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Wash, born 1950

Wash talks about preferring girls company during her 1960s schooldays, her coming out at 18 and her politicisation in socialism/communism and her decision to work within the WLM and Trade Unions rather than the GLF. She refers to sport as an opportunity for lesbians to meet each other, and her current involvement in Boot Women.


School days - 10
Communist party/socialism - 20
First sexual experiences - 30
Viking – 40
Women’s access to bars 40 50
Greyhound Cider House /Purple Room- 70
Nightingale - 50
Arrested - 60
DIY Disco at the White Swan/organising women’s venues - 60
The Old Mo - 80
CHE/ GLF male focus – 100
Trades Unions – 100 110
Women’s Movement – 100
Being out at work - 110
Homophobia at work - 110
Sporty lesbians - 120
Boot Women - 130
Making a difference - 110

10 School days in the 60s
“School days were interesting, I had a gang of girl chums, who in retrospect I can say I did fancy and I did realise back then I was not into all the stuff the others girls were into, I never wanted to wear stockings or tights. I was a tomboy. At school I was the leader of the girl’s gang. I was popular because I was good at sport. I was Captain of most of the sports’ teams. I was a House Captain. I had lots of status and because of this I was never bullied for being different. As I got into my early teens, my mum tried to persuade me to wear make up and dresses, but she soon gave up. I was always happier dressed in shorts and a jumper. I never went out with any boys at school, I think because I did not fit in it was a worry; looking back I was not giving out the right vibe.

20 Coming to Birmingham 1968
“My father had a great influence on me because he became politicised in WW2, and on his release he joined the Communist Party. I inherited his socialist leanings and so when I was of an age to begin work, I didn’t bother with University or College. I volunteered with community service at home, and in 1968 (aged 18) they sent me to Birmingham to work with homeless people in Balsall Heath, I was an unqualified teacher. I also became involved in starting youth clubs for Asian boys”.

30 First sexual experiences 1968
“I was living in a hostel and I felt peer pressure from the other women who were going out with boys. I was 18 and not sure about my sexuality. I began to sleep with chaps but needed a drink to do it and never enjoyed the experience. I began to have kisses and cuddles with women, but I was very confused and drinking heavily”.

40 The Viking : women friendly
“I got myself in a pickle one night and this social worker or advisor told me I needed to think about where I was going, and asked if I’d heard of the Viking. Well I’d never heard of the gay scene in any shape or form. I was very brave; I set off one night all by myself to go to the Viking. I stayed most of the night and talked to some of the women there. It was mixed and on Smallbrook Queensway, it was quite seedy in some respects, a little bar downstairs with no windows facing onto the street. It was quite a nice place to go as there were women there and most of the other places in Brum were not that women friendly. That was the end of me sleeping with chaps. I made some close friends there. Once there was a punch up going on out side between a man and a woman, we intervened to protect the woman and they both turned on us.”

50 Nightingale Camp Hill
“Once I’d discovered the Viking and made some friends, we went round to the Nightingale, which was in those days in Camphill in a two-up two-down house. You had to ring a bell and a spy hole would open and you would be perused. It was not very lesbian friendly.”

60 White SwanDIY Disco
“We set up a disco at the White Swan, we had booked an upstairs room with the landlord for a Saturday Night, for one pound! We had our own record player and had to go downstairs to get the beer from the bar. Unfortunately the landlord was not on duty, and whoever was in charge told us we had to leave, I was arrested that night and ended up in the cells for my trouble”.

70 Cider House (Purple Room at the Greyhound)
“The most successful women only venue was the Cider House on Holloway Head, which lasted for quite a few years on a Tuesday night, for some bizarre reason Tuesday night seemed to be women’s night in any bar or club. We had exclusive use of a room and a bar, as quite often if we had a room we had to use the main bar with other people, which was quite risky. The cider was something else there; you did not drink much of it. There was a strong nucleus of women using it and we often travelled up and down between it and the Viking.”

80 The Old Mo
“The Old Moseley Arms (Old Mo) was another good venue for lesbians, it was a straight pub and we were well received. The pool room was heavily used by women”.

90 Work
“In 1969 I went to teacher training college in Birmingham but failed to hit it off with the hierarchy and so began to work as a clippie on the buses. After a couple of years brief sojourn in London, I returned to Birmingham in 1972 and began to work in the civil service. Most of the women I knew before I went to London were still here, so I could just pick things back up.

100 Politics : GLF/CHE very male focused
“It was 1972 and this was the year of my politicisation as a lesbian. After being involved in gay politics, through Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) I became part of the Women’s’ Liberation Movement. I had often felt that GLF and CHE ignored women’s’ issues, of course this was because of the legal angle of male gay oppression but the WLM addressed the issues of equality for lesbian women. I soon began to use the same arguments within a Trade Union setting. I felt that the Trade Union movement was the place to influence society because it recognised that the personal is political. My focus now was being at work. I was working full time for my Union and found it exciting because this was the 1970s”.

110 Never experienced homophobia
“I never experienced any difficulties at work initially but a colleague did make a complaint to management about having to use the same toilet as me. This colleague said they refused to use the toilet if I was in the building. I complained and they were disciplined. I was ‘out’ in all respects. Although I often had to attend functions in my role as a Union Organiser, I never put a frock on. I was active in many spheres of LGBT politics, ensuring that Union procedures were up to date and were being followed. At our 2007 conference my union, Public and Commercial Services Union, held a LGBT disco and this is now the norm. I think I have made a difference; it’s been an exciting 57 years”.

120 Leisure time
“My leisure time still revolves around sport. I still play hockey and have played for many clubs, there has always been large element of gay women. Sport had been quite a release for gay women, I know not every lesbian is a tomboy. The same goes for the football teams I’ve played with”.

130 Boot Women

“I help to run a women’s walking group, which operates all year round, called Boot Women. It has been going for about 15 years now, and is very simply organised you just turn up the second Sunday of every month at the designated meeting place. That’s been very good as for a lot of lesbians the drinking scene is not what they want to do as it can be a bit cattle market. There are 400 women on the mailing list, not everyone turns up to every walk. We meet every month and have never cancelled a walk in all those years. We also organise other events such as badminton and rounders and occasionally have barn dances”.