You are not logged in. Signup to contribute or login! Not recieved your activation email? Click here to send it again.

Graham Allen

Graham Allen, born 1949


In this interview, Graham Allen talks about his involvement in Birmingham gay and lesbian community, in particular with political organisations in the 1970s such as Gay Liberation Front and The Campaign for Homosexual Equality. He also talks about his personal journey of being a gay male, he is currently a counsellor working with the gay community.


Early Life - 10 20
HIV early years - 160
Gay Liberation front - 50
GLF Marches - 120
GLF Dances - 100 110
GLF and the Commercial Scene - 130
National GLF Conference - 70
Gender Fucks - 70 80
Birmingham City Council homophobia - 90
CHE - 30 40
Attitudes to gay men 1970 - 60
About Graham - 170 150 140
Finding friends and partners through sport - 20
Gay men's relationship to the Women's Liberation Movement - 50, 70
Fashion and appearance - 80
Gays and employtment - 90
Homophobic abuse from the public - 120
Splits within the gay community - 130, 70
Classification of homosexuality as a disease - 130

10 Graham's early life

In the first part of the interview, he concentrates on a roughly chronological account of his life, starting from growing up in Edgbaston in a working class family with three older sisters. He decided against further education and when he finished secondary school he went on to work in telecommunications, which he didn't like. He then started working at a stockbrokers for the following eight years, which he enjoyed. In general, he describes most of that period as one when he led a rather isolated life.

20 First gay experience

Graham's first gay experiences were connected with the athletics team, where he was captain and had a relationship with somebody on that team. Even though he tried to have a girlfriend, he realized he wasn't heterosexual and wondered what his life would be from now on. At the age of 18, he met somebody who was involved with the music world, but didn't enjoy the "bitchy" atmosphere.

30 Campaign for Homosexual Equality

"I read a lot and started becoming interested in politics; this was the time of the Vietnam War and the Women's Liberation Movement. I remember reading about the first demonstration of gay men, it was presented as being very quirky. I got very excited by this. This was 1967."

'I used to go to Central Library a lot, and a man was handing out leaflets, the top of which said 'Are gay people oppressed?' and it was about a meeting by the CHE (Campaign for Homosexual Equality). The man was Richard Dyer. I kept this for about a week and I remember my parents had a phone in the bedroom; I waited one Sunday until they had gone out, and I nervously called the number. I ended up going to a meeting in Handsworth for CHE, a room full of gay men. And from there it took off and I met some very close friends that I still know. I really got into the politics of things then."

40 Splitting from CHE

"The split from CHE came about because it was considered conservative; we felt it was not tackling any of the other wider political issues of that time. It was felt it was probably a bit 'worthy'. And for us then it was for older people, but we were different and more radical. We were not seeking to change peoples attitudes and legislation we were demanding that people changed attitudes and legislation changed."

50 Gay Liberation Front

'Within 18 months of the first meeting I had left home and was living in a collective with three other gay men, we all put a percentage of our income together and shared the bills. It was not a squat or a commune. We were very active in forming the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) in Birmingham; we had contacts with the London GLF. We got involved in Troops Out of Ireland, although we were not accepted by a lot of people in that movement! We were involved in Socialist Workers (Party) and CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament). We saw a real connection with those sorts of things, I was also involved in discussions with the Women's Movement as I believe that politically you could not differentiate the role and oppression of women from that of gay men."

60 Attitudes to gay men in the 1970s

When talking about the general attitudes towards homosexuality in the 1970s, Graham says that gay people did not register in the vast majority of people's minds, and if they did, it was only as something awful, they were described as effeminate, difficult, emotionally unstable, freaks. Being gay was about being camp and about being like a woman.

70 GLF National Conference - 1972

The 1972 GLF Annual Conference was held at the chaplaincy of Birmingham University. 'We invited GLF to come to Birmingham; we wanted them here. A lot of London queens did not like having to come to Birmingham for the conference. It was really well attended, at least a hundred people. There were no lesbians present as the splits had happened by the time we got to the conference."

80 Gender Fucks

"I remember there was one guy whom used to come, and when the GLF conference was on in Birmingham in 1974, it was the time of 'Gender Fucks' so often we would dress very strangely, it was not ambiguous, it was not drag and did not pretend to be. It was nothing for us to wear a fur coat and headscarf, have our fingernails painted but have a beard and big men's army boots. There were a lot of us at the conference and we must have looked so weird, there was one guy who liked knitting and throughout the whole of the GLF conference he sat knitting"

90 Birmingham City Council attitudes to gays

"GLF had an employment group that used to look at gay people in employment, we used to write to major employers about their attitude to lesbians and gay men. We wrote to Birmingham City Council's Head of Personell whose reply was 'We are sure we do not employ any homosexuals and we would not knowingly do so' - that was only in the 1970s"

100 GLF Dances

"These were really Heath Robinson affairs, like taking in our own record players in and setting them up. They were in the Shakespeare Pub (Summer Row) in Birmingham. We used to hire an upstairs room. It was very mixed and it was not like the gay scene, it was there in its own right."

110 GLF Dance Digbeth Civic Hall - 1973

Graham recalls booking the Civic Hall in Digbeth for the first GLF dance in 1973. "I went to book the venue for the first dance; it was run by the City Council. There was a building called Bush House on Broad Street (now demolished), that was where Estates (Department) was and you had to go and book it. We had called up to find out what you had to do, you had to pay a deposit. I went to book it on my lunch hour and we were expecting a backlash and had decided to make a big media thing of it. I went into the office, I had two numbers of people standing by to organise a picket and phone up the Birmingham Post, I felt so nervous when I went into the office. I remember there was an old man behind the counter, I was only 21 and he seemed so old. I told him I wanted to book the Civic Hall and told him that it was for an advertised dance etc. He took me through the responsibilities and then said 'And what's the dance?' I said 'the Gay Liberation Front dance', he wrote it on the receipt and said 'OK'. He gave me the receipt and I thought, 'he has not said anything!'"

120 GLF Marches

"While on one of the GLF marches, I was carrying one end of a banner that said 'Gay People Support Troops Out of Ireland'. An Irish lady in the crowd attacked me with her umbrella, while I was walking down New Street, shouting that I was an abomination and was going to do to Hell! Fortunately for me my gay brothers and sisters present, about 15, all pointed to her and shouted very loudly 'EVIL, EVIL!' and she ran off! This was a technique we used if we were attacked in such an environment, to stand close together, and point at the person and shout together very loudly, one word. Except with the National Front, we used to run and get as close as we could to a policeman!"

"One demonstration that particularly springs to mind was the 'Gay Sunshine Event'. We bought several crates of oranges and held a demo in Cannon Hill Park where we gave an orange to everyone we met to celebrate the 'Goodness of Being Gay'."

130 The commercial gay scene and GLF

Graham Allen talks about his impression of the gay scene in the early 1970s. "If you had a political sense or a sense of wanting things to change, the gay scene was awful, it was very claustrophobic, very stereotypical about how homosexual men should be like in that time, it was very fearful, it was built around fear really. It had no sense of how self-oppression works; there was a lot of self-oppression on the gay scene then. It was very closeted, probably quite spiteful and quite negative in terms of the aspirations for quality of life of lesbians and gay men."

"We used to leaflet the gay scene about political things, we had tactics around this as we were often threatened (by other gay people)fd and we had been beaten up. We used to have to find a route through the pub, hand out the leaflets and get out the other way as the management used to hate us doing it. I was chased out of the Victoria, at the back of the Alex (Alexandra Theatre). The Nightingale was at Camp Hill at this point and Laurie Williams used to run it, he was very anti GLF, he thought we were rocking the boat, making an exhibition of ourselves. I went there one night smuggling in leaflets and handing them out surreptitiously. Someone told him and I was thrown out, literally onto the pavement."

"I also think gay men used to fear straight people's awareness of gay people, it was very closed off and closeted. Hence Polari (a secret language). Gay people did not register in the vast majority of people's lives, other than it being an illness, something awful or something grown men did with children, it was horrible. There were huge links with being gay and paedophilia. Or they were really effeminate, funny, entertaining, difficult, emotionally unstable freaks."

140 Working Life

In terms of his working life, Graham left the work at the stockbrokers and wasn't sure what to do, he went to Greece for a while, after coming back, he started working in an operating theatre, and then in an administrative job in Social Services. He also had two sexual relationships with women, in order to get rid of the labelling as 'a gay man', as he describes it, and then met his long-term partner, Jeff. They'd been together for 11 years, bought a house and were most concentrated on their relationship, work, friends and cats. Around the time that the relationship ended, Graham's father died. Graham's life changed as he then started working in education and got a job working at Birmingham Museums.

150 Relationships

When it comes to his personal life, Graham has mostly had a series of relationships, each lasting 2-3 years.

160 HIV early epidemic

Graham describes the period of the early AIDS epidemic as a period of maturation, "Incredible stories of friendship, companionship and support. That time made gay relationships much more serious, not just hedonistic, it was also about being responsible and caring, about love, which was always there but is often lost or downgraded in the commercial scene".

"The AIDS thing changed everything for people who lived through it, looking after friends who were dying, as that's what it meant then, if you got AIDS you were going to die. I had two close friends who were a couple, they lived a very different life to me, especially Gerrard who was a headmaster, he was an Irish Catholic man, he lived with Geoff who was a business man. They went on the London scene a lot and I kind of flirted with that, but was not interested in it. They became ill and Gerrard died although Geoff stayed well enough until the drugs came out. Gerrard was in a hospice up the road in Selly Park, we looked after him in his last weeks on a rota, we would go and be there so someone was always with him."

'In my road where I live in Selly Park, there used to be quite a gay presence here, the BBC over the road was one reason and there was a gay couple who lived opposite me, they both died of AIDS, a Dutch couple down the road, they both died too. Another man over the road on the other side he also died. Living through that sort of thing, you thought any gay sex you were going to die. Also there was fear of being tested as there was no treatment then so it being tested meant you could find out you were going to die, and the dying was not easy."

170 Final Thought

At the moment, Graham concentrates on his counselling job and his involvement in that role at Healthy Gay Life. As he says, his experience of being a counsellor has shown shim "how far we've come and how far we haven't", as the emotional process connected with being gay is largely the same.