East London Gay Liberation Front
The East London Gay Liberation Front, which worked throughout Newham made important contributions to the gay community in the 1970’s. The story of the movement is a complicated one, as it evolved from a London Group to a more localised effort that had many different faces.
The Gay Liberation Front first started in New York in 1969 after the Stonewall riots. Soon it spread across the USA and over to the United Kingdom, with the first meeting being held in the basement of LSE on October 13 1970. By January 1971, around 500 people attended the GLF UK General meetings. However, the movement soon fractured over internal disagreements and the desire for more localised groups. This led to such groups as the Camden GLF and the East London GLF.
In the beginning, the movement was dispersed between a number of groups with different aims, such as the Bethnal Rouge Collective, or authors outlining the problems of gay people in East London, focusing on their isolation and the lack of a safe ‘gay scene’, where they could socialise. The meetings were organised every Thursday in East Ham, with counselling services also available. They acknowledged the fact that ‘being gay is a problem, but that is society’s fault not ours. We’re not interested in adjusting to society any more…’
In August 1979 the East London GLF produced the first official newsletter which included a shortlist of gay centres, bookshops, social groups, and articles on issues facing the gay community. Even though the headquarters were based in Mile End, the group organised weekly general meetings at the Duke of Fife in Forest Gate, and a Social Group in Woodgrange Road. The group’s activity in Newham was not restricted to organising meetings. They also supported smaller LGBT groups around East London, including the Gay Authors’ Workshop based in Mitcham Road in East Ham. The aim of the group was to spread LGBT literature, to raise the quality and range of the materials published by LGBT publishers and – even though they claimed that public performance was not their main concern – they appeared at the Gay Pride Week and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1978.
The East London GLF also occupied itself with a range of activities across East London. For example, they picketed W.H. Smith in Ilford and Stratford, in an attempt to get the Gay News on the shelves, leading to discussion on public perceptions of homosexuality and policing. At the picket in Stratford, the police proved useful as ‘some local NF or British Movement types were there to cause us trouble’. This is just one instance of the many ways in which the ELGLF strived to improve the lives of LGBT people in Newham.