Pride, film on British miners-LGBTQ solidarity, review


This video is called Pride, International Trailer 1 (2014).

On 15 November 2014, I went to see the film Pride. Quite some people had come to see it: lesbian couples, straight couples, individuals on their own. Mostly women.

The film is about the British miners’ strike of 1984-1985, especially solidarity with the mining community of Dulais Valley in South Wales by London LGBTQ people. In reality, LGSM, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, eventually became not just a London organisation, but had branches all over the country. And it supported more than just one mining community. Maybe that was a bit too complex to put into a 120 minute film. The movie is based on a real story, but diverges from it at some more points which we will discuss later.

There was much solidarity with the British miners’ strike. Internationally: many local solidarity committees in many countries. In Britain, there were over 600 solidarity committees. LGSM was especially for LGBTQ people. Another example was Lesbians Against Pit Closures, especially for lesbian women.

This music video from Manchester, England says about itself:

Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners at The Hacienda

VHS doc on LGSM benefit at the Hacienda in March 1985; interviews with Paul Cons, Tony Wilson, Debbie Withall, Pete Shelley [of Manchester punk rock band The Buzzcocks], The Redskins.

According to the film, LGSM started in London, with one punk rock lesbian in her early twenties, and four gay men in their early twenties. And Joe, a 20-year-old cooking school student. Joe is still of an age when having gay sex was illegal, still in the closet because of his homophobic (and striking miners-hating) parents with whom he still lives. A Dulais Valley mining trade unionist, Dai, comes to meet them in London. He confesses he had never met a LGBTQ person before. Nevertheless, he soon gets along well with the Londoners. An organisation like LGSM had to deal with some people in the LGBTQ community who were not activists, and/or, if activist, then only for gay rights in a narrow sense. Likewise, with some people in the mining community who were not activists, and/or, if activist, then only for trade unionism in a narrow sense. LGSM and Dai say in the film that solidarity should be wider and stronger than that. Dai speaks about an image on an old trade union banner: hands of two different people joined in solidarity.

The first images of the film are of police violence against striking miners at Orgreave. Then, the trade union song Solidarity Forever sounds. National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) president Arthur Scargill speaks about the strike.

LGSM founder Mark Ashton remarks that police, usually present at the entrances of gay clubs to harass patrons, are not present any more. He understands why: the Thatcher government has ordered them to go to the mines instead to beat up workers. If the Thatcher government would succeed in breaking the strike, then police repression of LGBTQ people would re-start with a vengeance. Therefore, LGSM should exist.

LGSM activists go to Dulais for the first time, staying there for the night. The film shows about ten activists; in 1984 reality, it was 27.

The film has both serious and comic moments. Gay activists help to free miners, unlawfully jailed by police. One of the LGSM activists is originally from Wales, but left it because of his homophobic family. When he meets South Welsh mining families, they tell him they have prejudices against him … not because of his sexuality, but because he is from North Wales rather than from South Wales … seconds later, everybody laughs. His pro-miner activism eventually helps this North Welshman to acceptance by and reconciliation with his mother.

The strike continues for months and more months. The Thatcher government tries to break it with violence and hunger. During one of the LGSM visits to Dulais, Mark Ashton says in a speech that sometimes, during a struggle, defending oneself is not enough. There has to be a counter-offensive. He promises the miners that LGSM will organise something spectacular for the miners in London. But he does not know what yet.

Then, help comes from a very unexpected side: the Rupert Murdoch media empire. Murdoch’s daily paper The Sun published an attack dog article against the ‘evil’ alliance of ‘pits and perverts’. However, this backfired for Rupert Murdoch. LGSM now knew what spectacular thing they had to do in London: organise a big pro-miners event, called the Pits and Perverts concert. It was a big success.

The final scene of the film is after the miners went back to work, after a year of striking, with their heads held high. Gay Pride marchers assemble in a London park. A Right wing policeman mocks the LGBTQ people by saying the miners have lost. A gay organisational bureaucrat tells LGSM that the Gay Pride marches should become more apolitical, and that political groups like LGSM should march at the back end. They don’t want that. And then, busloads full of National Union of Mineworkers people arrive; including a brass band. They, and LGSM, then can march in the front ranks of the London Gay Pride march. Dai’s ideal of the two hands, depicted on the union banner, becomes reality.

The miners brought many banners with them. One of these, visible in the film, is of the Mardy NUM branch. This brought back my memories of 1984 and 1985, when miners’ delegates, an elderly couple, a retired miner and his wife, from Mardy stayed in our hometown, at the request of our local solidarity committee with British miners. I then translated the English of this couple at trade union meetings. Unfortunately, I am afraid that now, thirty years later, they may no longer be alive. Women in their 40s from Mardy arrived as well. They addressed a bingo night (similar to the one in Dulais pictured in the film) and a meeting at the Women’s Center.

When the strike ended, the elderly couple happened to be guests of our solidarity committee again. The TV set switched to British television. There, they saw the Mardy miners marching back to work, heads held high, behind a brass band.

In England and the USA, there were four criticisms of the film for differing from reality during the miners’ strike. First, protagonist Mark Ashton was not only a gay rights activist and a pro-miner activist, but also a Young Communist League activist (its General Secretary). The makers of the film said they had omitted this because it might damage success of the film on the United States market. There is just one hint on-screen: when Mark Ashton is announced in a London gay bar as wanting to make a speech in support of the miners’ strike, someone in the audience shouts: ‘Commie!’ Mark’s Young Communist League membership may have helped acceptance of LGBTQ activists among Welsh miners, some of them being communists as well.

Mark Ashton died in 1987, only 26 years old, of AIDS.

Mark Ashton

The AIDS scare played a big role in anti-LGBTQ witch hunts in the 1980s: Margaret Thatcher and the Murdoch media then abused fear of AIDS for homophobia, like Marine Le Pen and the Rupert Murdoch media today abuse fear of Ebola for whipping up anti-African racism.

The second criticism of Pride is that it over-emphasizes anti-LGBTQ prejudices among miners at the time the strike started. It seems that most miners were already then happy with solidarity from London or elsewhere, no matter what the sexual orientation of people in solidarity. In the film, after the unprepared speech by Joe in a hall full of miners, there is mostly stone silence. However, in reality the speech got a standing ovation. Still, it is true that before the strike, miners did not turn up at Gay Pride demonstrations with trade union banners; while they did so later. It is also true that the British Labour party used to reject members’ pro-LGBTQ rights proposals; but supported them in 1985, just after the miners’ strike, thanks to the block vote of the National Union of Mineworkers. It looks like the film director exaggerated anti-gay prejudices in mining communities early on, in order to have more of a dramatic change in the course of the film, as the prejudices melted away.

The third criticism of the film is about this witch hunting newspaper article, attacking both the miners and LGBTQ people as a ‘Pits and perverts coalition’ which the Thatcher government should destroy soon:

Pits and Perverts artcle in Rupert Murdoch's The Sun

Fagburn blog in the USA writes about this:

Now opening in the US – as in the UK, the film is distributed by Rupert Murdoch’s 20th Century Fox.

Which might explain why all references to the LGSM and NUM-bashing The Sun – the origin of the term ‘Pits And Perverts’ – have been erased.

The film does mention the attack dog article, but does not show in what paper it was.

The fourth criticism of the film is from a review by Emily Hobson. She writes that LGSM ‘included some people of color, nowhere on screen.’ This is indeed an omission in speaking actor roles; as the film depicts the big Pits and Perverts solidarity concert in London, where Bronski Beat played, it does show some people of colour in the audience.

Pits and Perverts solidarity concert in London poster

In spite of all points of criticism, this is a great film which I recommend.

This video has interviews with the filmmakers of Pride, with its actors and with real life people on whom their roles were based.

The release of the new documentary, Still the Enemy Within, coincides with the 30th anniversary of the 1984-85 miners’ strike. The 112-minute film comprises unseen or rarely available archive footage, interspersed with news reports, dramatic reconstructions and interviews with those involved in the strike. It opens with the March 1984 announcement of the closure of Cortonwood Colliery, the spark that ignited the strike that then spread throughout the British coalfields. It also shows how the Nottingham area National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) refused to call out its members and became the centre of a strike-breaking operation by the Tory government: here.

SOUTH Yorkshire Police faces legal action as exasperated official investigators try to make it release documentary evidence regarding the 1984 “battle of Orgreave,” which saw police run riot attacking striking miners: here.

South Yorkshire Police (SYP) caved in to pressure yesterday to release five boxes of documentary evidence relating to the Orgreave scandal. The Independent Police Complaints Commission threatened legal action this week unless the evidence is released: here.

A catalogue of state interference in the justice system during the 1984-5 miners’ strike in Scotland has led to demands yesterday for an immediate review into criminal convictions against strikers. Katy Clark, MP for North Ayrshire and Arran and left contender for deputy leadership of the Labour Party in Scotland, has written to the Scottish government calling for the review into the convictions of miners in Scotland during the strike: here.

Despite the hardships of being on strike for all of 1984, incredible solidarity from across the labour movement made for the best Christmas the miners ever had, recalls John Dunn: here.

POLICE watchdog the IPCC refused to launch a formal inquiry yesterday into a historic violent rampage by officers against striking miners at Orgreave in South Yorkshire. The decision, announced by the Independent Police Complaints Commission after a two-year delay, was slammed by former National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) president and Labour MP Ian Lavery: here.

AN INSPIRATIONAL film recording the testimonies of people involved in the miners’ strike against pit closures of 1984-85 will receive its premiere in Yorkshire on Friday. Former striking miners, families, women against pit closures and others contributed to the film Our Miners’ Strike: here.

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