February in the UK is LGBT history month. Which means we get to celebrate all the fantastic LGBTQ+ people our cities have produced and been home to throughout the years. So without further adieu, we present to you our LGBTQ+ icons from your cities!
Bath and Bristol (Bath and North East Somerset)
Whilst not from Bristol, Michael Dillon found Bristol to be the place where he could truly be himself. After being talked out of town elsewhere, Dillon fled to Bristol and took a job in a garage. Whilst in Bristol, Dillon took hormones which allowed him to pass as male, and his manager insisted he was to be referred to as his desired pronouns.
Dillon was a recovery vehicle driver and a fire watcher during the Blitz.
After the war, Dillon suffered from hypoglycemia and was in the hospital following a knock on the head after passing out. He happened to get noticed by a plastic surgeon, who performed a double mastectomy for him, gave him a note to help him change his birth certificate, and most importantly, put him in contact with Harold Gillies.
Harold Gillies had experience reconstructing and altering penises for men wounded in battle and intersex people, and agreed to perform a phalloplasty for Dillon, but not straight away as he was busy with the wounded from the war. In the meantime, Dillon enrolled in a medical school in Ireland.
Between 1946 and 1949, Gillies performed at least 13 surgeries on Dillon, disguising the surgery by ‘diagnosing’ him with hypospadias (an issue with the penis).
Not to mention…
In the 19th Century, Bristol housed John Addington Symonds, who lived mostly in Bristol and wrote two books which argued for a rational approach to homosexuality.
Birmingham is home to the famous ‘Gay Village’. But before it was there, it was just a street like any other. The man we have to thank for this transformation is Laurie Williams.
Laurie Williams regularly held parties when licensing issues meant the community had nowhere to go after 10pm. He also promoted club nights and was well known by everyone as ‘La’ Williams, a great character beloved by all.
A writer and publisher, Peter Burton was perhaps best known for his role in The Gay Times. He was born in Hackney, and went from there to being a gay club manager in London, to journalism.
He began in British gay journalism in the late 1960s, when it really begun. He wrote for Gay News, under Denis Lemon, and then become it’s literary editor. Lemon later described Burton as ‘the Godfather of gay journalism’.
Alongside journalism, Burton wrote for such projects as an authorised biography on Rod Stewart. This gave him enough money to buy a house in Brighton’s Kemp Town.
When Gay News imploded in 1983, he moved on to The Gay Times, where he worked for 20 years, alongside founding Millivres Books.
In the last decade of his life, he worked on Brighton-based publications, helping a new gay generation. He also worked for the Daily Express and the Independent. All of Burton’s work was written on typewriters, even his more modern work.
Burton passed away in 2011 at the age of 66, and his last words were ‘make sure the copy gets there on time’, about his latest Daily Express piece.
Cardiff and Swansea
Andrew White is the director of the Welsh branch of Stonewall – Stonewall Cymru. He joined in November 2010 and was instantly successful in getting the Welsh Government to amend the Wales Public Sector Equality Duties to be more inclusive.
He leads a team working across Wales in areas including workplace, public affairs, education and the Information Service.
Whilst Coventry is small, it is mighty. Carl Edwards proved that in 2017 when he shared his whole coming out story with his company, and then founded an LGBT+ network.
Outside of his office, he also set up an LGBTQ+ inclusive rugby team, and made sure that his company contributed and made an appearance at pride!
He was named Stonewalls Gay Role Model of the Year 2020, and we can see why!
Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon
It was in Edinburgh that famous poet Wilfred Owen met Siegfried Sassoon in Craiglockhart Hospital, and asked him to look at his poems. Their relationship transformed Owen and his work, and they spent the rest of Owen’s life together.
Dr James Barry
Dr James Barry graduated from the University of Edinburgh Medical school in 1812, before going to practise in South Africa. It was discovered after his death that he was assigned female at birth.
The Two Roberts
Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde were well known during the 1940s for their art. They met in Glasgow on their first day at the Glasgow School of Art and became lifelong lovers.
They were big drinkers, big personalities, and brilliant artists. The pair met in 1933, and were top of their class in art school, getting their pictures taken to the Tate soon after graduation. The couple lived together in Scotland, then London, then with writer Elizabeth Smart in Essex.
In 1962, Colquhoun passed away. Left alone, MacBryde was bereft, and he subsequently moved to Ireland.
Leeds has given the world plenty of things, including Nicola Adams. Adams is a former professional boxer who competed from 2017 to 2019. She competed as an amateur in the Olympics in 2012 and again in 2016, winning one gold the first time and two the second.
She is openly lesbian, and in 2012 was named The Most Influential LGBT person in Britain by The Independent. She was also the first openly LGBT person to win an Olympic boxing gold medal.
Jeff (Geoff) Martin
Jeff Martin was the leader and founder of the Leicester Gay Liberation Front, which began in 1975. Operational until 1980, the group were involved in a number of local and national campaigns, including pickets, help and advice, leafleting, and producing a Gay Pride show.
The group also fought a campaign against W H Smith for refusing to stock Gay News. The members caused issues in stores, refusing to pay for items as Gay News wasn’t available
Home of Britain’s first and only official Gay Quarter, Liverpool has had a fair share of LGBT people pass through its ranks. One of which was British painter Yankel Feather.
Yankel was openly gay, and lived and worked in Liverpool for a large portion of his life. He was friends with The Beatles, as well as other Liverpudlian stars in the late 20th century.
Feather moved to Hove towards the end of his life, with his long term partner. It is there that he passed away in 2009.
April Ashley is one of the first people in the country to have had gender reassignment surgery, she travelled to Morocco to have the operation in 1960. In 1961, someone sold her story to the media and Ashley subsequently struggled to get work.
In 2012, Ashley was made an MBE for services to transgender equality.
Obviously, as the capital, London is and was home to hundreds of LGBT people. Some noteworthy ones being:
Alan Turing – mathematician who cracked the Enigma Code in WW2, helping the Allies to defeat the Nazis.
George Michael – famous singer-songwriter who fought for HIV/AIDS charities
Dusty Springfield – pathed the way for LGBT rock artists when she inexplicitly came out as bisexual in the 70s
Oscar Wilde – poet and writer arrested and imprisoned for homosexual behaviours
Virginia Woolf – modernist writer and literary pioneer, well known for LGBT book Orlando and is theorised to have been bisexual
Born in 1916, Rose Robertson was a WW2 SOE Agent who set up Parents Enquiry based on things she has seen in France. Whilst Rose herself was heterosexual, she set up both this and eventually this morphed into FFLAG (Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays).
These were both services for anyone LGBT to contact to discuss and get advice on how to handle abuse, relationships, and just general life.
Paul Fairweather and Maggie Turner
Paul and Maggie were the Gay Men’s and Lesbian officers of the Equal Opportunities Committee founded by Manchester City Council. They were the first of their title, and they paved the way for legislative and council based changes.
Lord Alfred Douglas
Alfred Douglas is best known for his affair with Oscar Wilde, which subsequently resulted in Wilde’s arrest and imprisonment when Douglas’ father found out.
The two met whilst editing an undergraduate journal at Magdalene College in Oxford, called The Spirit Lamp, which had a strong homoerotic subtext.
Lord Alfred and Wilde lived with one another in Naples following Wilde’s release, but they had separated by the time of Wilde’s death.
Carpenter was a British Utopian socialist, a poet, philosopher, anthologist and an early activist for gay rights, prison reform and vegetarianism – oh, and he was against vivisection. He was well known for his philosophy (such as texts like Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure), but his advocacy for sexual liberation and gay rights had affects not only on his work but on authors like D. H. Lawrence and Sri Aurobindo – in fact, it inspired E. M. Forester’s Maurice.
Carpenter met George Merrill on returning from India in 1891. They fell in love and remained partners for the rest of their lives, openly gay despite the morals of the world around them.
Researchers in Southampton have recently found records of someone named Charles Hambleton marrying a woman called Mary Seamel in 1748. This was during a time when same-sex marriage was not only illegal – but unheard of. And yet, Charles Hambleton was found to be a woman later on in life.
Born in Sketty, Cedric Morris was an artist, art teacher and plantsman. He is best known for his paintings which find themselves in galleries across the world.
Morris was also homosexual, and in 1916 fell in love with Arthur Lett-Haines. He moved in with Lett-Haines and his wife, Gertrude. Eventually, Gertrude moved back to her home in America, and the two men lived together for the rest of their lives.
So there you have it, LGBTQ+ history from all over the UK. Everywhere has a story to tell, but unfortunately, some of those stories are just now coming out of the woodwork. One day, everyone who suffered due to criminalisation of LGBTQ existences will have not done so in vain, and in the meantime, we’ll celebrate LGBTQ people at every chance we get.