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Betty Hagglund and Gill Coffin

Betty Hagglund born 1950 aged 57 and Gill Coffin 1944 aged 63

10 Betty’s background, moving to London.

B: “I’m Betty, I grew up in Chicago in the United States, I was the eldest of three children. Gill and I have six children between us. I came on holiday came to England in 1969 aged 19 and stayed, and came to Birmingham in 1974. I was exploring issues of sexuality and coming out in London then was much easier than coming out in Chicago (where) all there was (for gay people) were the bars. Firstly the drinking age was 21 and secondly, even if I borrowed false I.D. and went into the gay bars in Chicago, there was always the possibility of running into one of my mother’s friends or them seeing me leave. Therefore, London for me was somewhere where I could come out. London in 1969 was an exceedingly easy place to be; there was full employment. If you didn’t like the job or field of work you had on a Monday morning, you could change almost instantly. And I lived quite well on my take home wage of £13 10 shillings a week”.

10 Meeting women in London; exploring sexuality

B: “I spent several years trying to decide if I was lesbian or bisexual. I had been involved with women in short term relationships dating somebody for a couple of months and I had lived with one woman for 8 - 9 months. The main place I met women was The Gateways. The first woman I slept with in America was 10 years older than me and British and she had talked about The Gates, and so shortly after arriving in London, I remember going. I knew it was members only and therefore I wasn’t sure how you got in. I remember going and waiting outside until a couple of women came by and asking and them taking me downstairs. That night you could get in as a guest for 5 shillings; it was 2/6 for members and a pint was a shilling. I came as a guest several times until Smithy of Jean and Smithy said ‘Oh come on, you keep showing up here, it’s about time you stopped being a guest isn’t it? You’d better be a member.’ Kenric (Kensington and Richmond lesbian group) was just starting, so I went along to Kenrick, which was terribly earnest at the time. There was the photography club that got up at 5:00 am to go and take pictures of Hampstead Heath, and the Derby and Joan club for women who had been together over 10 years. I remember going to various social things then. There was also a club called The Paddington and the Robin Hood which was an after hours club which people sometimes went on to. The Robin Hood had a fairly substantial number of women who were prostitutes with their lesbian lovers, and also a certain number of male/female couples. So it was definitely a rougher and seedier club than The Gates.”

“Then I got married in 1973, and had a child in 1974. The marriage split up in 1975 I was about 25 and Sam was a year old and it was at that point that I came up to Birmingham”.

30 Gill’s background, marriage and coming out

Gill: I’m Gill. I’m 63. I was born in Ilford, then in Essex, now East London. I came to Birmingham in 1962 to go to university and I’ve been here for most of the years since. I had identified myself as lesbian when I was 18 but was completely unable to cope with this in what was a very different world, where homosexuality for men was still illegal (in 1962). I had no idea how I would ever find anybody else like me. And I subsequently moved away, got married and had children (Joseph and William). When I had left my husband (around 1974) and gone to Aberystwyth I was there for about 6 months with the children, staying with friends. And there was no gay scene in Aberystwyth other than the university Gay Soc which turned out to have 3 members - 2 chaps and a woman. Another woman was there occasionally, but it turned out she was there because she really fancied one of the chaps, so this was pretty useless (laughter). But I did manage to get hold of my first issues of what would have been Gay News at that point. So I was beginning to find the world that I hadn’t been able to find when I was 18. Then I came back to Birmingham with the children, aged 33, in early 1975”.

40 Moving to Birmingham and finding other lesbians

Gill and Betty both moved to Birmingham around the same time, around 1975.
G: “There was a lesbian group that met at The Wellington Pub on Bristol Street which I went to only once. It was run, quite dominated, by an older lesbian who lived up in Selly Oak; she was actually married to a gay man and this was a sort of front for them”.

50 A friendly crowd at the Greyhound

G: “Very fortunately, though he didn’t know it, my husband had decided he would have the children on Tuesday evenings, so that left me free to go to The Greyhound (laughter). It had just started, around 1975; and you (Betty) were going to The Greyhound at this time too.”
B: “I remember it as being fairly sort of a sociable sort of crowd. I remember having people’s birthday parties there - Caroline Hutton’s 21st we had there with a cake”.
G: “Initially, it certainly wasn’t the sort of place where if you turned up, nobody spoke to you. People did make people welcome if they were new or hadn’t seen them before. I mean, obviously, as it got bigger, I think that got more difficult for you to necessarily know who was new”.
B: “But it was very much the same people a lot of the time. You saw a lot of the same crowd over and over. I can remember an Australian woman. I don’t know how she must have found it, who taught Caroline and I a couple more songs, I remember sitting there and learning songs one night”.

60 The origins of the women’s night at The Greyhound 1975

G: “The Greyhound in Holloway Head must have just opened (around 1975) because I can remember Den and Sharon who’d founded it. Basically, they’d gone round all the pubs in Birmingham to find somewhere that would take a women only group, which would have been really difficult because everyone was really suspicious of women’s liberation anyway, especially men, but even women were. So, even if people had bought it that this was just a women’s group and not a lesbian group, I think they would have been edgy about it. So I think it must have been very brave of them, Dan and Sharon, to have gone round. The Greyhound, which was a cider house, so an odd sort of place, agreed to have us. They’d got two bars and we had one of them and basically they put a Private Party sign up on the door for Tuesday evenings. Every now and again men would try and come in, or other people would try and come in and you’d have to say ‘Sorry, this is a private party’.”
B: “The only night I remember any of them protesting about it was the time I was there with only one other woman ‘cos we’d got there early and some chap tried to come in and we said ‘Sorry, this is a private party’ and he sort of just stared at the two of us and sort of eventually said ‘I hope you have a very nice time’. (Laughter).
G: “Going to the loo was a pain; you had to walk through the other bar. I don’t remember having any hassle, but you certainly got looked at with some degree of hostility really.”
B: “Well, I have a feeling that straight women at that point may still not have worn trousers that often for going out so just the fact that we were trouser wearing women might still have looked odd in a city pub”.
G: “It was also the fact that by and large, women didn’t go into pubs on their own anyway.
at that time - they might go in as a couple”.
Eventually the nights at The Greyhound ceased.
G: “I don’t know if it was that we got chucked out of The Greyhound or that The Matador was proving itself to be gay-friendly and we were supporting it.” (by the late 1970s)

70 Lesbians identifying with the Women’s Liberation Movement

Gill and Betty said they were both identifying with the Women’s Liberation Movement in the mid 1970s.
B: “There was some sort of crossover then; for a while there used to be things like women’s discos, where you would get lesbians going but also straight feminists would go”.
B: “For a while in the early days of the Women’s Liberation Movement in Birmingham, there was a time when being woman-identified was the important thing (for lesbians). I was thinking about things like the recent Pink Picnic (July 2007), and of women mentioning gay men, and the feeling that now people are gay-identified as opposed to woman-identified, and they see their allies as being gay men rather than necessarily being straight feminists as we would have done, I think”.
G: “I think at that time it was the lesbian women who really kept the Women’s Liberation Movement running, therefore it was their energies far more than it was the straight women, though not entirely”.

80 Identity through dress

In the mid to late 1970s, there was more mixing between lesbian and heterosexual feminists:
G: “I used to notice the way in which the straight women would take a fair bit of care to dress in ways that would signify that they were straight, so although they were quite clearly Women’s Liberation Movement people, they might be wearing dungarees, but they would also wear dangly earrings or something that the lesbians necessarily wouldn’t”.
B: “In those days feminist lesbians didn’t wear dangly earrings. When I first came out at The Gates (Gateways in London) there was a fairly butch/femme scene”. (around 1969/70)
G: “And in Birmingham”.

90 Once was enough at The Grosvenor

B: “I think I went to The Grosvenor House Hotel once, I think once was enough”.
G: “I couldn’t really afford it actually. It was quite expensive and I was on a student grant at the time”.

100 The Lesbian and Gay Centre, Allison Street

The Lesbian and Gay Centre in Allison Street had been set up around the time that Gill and Betty moved to Birmingham.
G: “Somebody secured the premises on the corner of Bordesley Street and Allison Street and people put a lot of effort into getting them fit-for-purpose. I can remember going, when they’d just acquired the building, going with Ro and some other women, to decorate one of the rooms. Quite a few women got involved with painting and generally getting the place into a reasonable state”.
B: “Neil Matthews and Pete Kirby were involved with the early bits”.
B: “When I walk by that building, I still feel that it’s ours and that someone is only temporarily living in it and we ought to have it back. I can remember the building really well. You came in and turned right to get in. There was a lobby with a payphone and a bulletin board, stairs going up, loos on a couple of floors, and meeting rooms, then also there were rooms occupied by Switchboard and Friend. There was the disco area down in the basement, the ground floor had a coffee bar where you got your coffee and things. Another room where you sat, generally it was a sort of social area. There were a number of groups that used that room: the transvestites, who all seemed to wear crimpolene, came one night a week; and I think MCC used that room one night a week. Gay Outdoor Club may have met there; all sorts of groups met there”.
G: “I remember going to a lesbian feminist discussion group there for a period”.
G: “We used to have Saturday night mixed discos which were in the basement. And I used to go with the children who were quite little, about seven and nine, for the first hour or so and then I’d take them home because it would have been too noisy, but also it would have been too late. But we would turn up at the beginning when it was a bit more relaxed and then. One year, I and the children and my then partner went for Christmas dinner at the centre, which was great. The youngish gay men cooked all the food. And there was a really big group of us having Christmas dinner together. It was quite fun”.
B: There was a group of gay teenage men who were heavily into nail polish and babysitting, the rest of us referred to them as ‘the fluffies’. They were very helpful in running crèches if I wanted to go off to a Switchboard meeting - these rather fluffy teenagers would happily play with Sam, (who was about 3 or 4) and do things with him and giggle. Oh those lads could giggle!. I was on Switchboard and a number of lesbians were”.
B: “It was very dark (to get to the Gay Centre), if you went up Allison Street by the Police Station, I remember a lot of standing outside the Police Station for Switchboard, to meet people because women in particular, but gay men as well, who had never been before, were worried about that walk up Allison Street in the dark”.

110 Lesbian attitudes to children / boy children

B: “In Birmingham I don’t think boy children was an issue, like in London. I remember noticing when I moved up from London to Birmingham that in London there were things like the Women’s Arts Alliance which wouldn’t even allow newborn boys in because they said it changed the atmosphere. Anyway, there were divisions in the London lesbian community that existed rather less in Birmingham, purely because of numbers, I think. Because there was the Old Mo, there weren’t enough of us to allow political differences to stop you from playing pool with somebody or whatever. Lesbians generally were not keen on lesbians with children at that point. There was a fair amount of hostility I think”.
G: “There weren’t very many lesbians with children, and I was also a lot older than a lot of the people anyway, just from being in my early thirties, I was old”.
B: I was in my twenties. We used the big room in Barbie’s old flat to meet in for a group of lesbians with children. But some of the women were so hostile to their own children, women who had come out of difficult marriages, who were very much saying ‘I no longer wish to know my children, that is part of a different life’. And I just remember being really uncomfortable with that. But at the Gay Centre I remember children being quite acceptable”.

120 The demise of the first Gay Centre

G: “The neighbours complained that there was too much noise (at the Gay Centre), and I think the city council eventually decided, (I don’t even know if we had planning permission for the use that was happening in the building) it could no longer be run in the way that it had been run in those premises. Efforts were made to keep the bass down and all that sort of thing, but obviously the neighbours in the little residential bit along Bordesley Street, a small group of about half a dozen houses, they’re still there, weren’t happy with the noise”.

130 Setting up the second Lesbian and Gay Community Centre, Aston

G: “A lot of work went into finding somewhere else, and some premises on Corporation Street, up near Aston University were found the other side of Lancaster Circus, the building is still there. The building was never as nice somehow, I never felt as happy in it”.
B: “No, I didn’t, and I also remember it being difficult to get to. There were also some quite major divisions in the management committee over the issue of licensing. We weren’t licensed at Bordesley Street (first Gay Centre) and many of us were happy with that, there were some people however, who wanted the Lancaster Circus place to be licensed”.
G: “I wasn’t as closely involved by then; I did go there, and Deirdre Nash who was on the committee, was a close friend of ours, so I picked up quite a lot of what was going on, but somehow it never really got going, and I think it must have ended up not being financially viable.”
B: “There were clashes around that time between Deirdre and I think, Neil Matthews and Pete Kirby. There were some real difficulties, and I think gender may have come into it.”
G: “Probably, Deirdre was fairly hostile to men so it wouldn’t have helped.”

140 The Women’s Centre (mid 1970s)

G: “We were also marginally involved in the Women’s Liberation Movement, who had rented a house on Brighton Road and it was used as a Women’s Liberation Centre until the Council got wind that this house was being used as something that it shouldn’t be.”
B: “I remember going there quite often for various things. The Women’s Liberation Conference that was held in Birmingham (1978) was organised from there, I went to one of the planning meetings.”

150 Consciousness raising groups

B: “I was in a mixed lesbian and straight feminist consciousness raising group from about the time I came to Birmingham (1974).”

160 Gay people involved with the Peace Centre

B: “I also had links with the Peace Centre; there were a large number of gay people involved with the Peace Centre. The Peace Centre sold Oz, Gay News, including the controversial copy of Gay News that had the poem that Mary Whitehouse took against and of course, then Gay Times. It was one of the only places you could get it because Smiths wouldn’t carry that sort of thing then. The Peace Centre was closeted gay men who would come in with their money clutched in their hands, walk around the shop looking at other things until everyone was gone, then rush over, grab a copy, shove the money at us, shove it under their arm and then run out the door.”

170 Gay Switchboard

B: “I was on Switchboard; Switchboard had some women on, more men, including Helen Rose, Anna, Anne Bromwich, and a couple of others; we managed to keep West Midlands Switchboard fairly balanced for a while and we used to quite often have a woman and a man on in the evenings, that was the ideal”.

B: “We used to regularly put stickers up for Switchboard; some of us used to walk home quite often after the discos, ‘cos I don’t think there was much in the way of night buses, or they were expensive. I can remember walking home with other Switchboard operators putting Switchboard stickers on all the lamp posts. But the better one was Central Library, because of course, at that point, there weren’t very many books on gay subjects, and therefore people who were just coming out generally went to the medical books and looked up homosexuality, and we used to go fortnightly to central Library. One of us would stand guard, and the other would take a bunch of Switchboard leaflets, go to the medical section, look up in every book homosexuality, put a Switchboard leaflet in and put the book on the shelf. And they were almost always gone a fortnight later when we went back. And we never got caught.”
G: “I can remember putting stickers on the back of the loo doors in the Central Library, but I don’t remember what they were stickers for, to be quite honest. They were either lesbian and gay or women’s stuff, Rape Crisis.”

180 The Old Mo

G: “The Old Moseley Arms onTindal Street. The room we used was dominated by the pool table, you were round the edge of the pool players. There were lock ins.”

190 Women’s Writing Group

B: “There was a women’s writing group with some lesbians in it, we met at Tindal Street School. We had our book launch at the Old Mo, when we brought out a book of poetry and writings called ‘Don’t Come Looking Here’ ; then there was a second one. Myra Connell, who wasn’t out then, but who came out later, co-ordinated it. Lynn Jenkinson was very involved, I was involved. I can’t remember who else.”

200 Limitations of motherhood

G: “I was less involved in other stuff. Partly because I’d got two children and one of them had disabilities and I was also firstly studying and then working. I had babysitting issues and a hostile husband who wasn’t going to approve of me going out too much. Betty’d got one (child) at that time.”
B: “Whereas I was only working some of the time, I didn’t have the hostile husband and I did have quite a lot of babysitting support from a gay male couple I knew from the gay centre, Pete in particular, but Neill as well were really were uncles to the kids for many years.”

210 Getting together

G: “We’d known each other since we first met at a lesbian conference in Bristol in 1975, I went there from Aberystwyth.” (Where she was living at that time).
B: “And that is the conference of which my abiding memory is that on Friday night when we arrived, there were jam sandwiches for tea, and that was fine. And then on Saturday morning, there were jam sandwiches for breakfast and it became clear as the conference went on, that every meal was going to consist of nothing but piles of jam sandwiches.” (laughter)
G: “I remember meeting you, with Sam in tow, round the jam sandwich table and we had a brief conversation. Later, when I turned up in Birmingham and I was looking to buy a house I thought it might be useful to have somebody else living in it to help pay the bills and you were one of the people who came to see me as interested. And then we obviously encountered each other after that, but both of us got, about that time, into other relationships. I was with Anne for eleven years, and you were with Barbie for thirteen. After those relationships broke down, we got together, although there was a gap, I don’t remember what year it was.”
B: “Although, because they were open relationships, we were actually involved with each other at intervals while in those relationships as well, and spending time with each other.”
G: “Because we used to take the children on holiday together, and Betty lived just down this road, because I told her there were two houses for sale on our road. I’d been living in Balsall Heath and I moved here in ‘83 and you moved in in ’85.”

B:” We had a celebration of our partnership at our Quaker meeting in 2005. We had trouble when we had our celebration, trying to remember quite how long we’ve been together. We had to keep asking the kids.”
Gill and Betty have six children between them. Gill had two sons by her former husband. Betty had a son, Sam, then fostered Wayne  for a few months . She fostered, and subsequently adopted Rajesh who came as a nine year old in 1983. She took Veena, aged  7  and Harish 9 , blood siblings, in 1985 , and soon afterwards she moved into the same road as Gill. Betty and Gill had taken their children swimming, camping and on holiday together for a number of years before they ‘officially’ got together as a couple. 
G: “It’s been a long time. Veena was 14, I think it was February ’91.”

220 Being Quakers

Gill and Betty were both Quakers since they were in their late teens, long before they got together.

G: “I joined the Quakers because my parents were both pacifists, my father was a conscientious objector but they were Church of England and I found the Church of England attitude on pacifism and war to be quite un-Christian really so was looking for something else and so ended up with Quakers who were a very visible presence on all these CND marches I used to go on as a teenager and young adult, so that’s how I came to it, it wasn’t anything to do with sexuality at that time. I drifted away for a few years but came back to them.”
B: “I’d been involved with Quakers a little bit in the States because that was the time of the Vietnam war and I had been involved in the conscientious objection side of things. When I first came to London, I started to attend meetings in ’69.”

B: “In recent years there have been points where I have thought that there would be almost no way of going to worship anywhere else because there is almost nowhere else where my lesbianism would be as comfortably accepted. The book ‘Towards a Quaker view of sex’), (published in 1963) was quite positive for the time. It hit me, when I was 18, that it was towards ‘a’ Quaker view of sex, it didn’t say this was ‘the’ view and for me coming out of a standard Protestant church to suddenly discover a religious body which basically said ‘Several people have got together and this is the view that we have’ without being prescriptive.”
G: “In a guarded sort of way, it wasn’t sort of, this is a terrible sin. It still saw homosexuality as being a bit disordered but it was much more accepting. But it dealt with various other issues like sex before marriage and living together and so on and it was pioneering for its time in its non-judgementalist way; and that started to change the atmosphere.”

230 Quaker Lesbian and Gay Fellowship

Gill and Betty are both Quakers.
B: “Quakers, as a religious body, are accepting of lesbian and gay couples, and the Lesbian and Gay Fellowship is what is known as a listed group so that there are various small interest groups that nonetheless have official recognition, (e.g. Quaker Green Concerns, Quaker Socialist Society, the Friends Fellowship of Healing and the Lesbian and Gay Fellowship). So it’s seen as being a significant and accepted group within the mainstream. That goes back to the ‘70’s, I think ’74. We had the 25th (anniversary) a few years ago.”
G: “It was then called the Homosexual Friends Fellowship, and was partly founded by a Birmingham Quaker, Michael Hutchinson, who went to Hall Green meeting which we both go to now, although I didn’t then, I went to one of the others.”
B: “Michael has since risen to become somewhat significant within the Society of Friends. Which is interesting in terms of Quakers, that having been the visible person who pushed lesbian and gay issues forward, certainly did not stop him from taking a position of management, power.”
G: “It later changed its name to the Quaker Lesbian and Gay Fellowship. It’s a national organisation, it has about 200 members, with two meetings a year usually. One will be a day meeting, the other will be a weekend gathering, and about a quarter of the membership comes to either one or both of them. It publishes a magazine four times a year. I used to be its editor, but not now; Betty is on the committee. There’s a Midlands branch, Midlands QLGF which has its own subscription and not everyone who is in it is actually a member of the national organisation. We don’t usually go to its meetings, haven’t done so for some years. But there is a big overlap with it and Moveable Feast which is an older lesbians group. Where about two thirds of the people are also in Midlands QLGF.”
B: Midlands is quite wide and one of the reasons we don’t go is because things are sometimes happening in Kidderminster or somewhere quite a long way away and it’s too far for us at the minute. So our involvement really is much more national and has been for a number of years
G: The membership for QLGF is at the moment I think 43 %, 57% women men so it’s not quite equal but almost there is also a Quaker lesbian group which is separate from the QLGF which organises sleeping on meeting house floor type weekends. I’m too old to sleep on floors so we don’t go.”
G: “That acceptance is not absolutely universal (amongst Quakers). Betty had a problem with somebody who came out with some homophobic remarks and certainly the Quaker Lesbian and Gay Fellowship nationally has had some problems with particular people but by and large those people don’t get any support.”
B: “It’s important to say is that this is British Friends but not everybody in the world wide community of Quakers takes the same position and I am not sure where the Nigerian Quakers are for instance on this, or certain American Meetings although others are fine.”

240 Quaker Commitment Ceremony

G: “In the mid ‘90’s when we (their Quaker meeting) had some discussions around sexuality at a discussion group, and they were really very keen that Betty and I should have a proper commitment ceremony…”
B: “…and we didn’t want one at that point.”
G: “Betty’s kids were too young. They weren’t able to handle it, it was too embarrassing for them. They’re absolutely fine now, they treat us as a couple. We had this commitment ceremony in 2005, before civil partnerships. We haven’t done our civil partnership for various complications like not being able to find Betty’s divorce papers, but the kids refer to it as, “I remember at your wedding”.
B: “We brought it up at the business meeting a few months before, about March or April, and said we’d like to do this and there was such enthusiasm and on the day everybody was there, somebody had made us a book for everybody to sign, somebody did masses of catering, somebody did all the washing up, people came to put up the Marquee, people came to arrange the chairs, somebody bought flowers from their gardens.”
G: “Yes, things that we hadn’t even expected like bringing flowers, all sorts of things.”
B: “Pam brought 6 little bouquets so we felt absolutely cherished didn’t we?”
B:” And there’s nobody in a meeting which I can think of who’s anything other than fine.”

250 Living in a multi-racial area

Gill and Betty live in Sparkhill, a predominantly Muslim area.

G: “Initially we were living in two houses, for a time I moved into Betty’s because her children were quite young and then when we decided that the children really should fend for themselves and since they weren’t moving out we moved in here together.”
G: “We haven’t really experienced any problems with living in this road. This bit of Sparkhill is predominantly Pakistani Muslim, but not entirely and we have got people in this street from many different parts of the world. The minuses are things like rubbish and noise. The pluses are very friendly neighbours; people whose commitment is really to their families and not necessarily to conspicuous consumption.”
B: “It’s quite a safe neighbourhood. There’s people out on the streets day and night for legitimate reasons. Partly because we have a lot of shift and restaurant workers but partly because a number of families on the road and in the area have more than one house within their extended family, so people wandering up and down the road with casserole dishes and children and video tapes is quite normal. So there are people out on foot quite a lot as opposed to a lot of whiter areas of Birmingham where people come out, get into their car and go away.”
G: “Round here you couldn’t walk along the street without meeting people all the time and people are generally very friendly and supportive. The fact that we were then living between two houses was quite normal for this street and there are shops open late.”
G: “In many ways we feel comfortable here most of the time but we have to be discrete about our sexuality. I don’t know which neighbours know and which don’t.”
B: “Most of my women neighbours don’t speak much English. The invisibility that older women have is an advantage and especially older women with children and so there may be neighbours who are just assuming that it is two divorced women. In fact I have had neighbours say things like ‘It is good for friends to live together, it is not good for women to live on their own’.”
B: “Certainly some of the white neighbours know, a rather bluff sort of man did comment ‘Your kids have turned out rather well, surprising really’, but that may have also been about them being adopted as older kids.”
G: “The chap who made that little speech to me once about there being many different ways to live and not being into judging was probably significant.”

260 Women’s Music

B: “I have this memory of conferences and things in other bits of the country ending with people singing. Always ‘Bridget O’Reilly’ among others which was the anti Catholic Church contraception song. I have a copy of the 1977 Women’s Liberation Conference Songbook, which I treat like gold because that has stacks of words to things like Bridget O’Reilly.”
B: “I remember going to a Chris Williamson concert. And a whole bunch of the Holloway crowd of lesbians went to hear Dory Previn. We were on the right hand side of the upstairs balcony and I remember being embarrassed because a woman who went off to Florida to follow tennis players about, shouted things at her. We all went to hear Joan Armatrading at some point.”
G: “There were other concerts at the Town Hall I remember going to.”

270 Ruby Fruit

B: “Ruby Fruit came about because some of us had been to Frankie Armstrong’s voice workshops; Caroline Hutton took me along, so there was already this interest in women’s music, and all those Bulgarian harmony things, it grew out of that. I was at that point sharing a house with Caroline and several other people. We performed at the Gay Centre and other places. We actually performed at Mountain Moving Coffee House in Chicago, we went to Chicago and stayed with my family.”
B: “I can remember three songs specifically written by Ruby Fruit: the ‘Birmingham Lesbian Song’, the Kerb Crawling Song', and our own version of ‘Women’s Army’. Ruby Fruit consisted of Caroline Hutton, Lorna Eady and myself. We performed at the Gay Centre, before that disastrous Women’s Liberation Conference in Birmingham, because Lorna pretty much left feminism and lesbianism after that conference. There were a number of women it just drove out and away completely.”
B: “We were all living in Balsall Heath at the time which may have been relevant because this song was all about kerb crawlers and it was
“Underneath a street light waiting for a bus,
Along comes a creepy guy to have a look at us.
Come for a ride in my great big car, my place aint far,
You really are desperate for a man, love, so and try your luck.
I told him very nicely just where he ought to go,
but he kept on persisting, he would not take a no.
I’ve got your number, you filthy swine, why don’t you climb back to the slime.
In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m happy on my own”.
That one never got performed because we never came up with a good third verse. We wrote words for the Women’s Army which was the one where the words go “Oh sisters don’t you weep, don’t you mourn. Oh sisters don’t you weep, don’t you mourn. The Women’s Army is marching. Oh sisters don’t you weep.” And we wrote a verse for each of the six demands of the Women’s Liberation movement. There must have been one on equal pay and I don’t remember what it was, and I don’t remember the equal opportunities one, there was then one that said “Contraception must be free so we’ll only be pregnant when we want to be. The Women’s Army is marching, oh sister don’t you weep. Abortion on demand must also be free. No more unwanted pregnancies. Twenty four hour nursery care. While you work, leave your children there”. I don’t remember what we did for the sexuality one. Caroline probably does.”

280 Women’s Swing Band

B: “In the 80s there was the Women's Swing Band which was about thirteen or fourteen women, which wasn’t exclusively lesbian. I have memories of humping the speakers up those wretched stairs at the Mermaid on Stratford Road; it was grim. Barbie was in it, that was around the time Barbie got involved with Ro, because I can remember Ro coming to rehearsals. She didn’t play anything. There was that odd straight woman who giggled a lot and who was usually stoned, from Handsworth, called Marion. We had all sorts of instruments and played big band, Glenn Miller, that sort of thing.”

290 The last Women’s Liberation Conference 1978

B: “Women’s Liberation Conferences at that point were annual conferences, the last one, was in Birmingham in 1978, at a school in Ladywood. Different women’s and lesbian groups took responsibility for certain things. The Socialist Feminists were terribly organised and did vast amounts of the catering because they could be relied upon. Anarcho-Feminists would organise things in a rather vaguer manner. Two things, however, were really awful, the plenary and the disco. At the end of the evening, some of the women refused to stop dancing and refused to leave and that put those of us who were organising in a very difficult position. a) We were paying for the premises and we had an agreement with the caretaker; the caretaker wanted to go home, we wanted to go home having been there since some unreasonable hour that morning and it really did feel like sisters turning on us. There were lots of accusations about us being fascists, trying to stop people having fun. These weren’t Birmingham women, just visitors to the conference. It was really hard to deal with. At the plenary there were a lot of women shouting at each other and shouting each other down. It was chaotic and it was hostile.”
G: “I had come from a Labour Party background where you had procedures for running meetings, you had a chair, a secretary, you took it in turns to speak, and you couldn’t speak in a debate more than once. Women were saying ‘We want to reject this, this is patriarchal, this is constraining, this gives too much power to the people on the committee’. I could see where this came from, but with no structure whatsoever, you had absolute chaos. People weren’t listening to each other. One of the things about being a Quaker is that we listen a lot, and this was difficult to take.”
B: “There was a sense from both that and the disco episode of just women disrespecting other women. It really did virtually end Women’s Liberation in Birmingham. I felt so bruised and I certainly knew women who said ‘If that’s what this is about, it’s not for me’. And there were the women who had defined themselves as lesbian returning to the straight world.”
G: “There were women who I identified as being ‘political lesbians’, who thought that if you were going to be ‘women identified’ you had to be lesbian, which isn’t necessarily the case.”
B: “It was awful and it took a while for people to lick their wounds after that. There was also the feeling that women in Birmingham had put a vast amount of effort into the organising and who were then shat upon. The disagreements were from women from outside of Birmingham and the women who felt most hurt by it were the women from Birmingham who had done all the organising. Birmingham women felt attacked. And that was the last major conference.”

300 Activists of the 70s and 80s

B: “In the ‘70’s, the Gay Centre started, but also the Peace Centre, and GLF.
B: ”Around that time a mixture of gay and lesbian people including Pete Kirby and Helen Rose put on a musical starting with the song “There’s no business like Che business” which was getting at the Campaign for Homosexual Equality.”
B: “I think Pete Kirby wrote Zap, a Birmingham Gay and Lesbian newsletter or magazine that came out but it wasn’t around for very long.”
G: People just changed hats, people like Ann, Barbara Carter, Ro Clayton, Pete Kirby, Neill Matthews and later Lyn David Thomas, were all very involved in organizing things. Eric Presland was involved in things in the earlier days, then went down to London. Ann I think went down to London to work, it may even have been for Stonewall by the time she went down to London.”

310 London GLF 1971

B: “I was involved with Gay Liberation Front in London, back in the early days when the lesbians were expected to make the tea. Everything in those early days seemed to be in pink with yellow writing and therefore totally unreadable.”

320 The 1980s

B ‘Henrietta’s Out’ (after Henrietta the Engine in Thomas the Tank Engine) had a logo with this train on it that somebody created. Catherine M was involved, the moving light in that was Liz Davidge.”
G: “This was back around the same time as we used to have community discos at Tindal Street, which weren’t specifically lesbian, but it was very much a Balsall Heath thing ‘cos Liz Davidge was with Lynne then and they were living on Tindal Street. In those days it was possible to get funding from the City Council to have events like International Women’s Day and things, and I think they got funding for a couple of years to run lesbian social events. And there were conferences, I remember something at St Pauls, where there were all sorts of different groups.”
B: “There were all sorts of things; a workshop on erotic writing, a workshop on lesbians with a disability which ended up in the sports hut.”
B: “I got involved to some extent with Unison’s lesbian and gay thing, because they sent me off to some weekend conference in Scotland on lesbian and gay issues.”

330 Birmingham City Council lesbian and gay staff support group

G: “I recall going to a couple of meetings of Birmingham City Council Lesbian and Gay Staff Support Group in the 80s or early 90s (pre 1995), in the basement of Louisa Ryland House. It felt a bit marginalised because it met after work and people were quite anxious about being in the meetings and it really struggled.”

340 Staffordshire County Council Lesbian and Gay Staff Support Group

G: “I then went to work for Staffordshire County Council in ’95. Very much to everyone’s surprise, Staffordshire Police had quite a thriving lesbian and gay group and it was after talking to them I set up Staffordshire County Council’s Lesbian and Gay Staff Support Group in 2003. I went through all the proper channels and set it up as a recognised group that could meet in County Council time. I gained the support of my director because I worked in social care and health, and I organised an informal group that met at lunch times initially, just from within our directorate so that I knew I’d got people that were interested and then I had to go and meet all of the deputy directors to get permission to do this. They were actually quite supportive and so I then launched this group which outed me to about ten thousand people all at once, and more later when my picture appeared in the County Council staff magazine. I then went on and ran it until I retired in July of this year, 2007. It had about sixty members which out of a workforce including teachers, of 30 000, isn’t that many, but despite our numbers we were quite influential. Always our purpose was to not just be a support group but also to influence County Council policy and practice, so we had our input into things like community safety and the police. We actually had an open event during the County Council’s equality month one year, which quite a few people came to, including people from other organisations. I didn’t have enough time to run as good a group as I would have liked, but we nevertheless met pretty well every month.”

350 Staffordshire County Council Registrars

G: “When they were introducing the Civil Partnership Bill (2005) the registration service came to talk to us about how they should advertise, what sort of leaflets they should prepare and so on. We had a number of meetings with them. The printers had done some design that we thought wasn’t going to be distinctively gay enough and we gave them some advice and they actually came up with some really nice stuff. Then I got rung up one day at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. They were training the registrars how to do civil partnerships and the chap who was going to come and talk to them about terminology and the reception of the gay community to the civil partnership act had cried off sick. ‘Would I come tomorrow?’. Well, I did and actually it was really interesting because most of the group, and about half of them were there, were really quite enthusiastic about civil partnerships and some of them were quite anxious. I talked to them about the reception that civil partnerships had had in the gay community and that some people wanted nothing whatsoever to do with it. They saw marriage as something that was archaic and then other people were absolutely delighted. Some people would be anxious about being identified because they’d been together for many, many years, pre-Wolfenden. There was a concern that words that we used amongst ourselves may not be appropriate for them to use. Then one of them said ‘I was a bit worried that a gay celebration might be a bit err, flamboyant’ and one of the others said ‘Oh, come off it. There can’t be anything more extreme than a Goth wedding.’ And they all burst out laughing. Other anxieties included all the pictures of couples in their wedding suites, and I said, ‘Well, just add some others, you know, as soon as you can, so it’s not all one way. Don’t take them down!’ Because they’d been hearing things like ‘You’re going to have to take down all of these sorts of pictures because it will make it unwelcoming’ and things like that. Nearly all of the wedding venues in Staffordshire had been quite happy to accept gay weddings. And so they should be, because the money’s there. Apparently, they liked what I did and so I got invited to do the next group and they were slightly less welcoming. They were more hesitant, but it still went well. And then the following year, two friends of ours were doing their civil partnership and they’d done a bit of going around to decide where to go and get hitched, and they said they got the best reception in Staffordshire, so they went there. I was quite pleased by that. But that was the kind of thing that came out of the group. We got consulted on things as well as, from time to time, inviting people to come and explain themselves. We invited the county’s occupational health physician to come and talk to us, because we wanted to know how he was going to serve our community and he clearly hadn’t got a clue. People saw us as more powerful in fact than we really were, but we did have quite a lot of influence.”

The photo was taken on 25 June 2005, at Hall Green Quaker Meeting House, following a Meeting for Worship held by their Quaker Meeting to celebrate Gill and Betty’s commitment to each other, with about 80 friends and family attending. (Pre-civil partnership).