"I remember a Gay Soc stall at Freshers' Week in 1972 but was too paranoid to be seen looking at it and walked on by. I eventually joined Gay Soc in the summer of 1975, after spending the third year of my course in France as an Assistant. In the meantime, I had found my way into a limited and rather closeted gay world in London by coming across (quite by chance) personal ads in Melody Maker. By the summer of 1974, personal ads in Melody Maker were no longer accepted from gays, presumably because of some legal issue.
Martin had originally been at University College London (1970-1972), where he joined G.L.F and UCL Gay Soc, but he dropped out of his course in London and, after a year off, turned up in Liverpool. Martin joined Liverpool Gay Soc immediately on his arrival in 1973, going up to the stall in Freshers' week which was, coincidentally, being manned by someone he had been at school with six years earlier.
Martin and I met on the doorstep of 17 Green Hey’s Road, Liverpool 8, in July 1975. 17 Green Hey’s Road was, at the time, the nerve centre of the University Gay Soc. The divorced wife of the owner of the house, Mrs Romaine, and her daughter lived in the lower ground floor of the house. The upper two floors provided six bedsits and a communal kitchen and bathroom. Martin already lived in one of the bedsits when I met him and I moved into another bedsit shortly afterwards, when it became vacant.
It was a predominantly gay household and the telephone number at 17 Green Hey’s Road was the contact number printed on all the Gay Soc cards which were posted on notice boards at the Student Union and in the Halls of Residence. The cards were often removed by people who disapproved of such matters and a lot of crank calls were made to the phone number. By 1975, I am fairly sure that the phone number at Green Hey’s Road also appeared in Gay News. People who wished to contact Gay Soc, but did not wish to ring up, could also, as I did, place a letter in pigeon hole G at the Student Union. They were replied to in a similar manner.
It is difficult now to understand how hard it was to access the gay world in those days. Most gays did not even know that there was a gay world out there, because it was so invisible. Having managed to access it, it was then terrifying to approach a group of people who one had been taught to revile all one’s life. However, having taken the first steps, the relief was enormous. One of the main focuses of Gay Soc in those years was to try to make the transition from total isolation easier. After coming out, I discovered that one of my English tutors was gay, as was a History lecturer. Being in the know suddenly gave one a whole new perspective on life. One became an insider rather than an outsider.
The gay scene in Liverpool, once identified, was buoyant and expanding fast.
Initially, there was Sadie’s night club, in Seel St if I remember rightly. It was run by an old queen called Sadie who vetted each arrival by opening a window several floors above ground level before allowing anyone in (the door was bolted shut after each arrival). It was a fantastic club which allowed lesbians, gays, transvestites and transsexuals to mingle, and we did so very harmoniously. It was a venue where students could mix with Dockers. There were three very glamorous TV’s/TS’s, one of whom was affectionately known as Diana Ross, who patronised the place regularly. This was at a time before the various LBGT groups separated from each other, as they increasingly did in the late 1970s. By 1977, Sadie’s started to be used by groups of straights who dressed in 1940’s clothes, and would morph three or four years later into the New Romantics.
By about 1977, Sadie’s had closed. There was also a pub (probably still is) called The Lisbon, which was not exclusively gay and was a bit of a dive. Finally, there was The Bear’s Paw which was exclusively male. In about 1976 and 1977, two new bars opened: The Masquerade and Paco’s. Sadie’s apparently reopened after Martin and I had left Liverpool in 1978 and stayed open till Sadie died in the 1980s.
The Gay Soc organised at least two gay discos in the Student Union. I saw the advertisement for the first one in 1973, but did not attend. A second was held in 1976 which Martin and I helped to organise, but not many dared to show their faces so publicly. Some straights turned up to see what it was all about.
In the summer of 1976, Martin and I moved from Green Hey’s Road and joined another gay friend in the ground floor flat at 164 Prince’s Road. It was a fabulous summer and the world was very exciting. Most of the outfits in the photos were bought at Paddy’s Market or very cheap Saturday jumble sales, where retro dresses sold for 10p. I adopted drag for shock tactics, sometimes going to straight venues like the Adelphi and Crown Hotels or a student party, though sometimes people simply weren’t aware of the deception (in those days the general public was much more gullible that it is today). I also went to an English Department function and quite a stir was caused when it became known that I was actually a man. One of the lecturers exclaimed that he had always wanted to meet a transvestite but some of the female students were quite hostile, so the point of the exercise (to challenge people’s prejudices) was achieved.
Thirty-six years after meeting, Martin and I are still together, having lived through the difficult early years of gay liberation, then through the terrifying years of AIDS when there was no treatment, to now, when the social landscape has changed unbelievably. Something like Civil Partnership was unimaginable in the 1970s."
February: UK LGBT History Month, a guest post by Darren Mooney
Special Collections and Archives at the University wrote a blog about Pink Brick for LGBT+ History Month
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