Happy Pride Month!! 🏳️🌈🏳️⚧️🏳️🌈
The internet is currently (rightly so!) covered in rainbows and messages from and for the LGBTQ+ community to celebrate, to be visible, and to fight for the rights of LGBTQ+ people all over the world.
I’ve lived in Manchester for the last 3 and a half years, and always a stone’s throw from the Gay Village, and yet there’s very little I know about the history of the community in the city! So, in the name of learning new things and being more informed, we’re going on an adventure through time to understand LGBTQ+ history in Manchester.
Walking through LGBTQ+ history isn’t always easy for many reasons, including the fact that there can be very little by way of recorded history or artefacts surrounding LGBTQ+ people, events and milestones. For much of history, LGBTQ+ people have been prosecuted and forced to hide their identities for their own safety, and this means that there is often very little record of the everyday lives of the community throughout history, including here in Manchester.
Despite the city’s thriving gay community today, for many years the community has been prosecuted and endangered simply for being themselves. Even today, being out openly in Manchester can be a scary and dangerous experience for people, and it’s wrong to think that homophobia is over just because of the amazing strides we’ve made in the last few decades.
The Earliest Records of Pride in Manchester
One of the earliest records of LGBTQ+ history in Manchester is that of the Temperance Hall ball in Hulme. At the “fancy dress” (read: drag) ball, Manchester City Police carried out a raid and 47 men were arrested and charged with soliciting and the incitement of “improper actions”.
This is one of the first recorded incidents relating to the gay community in Manchester, but this kind of activity was, while secretive, relatively common in the UK at the time.
Spaces for gay men to gather, talk, laugh, love, and dance were routinely disrupted by police raids, both in the 19th century and moving into the early and mid-20th century also.
LGBTQ+ History in the Mid-20th Century
In the 1940s, the Union Pub (now called The New Union) on the corner of Princess Street and Canal Street regularly hosted drag shows for American troops stationed near Manchester – they were exceptionally popular! The Union was built in 1865 and has been known as a gay venue for almost all of its history.
After the end of the war, the Union began attracting more LGBTQ+ customers, growing one of the first gay spaces in the city. The owner of the union was imprisoned in the 1950s for running a “public house of ill repute”.
Of course, we can’t talk about Pride in Manchester without talking about Alan Turning. The creator of the Enigma machine saved thousands, if not millions, of lives during World War Two. In 1952, he was charged with “gross indecency” and prosecuted for being in a relationship with another man. As opposed to going to prison, Alan Turing underwent hormone therapy as a form of chemical castration and was removed from his job at GCHQ (the intelligence office that had formed in the post-war period). In 1954, he was found dead in his Wilmslow home after committing suicide aged 41.
In 2009, the government made an official apology regarding the way Alan Turing was treated during his lifetime, and received a posthumous pardon for his criminal conviction in 2013. In 2017, “Turing’s Law” was brought in, which pardoned all gay men convicted or cautioned of crimes for their sexuality in the past.
The Alan Turing memorial in Sackville Gardens features an inscription that reads: “Father of computer science, mathematician, logician, wartime codebreaker, victim of prejudice”.
Strides Forward and Steps Backward in the late 20th Century
In 1964, Manchester City Councillor Allan Horsfall founders the North West Homosexual Law Reform Committee, which campaigned for the decriminalisation of homosexuality as lined out in the Wolfenden Report. This report declared homosexuality not to be a mental illness as was commonly accepted at the time, and that it was not the government’s role to interfere in the private lives of its citizens by preventing them from living their authentic lives. In 1967, this law was put into place, decriminalising homosexual acts between two consenting adults over the age of 21 (the age of consent for heterosexual couples was 16 at the time).
In 1985, the first ever Manchester Pride is held!! Pride received a £1,700 grant from the Manchester City council to put on a two-week celebration, including a massive banner across Oxford Street!
Only a few years later in 1988, the Section 28 law was passed marking a huge step backwards for LGBTQ+ rights all over the country. This law prevented councils and schools from “promoting the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.”
In Manchester, 20,000 people took to the streets to protest Section 28, which was one of the largest LGBTQ+ demonstrations ever to take place in the UK at the time. Section 28 was in place from from 1988 to 2003 when it was finally repealed.
In 1990, Manto opened in Manchester’s Gay Village. While by no means the first gay bar in the area, Manto was the first in the area to be clad with plate glass windows, which allowed passers-by to see in with ease. Manto’s developer Carol Ainscow stated, “I felt sick of having to knock on doors and hide”, and Manto’s glass front was a bold statement of visibility and pride in a time where this was rarely easy for the LGBTQ+ community.
The Albert Kennedy Trust also opened in 1990 to support young homeless LGBT people in Manchester. After Albert Kennedy’s death in April 1989 from a fall from a car park roof in Manchester city centre, while being chased by several armed attackers in a car, the Albert Kennedy Trust was established.
In 1995, Manchester hosted the first ever conference in the UK around policing LGBTQ+ communities. “Police and Diversity: An Agenda for Change” was hosted at Manchester Town Hall and had around 350 delegates.
In 1998, the Bolton 7 were tried and convicted of gross indecency under the 1956 sexual offences act, due to the only partial decriminalisation of gay sex, and the discrepancies between the age of consent for gay and straight people. In 2000 they took their mistreatment to the European Court of Human Rights, and were offered settlements by the Home Office in 2001.
In 1999, the first episode of Queer As Folk was broadcast on Channel 4. The series focused on the lives and loves of three gay men living in Manchester’s Gay Village.
Manchester Pride As We Know It in the 2000s and Beyond
In 2003, Manchester were the hosts of Europride, a European-wide pride festival which visits a new host city every year. For the first time, the whole Gay Village was gated off during the August bank holiday weekend. This was the first year pride celebrations charged entrance fees and hosted a closing ceremony. At this ceremony in 2003, it was announced the event would be known as Manchester Pride going forwards.
In 2008, Gaydio (my ultimate pick-me-up afternoon slump listen) broadcast in Manchester for the first time, and in 2010 it received a license from Ofcom to become a full-time broadcaster.
In 2016, Manchester had its first openly gay Lord Mayor, Carl Austin-Behan.
In 2019, parts of Manchester Pride were moved to the Mayfield Depot site near Piccadilly. This marked the first time official Pride celebrations took place outside of the Gay Village.
In 2020, Manchester was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only to come back with a bang in 2021! Manchester Pride 2022 will take place over the August Bank Holiday weekend and is set to be the largest iteration of pride so far.
Learning More About LGBTQ+ History in Manchester
This is, of course, nowhere near a comprehensive list of the lives and histories of LGBTQ+ people in Manchester, and I’d always recommend people to do their own research. Aside from being incredibly important, it’s also really interesting!! There is no group that has been through these experiences in the same way, and it’s fascinating to see the way gay culture has influenced the mainstream, even in times where gay people were forced to be invisible.
If you’re interested in some resources that are much better than this, the Manchester City Council Researcher’s guide on the topic provides a wealth of resources in the North West and nationally when it comes to LGBTQ+ history.
Enjoy your reading and happy Pride all!!