The new film Pride shows the solidarity between the miners and a group of lesbian and gay supporters during the strike of almost thirty years ago. Struggle can change the world in ways we never thought possible, writes Luke Evans.
Full disclosure; I am neither gay nor a miner. I also feel compelled to state that I was born a couple of months into the strike, so have no direct memories of it. Just to make sure those of you who do remember it feel really old, I am currently 30 years of age.
Pride tells the fictionalised story of the real Lesbians and Gays Supports the Miners (LGSM) group. The group formed during the Miners Strike of 1984-5 to collect money to help feed and clothe the miners and their families – in the course of the strike they raised around £20,000. The result of this solidarity was that the National Union of Miners led both the 1985 London Pride march and the successful fight for pro-gay rights policy inside the TUC and at the subsequent national Labour Party conference. After winning the general election in 1997, Labour eventually went on to change the law in favour of LGBT legal rights. So the miners’ struggle, and the story of the solidarity offered to them by LGSM, is an important part of the history of LGBT liberation in the UK.
In terms of general tone and subject matter, the film follows in the footsteps of Made in Dagenham, Billy Elliot and Brassed Off by combining real historical events with the fictionalised personal stories of individuals, both based on real people and not so much. The narrative follows the founding of LGSM by a group of radical gay men and one lesbian women. The film is sweet and funny without being overly sentimental. Not every miner ends up accepting LGBT people taking part in strike solidarity work, and some gay people are shown to be consistently hostile to the idea of supporting communities that had previously marginalised them. The political world of the film is messy, if optimistic.
This is because the “take home” message of the film seems to me to be that struggle changes people. It’s not nostalgic for the great fights of the 1980s, pining for the days when there were strong unions and oppression was obvious. Instead, the film ends on the effects of the unity between the miners and LGBT people and the lasting effects of solidarity. Even if we know that the strike lost, I couldn’t help but feel that in the end the film was about the celebration of victory. It’s not a story about either the defeat of homophobia or the defeat of the miner’s strike, but the telling of a piece of history that speaks to the human capacity to see the oppression of others and offer them a raised fist in support. It’s not a film about charity or kindness, but the shared experience of struggle against the state, the police and the political class.
The personal and political are intrinsically interwoven in the film, but the relationship between the two is also set into the context of solidarity in struggle. The film continually reiterates the importance of friendship and solidarity. The miners needed the support offered by LGSM, and eventually lesbian women and gay men came to find a solid ally in the miners. A key scene in the film takes place when a union rep, played by Paddy Considine, gives a speech in a LGBT night club thanking them, and speaking to how important friendship becomes in struggle, especially the friendship of those you didn’t know were on your side.
The film doesn’t shirk away from depicting the defeat of the miners’ strike and the genuine sadness when this happens. This national political event hits the audience at the same time that many of the other characters in the film experience personal tragedies or triumphs. Just as the film connects the themes of the personal and political, so too does it weave together the outcomes of defeat and victory. While we know that the miners lost the strike, this film reminds us that at a time when Rupert Murdoch’s Sun labelled lesbians and gay men “perverts”, the miners’ support for gay rights would go on to help change the world.
I think this is the overriding sentiment of the film – and where it differs from the tragic ending of Brassed Off or the individualised version of liberation at the end of Billy Elliot. That is, whilst the defeats of the past create the “bad new things” which we have to confront in the here-and-now, fighting for those very same lost causes can impact on the world in ways we might never have thought imaginable.
Two videos about LGSM are available on YouTube: All Out! Dancing in Dulais is about the group and its links with a Welsh mining community. Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners at the Hacienda is a record of a fundraiser at the legendary Manchester club.