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Garry Jones

Garry Jones, born 1960


Garry Jones is a gay man who socialised on Birmingham's gay scene in the early 1980s. In this interview he talks about coming out, the scene and feelings of anger about the inequalities experienced by gay people at this time. He talks about the impact of HIV on the gay scene and the attitudes of straight people at the time. Later he discusses his involvement with Birmingham Pride and his pivotal role in the annual Mardi Gras parade.


TinTins - 10
The Jester - 10
Nightingale Thorp St - 10, 20, 30, 50
Nightingale Kent St - 60
Sundissential - 110
Coming Out - 20, 30
Homophobia within gay scene/ attitudes to gender - 30
Age of Consent in the 1980's - 30, 40
Gay partnerships/civil partnerships - 80 90
Legal position pre civil partnerships - 90
Straight people at gay clubs - 65 70
Societal homophobia and tolerance - 80
HIV and the impact on the gay community - 100
Fashion on the scene - 110
Fierce (festival) - 110
Politics within the scene/Pride committee - 125
Involvement within the Pride workshops - 110 120 130
Roles for young people: Pride workshops - 130
Drag artists 120
Pride Parades 110 120 130

10 Travelling to Birmingham

In the late seventies/early eighties Garry socialised in Birmingham , travelling in from Kettering. He socialised at The Jester and the Nightingale (Thorp St) as well as at Tin-Tins on Queensway.

20 Coming out : A closeted scene

Garry first came out in the Nightingale. It was his first gay bar/club and he saw the act of going there as his coming out. "You have to come out to yourself before you come out to other people and in those days it wasn't as free to be gay. It wasn't as open. There were no big windows in pubs and clubs. They were either blackened out or behind closed doors.The front door had a little hatch at eye level and you rang the bell and somebody looked through that and you were either let in or you weren't."

30 Getting into the Nightingale

"They asked you questions to make sure you knew it was a gay bar. They were sussing you out because there weren't many places then". The Nightingale then was men only. Lesbians were not allowed in and Garry had friends who were refused entry. There were no women staff.."But once you got in there, it wasn't that scary. I mean I can remember walking up and down the street quite a few times before I actually went in there - I was having cold sweats and being nervous about it. That was about me being more nervous than the place and taking that first big step. I was 18-19 (1978/9) at the time and below the legal age of consent and that had an impact."

40 Under the age of consent

Garry's first experience of a kiss was at 17, "quite late" because where he lived was a small, provincial town. "If you did fancy someone or happened to fall in love with them or a one night stand or whatever, you were under the age of consent. That played on my mind." He felt angry about the age of consent: "Why should I have to wait four years? But that makes it more exciting in a sense 'cos you're not supposed to be doing it."

50 The Nightingale (Thorp Street)

He talked about the Hi-Energy music at the Nightingale which was a real enlightenment. There was a thrill in "just seeing people like yourself. They'd talk to you. It wasn't all about ... well, a lot of it was obviously .... copping off .... But you made good friends. People actually talked to you, looked out for you. I can remember on a few occasions when people had been gay-bashed... and if you were leaving a little bit drunk, they would check on you, get a taxi, check that you were safe to get home."

60 The Nightingale (Kent Street)

Garry worked at the new Nightingale when he came to Birmingham as a mature student. He worked there not for the money but to make friends. (From 1994 onwards the Nightingale was in its current premises in Kent Street). Women were allowed in at this time, but there was only one female bar staff at this time. Staff had to be gay, which is not the case now, although there were no means of proof.

65 He felt that visiting the club made him "shock-proof" about people and in relation to what is "normal". His straight relations were more shocked by what they saw when they went to the club and also by the openly sexual nature of the discussion which was often very frank. Garry felt that this was because this was the only space where gay people could be frank and open because they had to hide so much in the rest of their lives and be more self-protective.

70 Straight and gay mix over the years

Garry talked about conflict caused by the presence of straight people around the clubs and Pride but it doesn't bother him as he feels he can't discriminate against people and complain about discrimination against gay people. He has visited the Nightingale and other clubs for over 30 years and has seen a difference in attitudes. In the seventies and early eighties, the clientele was a mix of different ages and genders to include very feminine and very masculine people, and some transsexuals. He felt that "Everyone could be who they were".

80 Tolerance or lack of it

Garry feels strongly about what he called misconceptions over equality, citing as an example "being called civil partnerships rather than allowing it to be called marriage". He feels that essentially gay people are still "shut up" with considerations of religious views still having a major grip on government actions.

"If there was one word I could obliterate, it would be 'tolerate'. Why should someone 'tolerate' me? What do I do that is so offensive that I have to be 'tolerated'?"
He talked about the concept of ghettoisation: "We're going through this false sense of security, everything all nice and hunky dory but it isn't. People are still being beaten up and murdered for being gay."

90 Gay Partnerships not recognised in the 1990s

Garry feels that he has lived through "interesting times" as far as gay politics are concerned. He feels particularly strongly about an incident in the nineties when he had been with his partner for 8 years and had to go for surgery. His partner couldn't be recognised as his next of kin and they had a "massive argument" with the hospital authorities. Garry talks about people losing their homes after their partner died if there was no will, and so although he has reservations about the limitations of civil partnerships, he acknowledges that they address issues arising from these two areas. He feels that it marks an important recognition and that the ceremony itself is very important in allowing gay people to mark their unions.


Garry made reference to friends and acquaintances who have died and talks about the impact of AIDS and HIV on the community in terms of the backlash the virus provoked - with gay people being seen as "diseased" and "condemned by God". "There was me just coming to terms with who I was and everything .... It was like being back to square one. I think it set the gay movement back because of the media frenzy 20-30 years".

He feels strongly that the gay community was neglected by the medical establishment and they had to turn to self-help. e.g. the Terence Higgins Trust. "The community thing came back. THT started from groups of friends; now it's a global institution almost."

110 Birmingham Pride

The rest of Garry's interview was spent talking about his involvement with Pride marches over thirty years and in particular over eight years working on Pride workshops. He discussed the conflicts that arose over the running of Pride and Pride workshops. A key issue that he said occurred was around why gay people should shout about being different through the Pride marches if they want to be treated the same.

As a mature student Garry studied Theatre Design (1993). He was involved with Sundissential (at the top of Hurst Street - formely the Powerhouse, a venue for all sorts of "alternatives"). He worked there from 1997 designing costumes for shows.

Getting involved with the Pride Parades

120 For his final degree project Garry worked with Tilly (a drag artist) on his costumes for Pride. He was approached by Paul Steeples and Mark Ball (from the Fierce Festival) about designing costumes and themes for Pride in 1999 as a "rehearsal" for the Millennium celebration for which a link with Sydney's Mardi Gras had been established. He was co-opted onto the committee over the next few years but experienced conflicts about the degree of politicisation that could be incorporated into Pride and particularly into the parade - and the degree to which it was seen to be simply about having fun. Garry wanted to have a more political rationale to underpin the parade/ Pride but said that many of his ideas were rejected as being "too sexual" or "too political".

125 Going to Sydney

Garry had the chance to go to Sydney to work with the Mardi Gras team and asked Birmingham Pride Committee for help with funding the trip, feeling that this contact would benefit Birmingham Pride. He was refused on the grounds that there would be a "conflict of interest" which shocked him. It aroused a lot of ill-feeling and he was asked to leave the committee. He obtained funding elsewhere and had a very productive few weeks in Australia acquiring many relevant skills.

130 Pride Workshops

Garry talked about his involvement with Pride workshops and in particular with a youth group for whom participation in the workshop was a liberating experience. Many of them had been rejected by their families for their sexuality or had suffered from homophobic bullying at school and this work raised their self-esteem and helped them in asserting their identity. Garry said he found this very rewarding and it gave him the motivation to continue his involvement with Pride despite his differences with the committee.