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James, born 1967


James is a 40 year old gay man, who moved to Birmingham in 1989 aged 22. He talks about the gay scene in the city then and now. He also discusses volunteering at gay switchboard and campaigning against Clause 28. He talks about cottaging and mentions the attitude of the local media to the gay community.


Moving to Birmingham - 10
Homophobia - 20
Living in Edgbaston - 30
Gay Switchboard - 40
Clause 28 and March – 50 60 70
Pink Picnic - 80
Jester – 100 110
Nightingale - 120
Route66 - 160
Subway - 170
Fountain - 150
Dress Code - 130
Evening Mail - 210
Cottaging – 220 230 240
Changes to Birmingham - 190
Racial makeup of the scene – 260
Being out at work - 200
A night out in the ‘90s - 140
Inge Street Taxi Rank - 140

10 Moving to Birmingham

James moved to Birmingham in 1989 at the age of twenty-two, primarily because of the scene which he had experienced previously. He had previously lived in Manchester and thought “Birmingham had more potential.”

20 Homophobia: refused entry at the Slug and Lettuce

A night out in Birmingham for James would normally involve ‘running the gauntlet’, as the Gale was opposite a selection of straight venues and he and his friends often had to dodge bottles thrown at them from the Slug and Lettuce opposite. “I know two friends who were turned away from the Slug and Lettuce ‘your sort aren’t welcome here.’”

30 Edgbaston

He first lived in a house share with two straight women in Edgbaston, and prostitutes used to work on their drive. This used to make things interesting on their return home from a night out. As he and his friends were not too well off, they used to get a taxi out of town for half the distance and walk the rest of the way. It was better to walk around once they were out of town as otherwise you could suffer the threat of being assaulted. He spent 11 years around Edgbaston and Ladywood.

40 Switchboard

James first involvement in the gay scene was with the Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, which he worked on as a volunteer. “I used to volunteer Monday and Thursday nights, which were memorable.”

50 Clause 28

From his work with Gay Switchboard he became involved in West Midlands Stop the Clause campaign. “People might remember me distributing leaflets and being very insistent that they read them at the time, as it there was a real a real possibility and a threat that we would be further criminalised. I was young, ambitious and idealistic and wanted people to be committed to the cause. Sometimes people would throw them on the floor before they had read them so I would pick them up and thrust them in peoples hands and say ‘Read it it’s important’, and they generally did.”

60 Clause 28 March Manchester: nearly arrested

“I’m particularly proud of nearly being arrested in Manchester, I was with the Birmingham Stop the Clause contingency and chanting ‘Two, four, six, eight, is that copper really straight?’ There were a few near arrest points on the march, including stopping traffic.”

70 Stop the Clause meetings

When The Fountain opened, Will attended political meetings there, around 1991.
The meetings for Birmingham Stop the Clause were held in the backroom ‘the snug’. “It was interesting that not only gay men but lesbians were involved too.”

80 First Pink Picnic

The Stop the Clause group organised the first Pink Picnic, in Cannon Hill Park. “There was a circle of gay men and women, all with packed sandwiches and everyone got on.” c1991

90 Gay Scene

“When I first came out there were only two bars and the Nightingale, the bars were the Windmill and the Jester. I’d heard of the Jug too but never ventured down there.
At that time, all the bars were downstairs, there were no windows, it was pretty grim in comparison to now days.”

100 The Jester: Characters

James recalls The Jester and many of the characters that went there, the owner David Plant and Carlos, who by all accounts led a theatrical and acrobatic life.

110 The Jester: Segregation

James recalls friends telling him that they recalled a time when women would stand in the top section of the bar “wearing their suits” whilst the men would congregate in the bottom area of the bar. “There was a distinct segregation.”

120 The Nightingale

The Nightingale had a reputation, both by word of mouth and also from the gay press, of being the most popular venues for gay men. James details his first impressions of the Gale. “There was a fountain, like an Adonis in the reception which was bizarre, but interesting club nights.”

130 Early ‘90s dress

“The dress code revolved around denim very much at that point, and the trendy people in their designed labels would stand against the back wall looking beautiful.”

140 A Typical night out in the early 90s : Taxi Rank

A typical night out for James would have involved a drink in The Jester, then onto The Windmill (now Partners) and finally onto The Gale. There was nowhere else to go afterwards so they would run the gauntlet getting a taxi to escort them safely out of the city centre. The taxi rank, where the back-to-back houses are now, was where most people went to get a cab after the Nightingale. There were lots of gay people there but it could still be quite intimidating with the straight people there. (c1991)

150 The Fountain

It was quite different when it opened in 1991 “I went to the opening, and frequented it regularly afterwards. It had windows with sunlight coming through, which none of the others had”.

160 Route 66

The opening of Route66 was significant as it was a big, brash gay bar and brought a lot of people in. It played dance music rather than that which had been played in the traditional Jester or Windmill.

170 Subway City

When Subway opened it completely changed the gay scene and it quickly became “the club of choice”. (c1995)

180 No more attraction to the gay scene

James’s social circle has changed now and he mixes with far more straight people than he used to. He doesn’t really go out on the scene anymore as he and his partner are settled and more mature. They eat out in mixed venues and there is no issue for groups of gay men to be seen doing so anymore.

190 Changes in Birmingham

“The city has changed and is unrecognisable to what it was before.” There used to be more subways, transport was different and the city had a lot of big ambitions. Some of those, he believes have been achieved, others have not. There was not as much assertion of the gay politic within Birmingham as there was in Manchester or London, as the city council was not as supportive. Nowadays the gay calendar is part of the Council’s calendar, this demonstrates the changes.

200 Out at work

“I’ve always been out at work, since I moved to Birmingham. If someone offers you a job part of that package is you’re employing a gay man. Thankfully we now have laws to back that up.”

210 Local Media: Evening Mail

Local media has never been supportive or helpful. “The Evening Mail was as rabid then as it is now.” The attitude of the local media did nothing to help the cause of the gay community. (c1992)

220 Cottaging

In his younger years, James used to go cottaging in several different venues around Birmingham, including those at Five Ways, Pallasades, Bristol Street, Hurst Street flyover. “In terms of the make up of people there were a lot of people you did not see on the gay scene, who were married, they were just there for the sex.” As the authorities clamped down, the toilets were closed and people were forced to go out of the city centre. There was a particular venue in Selly Oak, where there were “young, hot boys”.

“Everybody would be stood in line, not talking, no one acknowledging each other, just waiting quietly to go in.” There was always the risk of police raids and people would have to keep a lookout. (c1995)

230 Silver Slipper

“Way back before I moved to Birmingham, when I was 18, I went to the Silver Slipper behind New Street Station. I was completely petrified; it was so busy and so intimidating to a young gay man. ‘What are all these guys doing?’”.

240 Cottaging: Boss Outreach

There would also often be workers from BOSS, which was the pre-cursor to Healthy Gay Life; a service that would offer condoms, advice and a kind of support network. (1990s)

250 GP services

One major thing that has changed for the good is the access to mainstream statutory health provision. There were only one or two GP practices that were gay friendly and James was lucky enough to live within the catchment area of one.
“You could go there and not be treated like scum.”

260 Changes in racial makeup of the gay scene

The scene has changed a lot since James first came to Birmingham.
“The scene was all white men with a few women. There were a handful of black men but no Asian men at all.” It began to change around the mid 1990s.

270 Final thought on the gay scene

James is thankful to the scene in Birmingham.
“All of my relationships were met through the commercial gay scene in Birmingham.”