Last week, I attended a book signing for Pride: The Unlikely Story of the Unsung Heroes of the Miner’ Strike. It’s a book that tells the true story behind the film Pride, which came out in 2014, and which is one of my favourite films. I’m not sure exactly how many times I’ve seen it — around five at this point, I think — but it still manages to make me laugh, cry, and smile so hard my face hurts.
The film, and this book, explore a little-known aspect of the miners’ strikes in the 1980s, which is that a group of lesbians and gay men formed a group to support and fund mining communities in Wales. LGBTQ history is still massively neglected in schools, and even if it wasn’t, everything I know about the miners’ strikes is from Billy Elliot, so I knew nothing about these events. I saw the film with my mum, and she said she’d had no idea that this happened, despite being a young adult living in London at the time of the strikes.
So, Pride is an amazing film and I wanted to know more about the history, which meant when I saw there was a book coming out, I knew I was going to read it. It was just a bonus that I managed to go to the launch party / signing at Gay’s The Word, the bookshop featured in the film as the home/meeting place of LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners).
If you have even the slightest interest in LGBTQ history, modern British history, social history, or the Labour Party, then you need to read this book. If you saw Pride and thought, “Wow, I didn’t know this had happened,” whether you’re old enough to have lived through the miners’ strikes or not, then you need to read this book.
It’s a brilliant introduction to queer history, about which I know shockingly little: providing the background to the film means that it explores the various inequalities characters were facing in more detail, and goes into some of the changes that had taken place in the 60s and 70s. I thought I had a reasonably good idea what things were like, but I honestly kept being taken aback by some of the details, and the ridiculous loopholes that allowed for persecution even after homosexuality had technically been decriminalised. I really need to read up on this kind of thing more: the book goes into a reasonable amount of depth, but obviously its focus is on the events of the mid 80s, and it’s not a long book.
It’s told by various surviving members of LGSM and the mining community they supported, with brief bridging passages by the author to provide background to the events they’re describing. I found this was really effective, as one of the themes that came through was of the various different politics and identities present within these groups, and solidarity despite differences. So getting a glimpse of different perspectives seemed important in emphasising this. There were a few excerpts from speeches, newspaper articles etc, but I might have liked a bit more archival info of this sort. That said, LGSM has detailed archives, so maybe this is something I should read up on further as a follow-up.
It was the most emotional I’ve ever got reading a nonfiction book. I’m not sure whether it’s because I saw the film which meant I was invested, or because I feel a personal connection with events (being queer and from a family that hates Thatcher, haha), but it definitely kept me engaged. That was also due to the writing style: it was often humorous, but there were more serious moments that prompted more reflection. I was particularly struck by the end of the book and the author’s thoughts on its contemporary relevance to our current political situation.
I learned a LOT from this book. Some of that was important history stuff that made me realise I need to learn more about queer British history. (What little I know of LGBT history tends to be quite US-centric because that’s what I come across online.) Some of it was just interesting for personal reasons — Jonathan Blake, it turns out, went to drama school very near to where I live, so Sidcup finally gets a look-in. And some was just fun: I’m delighted to learn that “Every woman is a lesbian at heart” was not a song created for the film, but something Lesbians Against Pit Closures actually sang, and I was very amused to discover that the lesbian = vegetarian stereotype was actually very often true.
The one thing I would have liked to know more about — which I felt about the film too — was whether any queer people who didn’t identify as lesbian or gay were involved in any sense. As its name suggests, the movement was clearly centred around homosexual activists, but I would be interested to know whether there were any bisexual or transgender people involved, and if not, whether they were actively excluded or whether it just worked out that way. As someone who identified as LGBTQ but not as lesbian or gay, this is something I often feel about queer history, which tends to focus on more visible members of the community. So that’s something I felt could’ve been mentioned at least in passing. I’ll have to follow it up and see if I can discover anything.
All in all, though, this is SUCH an important book for anyone interested in the history of LGBTQ rights in Britain, because LGSM played such an important part in getting the Labour Party engaged with their cause. Will be recommending to a fair few friends.
I would, however, definitely suggest watching the film first to get an overview of the events. I don’t think it’s necessary to understanding the book, but I think it helps, and anyway it’s a great film (so why wouldn’t you?). Moreover, there were a few things in the narrative that I might not have understood without prior knowledge, so that’s part of the reason it’s getting four stars instead of five.
It’s still great, though, and you should all read it.
PS – Sadly for Americans, this book doesn’t come out in the US until May 2018, but I believe you can order one shipped from Gay’s The Word (or other bookshops) if you’re just that desperate to get your hands on it.