BY Emily Hobson ON November 13, 2014
Pride (2014) is a rare thing: a joyous, accessible film about solidarity across sexuality, culture, and class. The film tells the history of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), a British group formed to support the 1984-85 miners’ strike against pit closures by the Thatcher government. We follow LGSM from its founding after the 1984 lesbian and gay freedom march through its work to aid miners in a small Welsh town. The group’s organizing is set against one member’s passage from age 20 to 21, highlighting the then-unequal age of consent and adding depth to LGSM’s unity with miners against the state. Most centrally, the film wraps its audience in the pleasures of shared resistance: as miner Dai Donovan (Paddy Considine) tells a gay club, “To find out you had a friend you never knew existed, that’s the best feeling in the world.”
If you’ve ever longed for a queer radical Flashdance, Pride has your number. The film opens with Pete Seeger singing “Solidarity Forever” and closes with Billy Bragg’s “There is Power in a Union,” with the sonic gap between filled by Bronski Beat, Culture Club, and Grace Jones. As the action moves between London and Wales, gay clubs and miners’ homes, Gay’s the Word bookshop and the union hall, gay men and lesbians teach miners to dance and miners lead LGSM in song. “Pits and Perverts,” LGSM’s 1985 benefit concert and its rejoinder to tabloid homophobia, carries the film to its height.
I found Pride deeply moving and deeply resonant with my research on the U.S. gay and lesbian left. LGSM mobilized alliance against common enemies and was central in achieving the Labour Party’s 1985 recognition of lesbian and gay rights, a resolution won through the unanimous support of the National Union of Mineworkers. Yet while interviews and archival sources make the filmmakers’ commitment to narrative and visual accuracy clear, Pride obscures key aspects of its history to sweeten its account.
Most centrally, the film portrays activist alliance as a victory unto itself, but does so at the cost of recognizing that NUM lost the strike. This misses the point made early in the film by LGSM leader Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer): that if gay men sensed any decline in police harassment it was only because cops were too busy beating miners. This point is prophetic, yet the film’s narrative leaves it behind. Similar problems ensue from the film’s emphasis on miners’ anti-gay feelings to drive the plot. While evading a simplistic portrait of working-class homophobia, this focus on personal attitudes diverts attention from state repression and runs counter to statements that suggest LGSM actually met with little hostility. The film’s representation of LGSM as tiny also downplays the strength of the era’s gay and lesbian left. (LGSM developed multiple chapters and drew dozens to its London meetings; it also included some people of color, nowhere on screen.) The film acknowledges lesbians’ marginalization by gay men yet defines Lesbians Against Pit Closures as humorously separatist rather than, as the archival record suggests, critical of LGSM for its own sectarian divides. This nuance cannot be conveyed in large part because LGSM’s larger radical genealogy is papered over; the group’s leader Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) was not only cute, charismatic, and dedicated but a member of the Communist Party.
Pride offers an excellent opportunity for thinking through public memories of queer history and radicalism both because of the story it tells and because of what it leaves out. The short documentary All Out in Dulais (1986, 23 minutes), available on YouTube, makes the presence of socialism and communism in LGSM explicit; it also offers nuanced insight into miners’ relationships with LGSM and into interactions between lesbians and gay men. Mark Ashton’s two accounts of LGSM, not long before his 1987 death due to AIDS, are a lovely resource made available through a Facebook page in his memory. The upcoming documentary Still the Enemy Within offers the broader story of the miners’ strike and of strike solidarity, including that by LGSM. All of these sources add complexity to Pride’s portrait, opening up a rich archive of a movement that fought hard against neoliberal privatization and that offers us key lessons not only because of what it won but also because of what it lost.