As we begin Pride Month 2022, we celebrate 50 years since the first-ever pride event in the UK. This year we also want to celebrate the other firsts for the LGBTQ+ communities, by launching our Pride Firsts exhibition and film.

In 2020, we asked our service users, supporters and followers to contribute to our Pride Firsts project, to celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride and innovation during a time when things were so different for us all. The images we received shone a spotlight on people’s first experiences at Pride in London as well as further afield, and also highlighted the work and progress that has come before from so many organisations, groups and individuals, pushing things forward for our communities.  

Since 1983 alongside many wonderful colleagues and partner organisations, METRO has been supporting the LGBTQ+ community in South London and further afield. We hope that some of the stories here will highlight some of the lesser-known heroes of the LGBTQ+ community in South London as well as some of the more recognisable.   

 
The beginnings of Pride  

The Gay Liberation Front was formed in 1970 and held the first British gay rights rally in Highbury Fields. The group undertook a series of protest actions, and also established the first official Gay Pride event in 1972. (Photograph: Brian Hart, CHE Archive, Bishopsgate Institute). This image was selected as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

 

Former METRO worker Geoff Hardy recalled taking part in the first Pride march in 1972: "It was an incredible feeling. We did our speeches and then we marched. People shouted abuse at us but I remember feeling good, powerful, and so proud. I could look the world in the eye and walk tall." (Photograph: Geoff Hardy). This image was selected as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

In 2020 on its 50th Anniversary, the founders of the Gay Liberation Front came together once more for a Pride Veterans march in central London. (Photograph: Hsien Chew). This image was selected as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

 

Rebel Dykes in South London 

The ‘Rebel Dykes’ project by Siobhan Fahey celebrates a group of “kick ass post punk dykes who shook up London in the 1980s”. They lived in squats in Brixton and Peckham, and the project interviewed various people involved: “I asked do you know where we could live? They said 'Yeah right here', and came back with a crowbar”. Another participant remembered:  “I lived in Bird-in-bush Road [Peckham]. There were lesbians stuffed into every room, six rooms with 18 people living there. It was exciting”. This photograph from the project shows some of the rebel dykes on the way to Pride in 1988 (courtesy Del La Grace Volcano). A documentary film has been produced, for more information see www.rebeldykes1980s.com  This image was selected as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

 

First Asian LGBT organisations 

The first South Asian LGB group, Shakti, was founded in 1988. Three years later Naz Project London was founded to provide HIV/AIDS services for South Asian, Turkish, Arab and Irani communities. Both organisations were started by Shivananda Khan, who later took the project over to India in 1996 as Naz Foundation International. After decades of work his campaigning led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality there in 2018. These posters show joint campaigns between Naz Project London, Shakti and METRO in 1998, titled ‘Bhangra Against Homophobia’ and ‘Boys In Love: Asian, Proud and Out’. This image was selected as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

A joint campaign between Naz Project London, Shakti and METRO in 1998, titled ‘Stand Up Against Homophobia’. This image was selected as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

Flyer for a joint event between Naz Project London and METRO working in partnership at Club Kali, 1999. This image was selected as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

 

Trans firsts  

The first British trans woman to undergo gender affirmation surgery was Roberta Cowell, in 1951. She was born in Croydon in 1918 and was a British racing driver and Second World War fighter pilot. After her transition her story was featured in Picture Post and she published an autobiography, 'Roberta Cowell’s Story’, in 1954. The first transgender support group in the UK was The Beaumont Society, founded in 1966 as the UK chapter of California’s Phi Pi Epsilon. It was set up to “provide TVs with an opportunity for a social life together,” and educate and inform the public. The organisation remains active to this day, and its archives are held at the Bishopsgate Institute. This image was selected as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

The first Trans Pride in the UK took place in Brighton in 2013, and the first London Trans Pride was in 2019. This picture shows METRO Charity taking part in trans pride in 2019. They are flying the transgender pride flag, originally designed by American trans woman Monica Helms in 1999. This image was selected as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

 

Black lesbian and gay organisations  

The Black Lesbian and Gay Centre Project was established in 1985 to campaign for funding for a centre. In 1993 the project finally opened a Centre in the railway arches near Peckham Rye Station, which was the first Black lesbian and gay centre in Europe. Femi Otitoju, Dorothea Smartt, Savi Hensman, Dennis Carney and others provided a range of services and events as well as publishing a newsletter. The Centre subsequently moved to offices at St George’s Circus before closing in 2001. This image was selected as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

The documentary film ‘Under Your Nose’ by Veronica McKenzie celebrates the history of the Black Lesbian and Gay Centre Project. It first premiered as a short film in 2013 and has subsequently been extended as a feature. In 2018 staff and members of the Centre gathered for a sell-out screening of the film at PeckhamPlex cinema, around the corner from the original centre. (Photograph: Chris Scales / Southwark LGBT Network). This image was selected as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

Peckham Black Women’s Centre on Bellenden Road had a lesbian group in the late 1980s run by Hope Massiah and Rani Kaur, providing advice and counselling services to around 80 members before the centre’s closure in 1990. Other local support groups at the time included Gay Men In Southwark, and Southwark Sappho Sisters at Southwark Women’s Centre, as well as youth organisation Outlinks. This image was selected as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

Big Up, founded in 1995, was a sexual health organisation led by Black gay men and targeting the specific needs of Black gay men.  They provided community support, counselling, group work, advice, awareness campaigns and programmes to address the HIV epidemic. This 1995 advertisement for a joint campaign between Big Up and METRO Thrust shows two Black men embracing under the message ‘Love yourself and your significant (br)other: Practice safer sex’. METRO also developed a set of sexual health information cards with Big Up. The organisation merged with GMFA in 2001. This image was selected as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

 

Black Pride 

UK Black Pride was started in 2005 by the group Black Lesbians in the UK, including co-founder Lady Phyll.  It has become the largest celebration in Europe for LGBTQ+ people of African, Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American and Caribbean heritage. Over 8,000 people attend the annual gathering, including METRO Charity, pictured here at 2019’s event. This image was selected as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 
 

Drag culture  

Jean Fredericks held legendary Drag Balls in the 1970s, a tradition going back centuries. Pictured here is her Porchester Ball, 1976, from the Robert Workman Archive, Bishopsgate Institute. This image was selected as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

Pubs like the Union Tavern (Camberwell) and Ship and Whale (Surrey Docks) had regular drag performance and parties from 1950s onwards. Pictured here is a drag performance at the Ship and Whale from 1988 (Southwark Archives). This image was selected as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

Friends ‘Thelma, Polly and Millie’ all dressed up for a Halloween party at the Ship and Whale pub in Surrey Docks, 1982 (Picture courtesy John Dickson and Southwark Archives). This image was selected as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

METRO Charity ran an annual ‘Drag Race’ event in Greenwich from 2005. This image was selected as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

 

Youth groups 

The South London Gay Young People’s Group was established in 1981, and based at the Hearsay Centre at Youth AID in Catford. It was founded by Dennis Hunter, a social worker who recognised the need for lesbian and gay youth services in Lewisham. The group ran a helpline, library, social meeting space, and trips out to Brighton and Macaroni Wood, Cirencester. Former METRO workers Maggie Honey and Keith Trotman were both involved in running the group, Keith while he was still studying in sixth form at Walworth School. Dirg Aab-Richards also took part volunteering for the group every Monday for 12 years (as well as attending the Lesbian and Gay Black Group on Fridays), and remembered Keith Trotman during the METRO Our History project: “He was a lovely person; dynamic, creative. Keith was in the minibus I drove to Parliament Square with SLLGYPG members when the ‘age of consent’ was lowered to 18 years of age [in 1994]”. Picture shows the group in 1983 (LSE Hall Carpenter Archives). This image was selected as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

METRO’s first Lesbian and Gay Youth Day took place in 1985 under the Greenwich Lesbian and Gay Rights Group. This image was selected as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

METRO Youth & Bromley Health project, 1995. This image was selected as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

METRO SNAP Bromley youth group, pictured at Pride 2005. This image was selected as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

 

Community Contributions


Joseph de Lappe sent this picture of the first asexual to lead a UK Pride parade, at Reading in 2014. He said: “Asexual women are often presented in the media as shy, submissive and introverted, and she was anything but. It felt like she was leading us to a revolution”. This image was submitted as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

Joseph de Lappe sent this picture from his first WorldPride parade in Toronto, 2014: “I marched with asexual activists from across the world. They chanted ‘Asexy and we know it’ and thousands of onlookers suddenly sang along”. This image was submitted as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

Luke Bowyer went to Pride with METRO’s Greenwich Freedom Youth, in 2000. He remembered: “Our theme was 'I must not be gay at school' - Section 28 was still in force... a lot has changed”. This image was submitted as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

Gary Ginnaw from Charlton Athletic Community Trust sent in this picture of his first pride in 2015. This image was submitted as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

Gary Ginnaw from Charlton Athletic Community Trust sent in this picture of his first pride in 2015: “In 2018 I marched in the first ever Charlton Athletic Family Group with my wonderful parents. It was a very special occasion for everyone involved”. This image was submitted as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

Matthew Moore sent in his drawing of the rainbow flag in Belfast: “Last year’s Belfast pride was the first time ever the rainbow flag was flown from City Hall. I thought it was so progressive in a society preoccupied and divided about which flags should be flown”. This image was submitted as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020. 

Alex Thomas sent in this picture from Pride 2010: “Ten years ago I was invited to pride by a friend. The only queer person I knew was her. I wasn't sure if I belonged ... I didn't feel 'queer' enough. I was welcomed to march with my friend’s METRO Bridge group. It was a beautiful day”. This image was submitted as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020.  

Southwark LGBT Network sent in this picture of its float at Pride 2005, the first time Southwark had taken part in the parade. The network (and its partner organisation Southwark LGBT Forum) were founded in 1995 as Southwark Anti-Homophobic Forum, one of the first local police-council-community partnerships established to address homophobic hate crime. Former METRO workers Dax Ashworth and Liz Day, and her partner Gaby Charing, were involved in running the Network for many years. This image was submitted as part of our Pride Firsts project, 2020.

 

METRO Charity has been marching with Pride since 1984