador

Inge started going to ‘The Matador’ (where new Bull Ring market is now). Lesbian Line fundraiser discos were held on the 2nd and 4th Friday and the third Saturday each month, during the period from around 1985 to 91/92. (Lesbian Line was then separate to the Switchboard). “We had to remember which nights it was on, there was no email then!” “The Matador is knocked down now, it was an old market traders’ pub, on two floors, quite rough, lesbians used to rent the top floor which had a dance floor, we had to run up the stairs as people shouted ‘Bloody lesbians’ and we always had to have women on the door to stop men coming in”. Fantastic dance music, Tina Turner, Motown, reggae. Pam, Ellen and Ju were the DJs – they had to lug their records up the stairs. The bar staff were alright, not gay. The bar was on the left, you could see the Rotunda out the door. They went on till after midnight. “I met lots of people and made lots of friends, it felt like I’d found home.”

60 Feminist movement and non gay politics

From the mid-80s Inge was involved in the underground feminist movement. At this time she was also involved in other (non lesbian and gay) left wing political groups including Anti-deportation campaigns, Troops out of Ireland, miners’ strikes. She only went to Greenham Common once but benefit events were held in Birmingham.

70 Working for the Library during and after Clause 28

In 1987 Inge began working for Birmingham Public Libraries, shortly before Clause 28 was passed. She was involved in campaigning against it, but felt she was living a dichotomy: “All this out and proud stuff on the streets of Balsall Heath, while at work, I was afraid that I would be asked to take gay literature off the shelves in the library if it was deemed to be promoting homosexuality”. Inge decided to come out to her line manager at work and requested that she would not have to do it; fortunately it didn’t come to that.

The Library wasn’t a good place to work in respect of being ‘out’. “It wasn’t said, but you knew it was ‘don‘t talk about it, don’t kick up a fuss’”. I was never abused or called names, it was generally fine. ‘Around 2002 a member of the general public wrote to protest that Central Library shouldn’t have Midland Zone as it was pornographic. She ‘completely outed herself’ at work as she responded to the complaint, but was given excellent support from management. “So it’s better now at work being totally out, and they’re slightly better at considering the needs of LGBs, though it’s not at the top of their agenda, and they always ask me what to do it anything comes up, though it’s not just my responsibility!”

80 Lesbians call for Council recognition

Between 1988 and 1992 there was an annual Women’s Festival in Birmingham, co-ordinated by the Council, during which various events were held; Inge recalls: “They had groups for younger women, older women, black women, mothers etc. and a group called ‘any others’ which all the lesbians went to. They gave us this little room in the basement. So we then called for the conference and the Council to recognise lesbians as voters, that we exist, and the contribution that countless lesbians have made to things such as work against violence against women, Rape Crisis Centres etc. This was received with stunned silence. One of the invited speakers at the conference was apparently told not to mention the word ‘lesbian’ by the conference organisers, but she did! The Council were shit scared of anything like that, they would really rather not have to deal with it. There was a lot of general homophobia, internalised homophobia. I still think, in a lot of ways, people just pay lip service to it because they’ve been told they’ve got to. It might have shifted a bit late 90s, the gay village was there by then.”

90 Lack of women’s venues in 1980s and early 90s

When Inge first came out in the mid 80s “There was hardly anything in town, (for women), apart from the Matador (Lesbian Line discos). I didn’t go to the Nightingale much. I first socialised at The Jug approx. 1992, but it was very hard to get into the Jug, they weren’t particularly fond of women; they didn’t like lefty women”.

95 The Malt Shovel

Inge also socialised in the back room of the Malt Shovel from around 1989- 1992, and spent her 30th birthday there in 1991. She remembers fights, and again, women had to stop men coming in. “I spent most of the late 80s and early 90s, and a lot of money, in the back room of the Malt Shovel, four nights a week for around four years. We used to have a Women’s Pool Team – I was bloody good at pool – but it was the only way to get talked to, to learn to play pool. They had a darts board, and people used to hold their birthdays there. Someone must have scouted round for somewhere that had a back room where they didn’t mind lesbians going in because we were all quite heavy drinkers! It was a room that didn’t get used otherwise.

96 Abuse
“The worst abuse I ever had was in the chip shop round the corner from the Malt Shovel, ‘Here are the fucking lesbians from the Malt Shovel, can we give you a shag darling….’.

97 Sheila’s Bar
There was also ‘Sheila’s Bar’ on a Tuesday Night, in the back room of the Station Pub in Kings Heath, approx ’88 to early 90s. The pub is still there. That stopped because the owner moved on. When I was a bit older and sobered up a bit, I socialised more at women’s houses.

100 Women’s benefit events in the late 80s and 90s

Inge said there were a number of benefit events some were mixed but mostly women. e.g. “We used to hire rooms above pubs, school halls etc. in the late 80s to mid 90s.g. a Stop Clause 28 at Moseley Dance Centre and Peacock’s disco, upstairs in the Imperial Hotel on Needless Alley.

105 Women’s discos
“In the later 90s we used to hire the Union Club on Pershore Road for monthly women’s discos, from around 1996/7. They were organised by a woman called Wash, who was in the Trade Union movement”.
“There were two short-lived organisations, ‘Henrietta’s Out’, named after a character in Thomas the Tank Engine and one called a ‘Slice of Lemon’ who had occasional discos above a pub called the Country Girl on Raddlebarn Road. They didn’t last long”.

“There have been intermittent attempts by women to do things for women, they come and go, and fade. That sort of thing has fizzled too and the scene has become more mixed. The Hare and Hounds also had a disco, it’s a history of finding a space, putting a disco on. Also because lesbians traditionally don’t earn as much, so there was never anyone who could put any money behind it, so there was no continuity”.

110 More choices in town by mid-90s

“By that time things were starting to happen in town (the gay village area). I remember going to the Fox in about 1996/7 before it had become a women’s’ bar, but it was vaguely turning into a gay bar, it was just on the edge. Angels might be there and the Gale (Nightingale) must have moved.

120 Age mix during the 80s and 90s

“When I was in my early twenties the women I was mixing with were in their twenties and thirties and a few in their forties and fifties. There were a lot of older lesbians around, in their forties, who are still around now but don’t particularly go out. There definitely wasn’t an age division, whereas now if you go in the Fox there are lots of younger women”.

130 Loss of political ‘umph’ and lack of social cohesion in the 2000s

“What I miss now is that sense of social cohesion. We were all interested in the same thing, we all felt that we were doing things for a purpose and being lesbian was political as well. Feminism was still really strong. There was a bit of divisiveness between people who had come into lesbianism through the feminist movement, and people who were lesbians, but were also feminists. I did come to feminism through realising I was a lesbian, not the other way round, but I was definitely there with all the causes we were fighting”.

“I find that lack of politics a bit dispiriting now, though it is there with Birmingham Pride Community Trust, but it doesn’t feel radical and dangerous any more. You get older, we were all dirt poor, I was on the dole from 85 -87, I spent my time being radical and getting drunk, but there were always things going on, to get involved with, meetings, marches. It seems to have lost its ‘umphhh’. There is the pink pound, things have got better”.

140 Organising the first Pride - 1997

“I got involved with the first Pride 1997, almost by accident. I was in between relationships so I had a lot of time on my hands. God knows how I found out about it, but there were plans for a Pride. The initial meeting was in a back room of a pub in Hockley. A group of women thought, ‘If it’s all blokes it’ll be rubbish’, so I went along, and they were electing people onto the first committee and the women decided we needed some women on and someone nominated me, there was a vote, it wasn’t split along men and women lines, and I ended up being voted on, though I hadn’t intended to! There were only three women, one was transgendered and died during the planning, the other, Polly Goodwin, is still around. Bill Gavan was voted to be the Chair.”

145 Trying to get a community focus into Pride

“It was not the most positive experience, there was lots of infighting. It became very clear that there was a difference between what most of the men wanted and the women wanted, lots of community and family stuff, sitting down things, women’s stalls etc. Something that didn’t revolve around lots of loud music and getting pissed, and some of the men wanted that, and it was very hard to get a sense of community, to think about it. We brought a black bloke in from the Nightingale, Trevor Sword was speaking up for the disabled, people in wheelchairs etc and without us it would have been a three day piss up. Bill Gavan is perhaps not the best person to run a committee, as I know he would admit himself, as he likes to make decisions himself, so some things went through without discussion…… but it was interesting to be involved in something that was big, and it all came off. There was coverage in the local papers. It raised £10K, there was always an idea that any money would be go to local groups, but I wasn’t involved after that”.

150 Outpost
The Outpost, was a midlands based magazine with a Birmingham focus published by two women, which ran until around March 98. It included articles such as the ‘Guide to gay gardening’.

160 Boot Women

Inge was one of the initiators of Boot Women, a walking group for lesbians. “I remember the discussions, upstairs at the Old Mo, years after the pub was no longer lesbian, we got together on a Tuesday, just a few friends and it just came out of an idea, hand out flyers, maybe some women would come. The first walk was March 93 and we’ve not missed a month since! I’d been to the Silver Web in Wolverhampton the night before, we got a coach from the Fox, (it used to be much better then, quieter, you could talk to people). I didn’t get back till 4 a.m. but I was there on the bridge of the MAC at 9:00a.m. That formula continues, meet on the bridge, or at the start of the walk. Then, it was the first Sunday, now it’s the second Sunday of the month”.
“I am so pleased it has carried on, some of the people who were there in the beginning are still there. I was involved for ten years, but am less involved now”.

“Out of Boot Women came socials, we used to have discos at the United Services Club, on Gough Street, barn dances, we used the Church Hall in Moseley, stuff at the University, around 2000; a couple of women, Helga and Lynda, organised lesbian ball room dancing from about ‘97 to 2000”, advertised primarily by word of mouth.

“A lot of women who were around are still around but not socially on the scene, though I still occasionally go to the Fox, and I am involved in Birmingham Pride Community Trust and Gay Birmingham Remembered. I have still got friends from that era, we visit each other’s houses, but not in town. People still live in Kings Heath, and Moseley is still the place to be, you bump into people at Sainsburys”.