Celebrating the histories of Edinburgh's LGBT communities.

Remember When

edinburgh lesbian gay bisexual transgender history

A joint initiative between the City of Edinburgh Council and the Living Memory Association.


Which Way is Out?


Changing Laws, Changing Minds, Changing Lives

Every person in this book - and every contributor to the Remember When archive - has made a difference. Activism comes in many colours. For some, it is simply about being out and open about who we are. For others, it involves campaigning, creating new groups and movements, setting up endless meetings, challenging entrenched power structures and - when push comes to shove - taking to the streets.

We have had a lot of work to do. Within the memory of many Remember When contributors, homosexual acts even between consenting male adults were entirely illegal and, in Scotland, it took 14 years longer than in England for those laws to change. Words like "lesbian" were not spoken in polite society and any implication that a woman might be other than 100% heterosexual was regarded as sufficient reason to take away her children or throw her out of a job.

We were constantly reminded by the police and the courts, by financial institutions, by the healthcare system, by the government, by the churches and by the media that we were somehow lesser forms of life, with no right to expect the protections and privileges taken for granted by everybody else. And, although things have changed enough that the previous sentence is written in the past tense, the struggle is not over. There is a good reason why, in our exhibition at the City Art Centre in summer 2006, our timeline of LGBT history takes the form of a game of Snakes and Ladders.

Scotland's first official Lesbian and Gay Pride march took place on a summer day in Edinburgh in 1995, when thousands of us marched along Princes Street, up the Mound and through the Old Town to the Meadows. But the real march has lasted much, much longer. The route has taken us through campaigns to change the law, the rise (and sometimes the fall) of activist organisations and support groups, lesbian feminism and gay liberation, the battle against HIV/AIDS, struggles against homophobic legislation and against institutions that have - by accident or design - treated us as something less than fully human.

These are some samples from Remember When's archive of recollections and reports from the front line.

One of the first contributors to the Remember When Project was the late Cecil Sinclair (1931-2004). Cecil was a highly respected activist within the Scottish Minorities Group (SMG) from its early days, one of the "founding fathers" of the Lothian Gay and Lesbian Switchboard, a meticulous keeper of historical records and a generous - although very discreet - donor to LGBT causes, including the Centre at 60 Broughton Street and to Switchboard itself. The archive and reading-room at Switchboard's offices is named the Cecil B Sinclair Room in his honour. In this extract from his Remember When interview he recalls the early gatherings at the Catholic Chaplaincy Centre, and the challenges the group faced when it tried to set up premises of its own:

The Scottish Minorities Group was founded in 1969. In 1970, by chance, I no longer stayed with my mother, I moved into my own flat, which I think gave me more freedom than I had before. Anyway, I knew somebody who was going regularly to the meetings. The Edinburgh branch of the Scottish Minorities Group met at that stage in a basement in George Square which belonged to the university's Roman Catholic Chaplaincy. So I went along out of curiosity one Monday and I really was most impressed by the standard of discussion. And so I just became a regular. There was a Monday discussion night - two-hour lectures or whatever - and Saturday they had it for a social.
Now, in those days, of course, there were no organised social events for gay people. And this thing on Saturday night just escalated. It became known as the Cobweb. And so many people were turning up to a small space - you're lucky if it was any bigger than this room - and started to dance, that we had to form a committee and limit numbers, having people signing in. And there was this huge queue outside each Saturday. It really was quite extraordinary. So that was my first organised involvement. I also was getting more and more involved in the Monday discussions, the serious part of it.
There wasn't a gay scene in Edinburgh. There were certain pubs that people went to regularly. So, obviously, the word [about the Cobweb] just got around. But, I mean, it became almost impossible because of the crowds. It was also nerve-wracking for those of us who ran it…
But you had no idea.... At any stage the police might just step in and close it down and arrest us. There was a feeling of paranoia about that. Anyway, they didn't, and we staggered on.
Apart from the Cobweb and the traumas of that, probably the first significant thing was the befriending service. In, must have been 1973, it was decided nationally that SMG would be organised with three centres of organisation: there would be the political element, the social element and the befriending (to provide care and information and advising people). I was asked by the then convenor of SMG Edinburgh if I would form a committee to take charge of the befriending side of things. It was actually four women and three men originally…
One of the joys of being involved in SMG, and particularly in the befriending service, was that for the first time in my life I got to know and work with lesbians, which was really good.
Then we decided we had to run a phone service. Now, originally, this was in people's houses. The first person to offer was an American woman who was on the committee. But, unfortunately, she wasn't actually staying in Edinburgh very long.
We needed premises of our own, we needed premises for meetings, for small social occasions, for the befriending service. And this involved moving. So this was a major step.
One of the original founders of SMG was a man called John Compass, who's now dead, who was an estate agent, and he was involved in trying to find suitable premises. And somebody was persuaded to put forward I think it was £2,500 to be lent to the group. Other money had been raised from the discos…They were a good money spinner apart from anything else. Anyway, the money was available for the Edinburgh branch to purchase property… There was £5,000, which was a lot in those days.
We settled on premises on Broughton Street - a hairdresser's with rooms at the back. 60 Broughton Street consisted of the ground floor flat and also two rooms at the back in the basement. And the rooms at the back were occupied by two tenants… We were supposed to get it without the tenants, but somehow or other we didn't. Anyway, eventually all the legal things went through.…
I was given the keys by the lawyer, and I went down and walked into 60 Broughton Street and there was the hairdresser still happily carrying on with his clients. So that was the start of the saga of 60 Broughton Street… But the two major problems were the tenants and the neighbours.
The tenants didn't want to leave. And I think maybe, perhaps, we could have handled them better. Because they had the use, at least for incoming calls, of the telephone in the hairdresser's. And somebody told them they couldn't get that anymore. And so, of course, they were even more angry, and they barricaded the door between the two, between the hairdresser's and our rooms in the back… Eventually, the tenants were prepared to move out, provided we found accommodation for them, a place they would rent. And I would have thought that John Compass, being an estate agent, would have been able to organise this, but no. So it ended up - my mother died and I had some money to spare - so I ended up buying a flat for them to move into.
As to trouble with neighbours: upstairs from the Centre there was one couple who had two young sons. And there was, in those days, this confusion between homosexuality and paedophilia. Now this wasn't helped when, early on, we were organising a meeting, not in the Centre but in the university somewhere, a talk by Rose Robertson, who ran an organisation in the south of England for the parents of homosexuals. So I think somebody suggested we put up a notice in our window advertising this. Great idea, except of course when Ian Dunn put up the notice he used a phrase 'homosexual children'… So there was an absolute stooshie.
There was a fuss about the brass plate, because it used the word 'homosexual' in it. People thought we should have applied for planning permission to put that up.
And when we applied for planning permission [to extend into another part of the building] the Planning committee, led by one of the Conservatives' local councillor ladies, turned down the application.... Anyway, it went to the Secretary of State for Scotland. We had a friendly advocate who was in charge. So that eventually got through. But it was all very traumatically time-consuming.

Iona McGregor remembers very early SMG women's meetings, which were held in Glasgow at the presbytery of Father John Breslin, a Roman Catholic priest who - like Father Anthony Ross in Edinburgh - was extremely supportive of the need for such a group:

I had never actually been to a meeting of gay women as such.… And I was terrified. And, of course, I had all these preconceptions in my mind. And I've thought since, if someone who was gay who had had a long relationship had these preconceptions, how much worse is it, you know, that really straight people have these preconceptions? I mean, one is brainwashed.… I was in my early 40s I think, and terribly naive still. And I went in and there were three much younger women in miniskirts and one transvestite man in pearls and twinset. It was a great culture shock.... I think we met once a week. We didn't do anything else otherwise. But more and more people were coming over from Edinburgh and the east of Scotland. So it was decided to set up a branch in Edinburgh. And that is how the Edinburgh women's SMG set themselves up. Now I should stress I was not the founder…
I felt actually, to be perfectly honest, that part of the job of the lesbians in SMG - and my God it was boring, it was ghastly, you know - was to educate the men about the different issues that concerned women. I mean, we did have a lot of the feminists in Edinburgh at the time… who said, 'You should not be working with men,' as they burst in in their duffle coats. But I felt that we did need to work with men: a) for the purely practical reason that they had a higher profile and the access to the dosh; and b) because it was necessary to educate them about the different concerns of women.
We were asked to send speakers to things like the Samaritans' conferences and Fife Social Work and so on. And as I was the only woman on the committee most of the time, I usually got pulled on to do this with Cecil or one of the others… And we got called out once, I remember, to a miner in Midlothian who was transvestite. He didn't want his wife to know. So we worked with him, counselled him for a while. And then I got a call on my own from him, so I said, 'No, I'm not going out there on my own.'

Sylvia Neri was another SMG activist who worked both as a befriender and on the phone line:

Quite shortly after I got on to the Befriending team - it must have been 1975/76 - I saw a need for a women's group and nobody else was around and willing to do it. So I started a women's group downstairs at 60 Broughton Street. It was open to any women, any age group and I met a wealth of lovely women… women, let's say, who really influence matters in the town today that I'm still pally with and who come around the house here quite a bit.
Sigrid [Neilson] and I did it together for a while but Sigrid quite quickly dropped out of it because she had so many commitments…
It was quite a mixed, let's say, mentality of women that were coming and a lot of times people were just coming to find a partner. I mean, you'd see them one day at the group and the next day you'd see them walking round MFI together. A lot of women that got into couples then are still in couples today but have moved out of town. But there was a big turnover in couples as well.…

Unlike Sylvia and Iona, many Edinburgh lesbians in the 1970s preferred to put their political energies entirely into the women's liberation movement, rather than what some feminists at the time referred to as 'straight' gay politics. As Annie Garven recalls:

There was another conference. It was called Human Rights Conference or something and it was a gay thing. It was in Teviot I think and I fell out very badly with Ian Dunn at that time when he described the 'red herring of feminism' and so we went away and formed a little caucus, as one did then, and set up a magazine called Red Herring and thought we were terribly witty, you know. It actually had feminist knitting patterns. It was really very funny…

Gregan Crawford recalls the International Gay Rights Congress in Edinburgh in December 1974:

It was an extremely powerful influence on gay people in Edinburgh, just having the event here. It didn't get very much publicity at the time; the major media ignored it to begin with, and we had 2,000 people from all over the world here! So we decided we were going to do something that they couldn't ignore. This was all taking place at the Edinburgh University Teviot Place Union. There was a big banner that had been draped along the front of the speaker's area and this was taken down and we marched down the Bridges, first of all to the Scotsman offices. And then we marched on to the BBC in Queen Street. We forced the BBC Scotland guy, John Gray, to come out and talk to us.… So this was actually, in a way, a Pride march 21 years before the first Pride march. In its way it was the first gay march.
I was the official photographer for Gay News for this event - and I was running down the far side of the Bridges to make sure I got a good vantage point. I remember a policewoman talking into her radio saying 'Do you know anything about a march?' It took people completely by surprise and it caused quite a bit of consternation. I do know of people from Edinburgh who were on the march who were seen by friends from buses and things and they effectively came out this way. It was quite fun. You just got caught up in the whole euphoria of the event.

The 1980s

Ken Wilson, newly arrived in Edinburgh after student life in the not-very-gay-friendly environment of Aberdeen, remembered the first years of the decade as an exhilarating time:

When I came to Edinburgh I was living in a shoe box in a shared, straight flat and it was just not for me. It was very cheap and it was near where I was working and it had its good points, but it wasn't what I was looking for. And eventually I phoned Gay Switchboard and I got a chap who was a Jesuit priest of all things - and he invited me to some people's house, to a flat, and I met two lads that I'm still friendly with and another chap called Ian Dunn, and he, apart from anything else, had a gaff and was looking for a flatmate and I thought, 'Well, that's interesting because, 'this'll be a wonderful opportunity and it will get me out of this room, the size of a cupboard.' But because I was very nervous, moving into a fully-fledged gay flat, you think 'this is going to be a big step'. Anyway, for good or ill, the flat wasn't quite ready. He was sort of refurbishing it from scratch and it wasn't finished yet. Eventually I was invited round. It was very nice: a lovely big flat, top floor, right down Broughton Street. And so after a lot of mulling it over I decided 'Why not? What a chance.
I was looking at an early Gay Scotland and you can see an ad for the very flat: 'Furnished accommodation, central Edinburgh in a very well-appointed New Town dwelling house with all amenities provided. Cost of one room £28 a week; for a shared room £18 a week. Only your own meals and phone calls extra. Entry on or after 1st January 1982 by mutual agreement. To view the flat after 20th December please contact Ian Dunn' and a telephone number. I can't remember the sequence of events. I remember going to something, a launch thing, at what was then called Calton Studios.
They had a big get-together of the great and good on the Edinburgh gay scene and I think it was actually SHRG (Scottish Homosexuals Rights Group) which was holding its Annual General Meeting or something of the kind. Until this point they had a kind of typed up newsletter and the idea was to turn this newsletter into a fully-fledged magazine with photographs and adverts and make it a much more outgoing thing.… Ian Dunn, who was going to be my landlord, invited me along.

Ken's new landlord, as he was soon to discover, turned out to be one of the prime movers in the city's gay activist scene:

The axis of gay activism, I suppose, was Ian Dunn's flat along with the Gay Centre which was two doors further down the street.… Apart from having Ian's name on the door his flat also had Gay Scotland on a brass plaque, and I thought 'Erm, I hadn't quite anticipated that.' And, again, great soul searching and, I dunno, I just plunged in and decided to cross that bridge when I came to it: if my parents came to visit - should we put sticky tape over the sign or...?
Ian had his finger in lots of different pies: political activism, left wing politics and other stuff that must have gone on in that basement; I'm not too sure what; the SHRG Committee.
But it was only later on, a few years later, that the magazine became quite successful. There was nothing else quite like it… There would have been Gay Times in London, but this was very local for Scotland.
We got more advertising in, more people involved, and it moved from its first office which was, if you can imagine it, underneath Ian's bed in his bedroom, which had a big, wooden platform, king-size bed and underneath was a little office with an Anglepoise lamp and a big desk and an electric typewriter.… That was where Gay Scotland magazine started.
I think when it started it was very crude - there were awful cartoons on the cover: on the second edition it had the Loch Ness Monster - it was really pretty crude. And it was very much in the early days a kind of political rag, but we wanted something that was a firebrand, I suppose…

HIV/AIDS Activism

Dr Sandy McMillan, consultant in Genito-Urinary Medicine and HIV-Medicine for Lothian Health, has been professionally concerned with the gay community's sexual health issues for many years. He recalls returning from a visit to the United States in the early 1980s, when the threat posed by HIV/AIDS was becoming all too clear:

I came back here and thought it was time to disseminate some of the information and having had links with Switchboard in the past, they approached me, if I would come and do some talks to the volunteers who could then disseminate information and Gay Men's Health at the time - I think it was Gay Men's Health, you'll have to forgive me, there have been so many changes in nomenclature, but I remember vividly one evening, a lovely summer evening, going through to Glasgow by train, sharing the train with Derek Ogg who at that time was very active in gay politics, and Derek and I had a long discussion about it because just that day it had become apparent that there was a huge number of people in Edinburgh infected with HIV or HTLV3 by sharing syringes, needles. And Derek thought up an idea of having an organisation which became known as SAM (Scottish AIDS Monitor) and SAM did a lot of work in promoting safer sex; although we didn't know the cause of AIDS in the early 1980s, we did realise from studies in the States that receptive anal intercourse amongst gay men was the mains risk factor, and drug use. So lots of campaigns were done about safer sex…
We weren't quite sure whether we were getting the message through to everyone just through telephone switchboards and whatever, I was invited along to give a talk at Fire Island. I've given many lectures to undergraduates, postgraduates, researchers all over the place and I have to say that that was the most terrifying; it was I think either very late, midnight on a Friday or Saturday night, I was still stone cold sober, of course, dressed in a suit or something similar, collar and tie, went into Fire Island alone, went upstairs, was met, was introduced to the DJ and was invited at midnight to go onto the stage. And it was Derek who'd said to me beforehand, 'Sandy, I bet you this is the time you wish you'd smoked' which I didn't of course.
There was a sea of faces; the majority were men, there were a few women there; the majority of young men who had been quite clearly having a good time, most of them had had quite a lot of alcohol and I thought 'how are they going to receive me, the prophet of doom?' but in fact it was a tremendous experience. After the first couple of minutes, I settled down very quickly and got the message over about this infection and how it was transmitted and how people could take care and lots and lots of questions about it, so I think it was very profitable to do that. One of the problems we were facing at that time, of course, was a lot of prejudice around HIV/AIDS. The message was getting through by right wing people that this was the wrath of God and very, very justified that these people should be infected: here you had gay men, injecting drug users infected with a potentially lethal virus, well 'Hell mend them' I think was really the message, and overcoming a lot of that prejudice was difficult; it was very difficult. I must say that my colleagues in the Royal Infirmary were very supportive, I'm not just talking about my consulting colleagues in genito-urinary medicine but in general medicine as a whole.

John Ramage, one of the city's pioneering activists on HIV/AIDS issues contributes his own recollections of that time:

It was around that time - the early '80s - that we started to hear news reports and things on the telly about this strange disease that was afflicting people with the letter 'H' at the beginning of a word that would describe them; there were haemophiliacs, heroin addicts, people from Haiti, and homosexuals. I think many gay people felt immediately victimised by this disease because nobody could put a reason for this but quite clearly a lot of people in San Francisco and New York, which had huge gay communities, were being struck down by it. These gay men were dying of strange diseases that were finally [defined] as having an immune defence system root and viral. I think those of us based on Switchboard decided, well, we can either play victims here or we can decide whatever we know about it, we need to know more; we need to be well-informed and we need to react to it.
And the first ever office for an information service about this disease was the office of our old people's home in Midlothian [a care home jointly owned and operated by John Ramage and Edward McGough]. And that's where Scottish AIDS Monitor, the first organisation set up to deal with monitoring this disease and to disseminate information among those communities that appeared to be vulnerable, began…
I like to think that in Scotland particularly, the reason that we never had the epidemic the way that it was advertised that we were going to have it was because the gay community in Scotland actually took the bull by the horns and did something. Part of that was because we had links already through Switchboard with the Department of Urology and Sexually Transmitted Diseases at the Infirmary. We had friends who were clinicians on that team and who'd worked with us anyway, so, if you like, there was a kind of infrastructure there to grab on to, to share information, to monitor the situation and to start to make people aware of it.
Subsequent to that, of course, there was the plan to build the first ever AIDS Hospice and Edward [McGough] particularly was very involved with Derek Ogg and a couple of other people and the then Lord Provost of Edinburgh what is now Waverley Care started with the Trust that came out of Scottish AIDS Monitor to build the hospice.
In fact, I invented the name for the hospice, Milestone, over a very boozy lunch in the Doric restaurant with Edward and Derek because we were determined that we were going to make this happen. So my contribution was just to make up the name… But Edward and Derek really, really put in one hell of a lot of work.
1981 was the first discovery of the disease and they usually say when New York sneezes, five minute later Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain catches a cold… I think a lot of people, because they were in denial, decided that it was a conspiracy against gay people.
There were people who thought it was too difficult to face the reality of it. There was a great deal of fear and a great deal of, I would say, depression: I think people thought, 'Why us?' People were justifiably depressed that things they enjoyed doing could be hurting them, could be dangerous.
I remember we did a benefit concert, sort of late night show to raise money for Scottish AIDS Monitor as part of the Festival and we got various comedians and performers who were working on the Festival to come that night and make a contribution, do an act; one of them was Julian Clary who at that time was known as 'The Joan Collins Fan Club and Fanny the Wonder Dog.' I was the host, the MC. I introduced all the acts and tried to be funny and informative about the work of Scottish AIDS Monitor, trying to make jokes about AIDS for the first time, thinking 'I'm on a hiding to nothing here' but we managed somehow.
There was a clique of rather well known Edinburgh gay queens in the audience and Julian Clary went down a bomb. I don't know if you ever saw his act with Fanny the Wonder Dog. It was brilliant. But the act that followed Julian Clary died a death. He wasn't very good, with the result that this clique of queens in the audience started shouting. When he finished his act and I had to go on again, they started shouting 'We want Fanny, we want Fanny', meaning they wanted Julian Clary and the dog.
Well I just waited until it died a bit, this chant of 'We want Fanny, we want Fanny' and then I named the loudest of these guys because I knew him and said, 'That's not what I've heard' and that shut them up, the rest of the audience fell about laughing and started clapping. That's all I remember of that night really. I just remember thinking, 'I'm standing here on this stage and there are people booing; what do I do?' Anyway we raised a lot of money and that was the point of the thing.
It was a hairy scary time: fear, denial, paranoia. People thinking 'What if the person I'm with has got this, what if I've got it, what if .…
When it became clearer that heterosexual people were equally vulnerable to this disease, when that sunk in, gay people felt less victimised and more willing to get on with managing their lives with this disease around us…
I work with very young people at universities, students - and one of the things I often say to them is, 'Do you know, when I was your age, I had two great fears about exploring my sexuality: one was, if it was with a woman, she could become pregnant and if it was with a man, I might get found out … You have an extra problem, it can kill you; we didn't have that.
I'm very aware of that being a huge difference between being young when I was young and being young now…
There were bigots who saw HIV/AIDS as punishment from God… In fact, when we were looking for a building for the hospice, one of the problems we encountered [in some areas, notably Torphichen in West Lothian] was that there were local people, including churches, who didn't want that… in their neighbourhood, because that meant that there would be perverts and junkies flocking into their previously spick and span community.
But I have to say that very clever work with the community at Firhill meant that we had the opposite response when Milestone was being built…The community embraced it in a very, very supportive way.... Partly because of the Lord Provost: she was just marvellous, Eleanor [McLaughlin]. She was a fantastic woman, very energetic and a woman that ordinary people just identified with and trusted and she did a great deal of campaigning work. She was quite ferocious about it as well and that work really paid off....

The cafŽ at 60 Broughton Street as Activist Base-Camp

Alan Joy, who has been involved since the 1980s in creating and running LGBT-friendly venues recalls the emergence of the cafŽ at the Lesbian and Gay Centre

We had used it as a place where different groups could meet.… We used to give people big pots of tea and things while they were having a big meeting, sitting round a table for three hours. [We were] making absolutely no money whatsoever, but it was interesting…
We just wanted it to be an alternative to what the scene was like at the time in Edinburgh, because it was very much the Laughing Duck which obviously revolved around alcohol, there was Key West around the corner from that which revolved around alcohol and there was Fire Island, the night club which again was alcohol-fuelled.
There was no place that was really open during the day where people could just go and sit and meet other people and we also weren't licensed so no beer or wine or any spirits whatsoever, it was all just tea and coffee, we had this old cappuccino machine. It was good.
And it was really weird: just when we set that up that was when the Tory government was introducing the Clause 28 stuff… We were running a cafŽ in the Lesbian and Gay Centre. Gay Scotland was being published downstairs, Scottish Homosexual Rights Groups met in the building as well, in the committee room, and we were all just in the same building at the same time and we were able to all get together and decide how we were going to fight this ridiculous piece of legislation.…
We managed to organise a couple of rallies and a march in Edinburgh; we took coaches down to London for mass demonstrations down there, there was a big demonstration in Manchester that we took people to as well.
I'm not saying that if the Blue Moon hadn't been there it wouldn't have happened anyway, it was just that we were just right there in the centre of things and we were able to manage to pull all these different groups together that maybe - like women-only groups, the Scottish Homosexual Rights Group and other groups of people that maybe would never have spoken to each other at that time.

Lark in the park

Maruska Greenwood, who has been an activist in Edinburgh since the 1980s, recalls the first Lark in the Park:

Shortly after I moved to Edinburgh Section 28 came along and attempts at getting that through Parliament. And we very, very quickly in Edinburgh set up a group to combat Section 28, which was sort of named in response to the organisation that then ran the Lesbian and Gay Centre, which was SHRG, Scottish Homosexual Rights Group. And we set ourselves up as Scottish Homosexual Action Group, with the acronym of SHAG, which caused a bit of amusement when we went to the Council for funding and things like that. You know, the kind of thing that you think is a laugh at the time, but the Council doesn't get it. And we had … I think it was the first demonstration in the UK against Section 28. Very small-scale initially. But the group was very active.
One of the main things we did was actually run Lark in the Park in the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens. And the kind of scale of it was really unprecedented. And the fact that it was right there, right in the middle of the city, a chance for lesbian and gay people and their friends and whatever to get together very openly. And the event was five hours of music mostly and comedy, but with quite a strong political agenda. And it was just great. It was really, really wonderful. And it felt very defiant and it attracted a lot of people. We ran that two years, I think. And the second year was just after Section 28 had been made law. And it was the first event that had been - a public event - that happened after that. And we had Council backing. So that was a very interesting time.
It was an interesting group in that, it was made up of a lot of lesbian feminists who had never worked with men or hadn't for many years. And gay men who weren't really used to working with very stroppy, strong women. And you know, we did remarkably well under the circumstances.

Kate Fearnley on the first Edinburgh Bisexual Group, 1984-2000:

I hated London. So I gave up on it and came back to Edinburgh. [In 1984] we organised a group, which at first met monthly, and quite a few people started to come along. And we didn't really quite have the critical mass of people to make the group work. So what we decided to do was organise a bisexual conference. I'd been to one that the London Bisexual Group had organised. Maybe two. And decided we could do the next national conference in Edinburgh and that that might make things happen. And it did. It was a great success.
About 60 people were there - about half were from Edinburgh - and from that sprang a weekly group. We met on Thursdays. The Edinburgh Bisexual Group continued to meet for sixteen years. So it was probably the most successful group, or one of the most successful LGBT groups, there's been in Edinburgh. And it only finished in February 2000, when it finally folded.
We met, for most of that time in the Lesbian and Gay - later renamed Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual - Centre in Broughton Street, downstairs in the meeting room, which was at the front of the building at the time. The format of the group was informal. We didn't ever have a committee. We did 16 years without any elected formal committee-type structure. And so the ethos of the group was very much that it belonged to everybody who came along. And at the very beginning, when it started off on its weekly meetings, it really, really did…
We had a membership list which we carried around and different people took it home on different evenings and brought it back the next week. And we did posters every week advertising the next week's meeting because it was the eighties, everybody was on the dole, we had loads of time. So we'd do posters and we put them round 30 or 40 venues in Edinburgh every week advertising the meeting. It was an incredibly active group. There'd usually be a topic of discussion on the sorts of topics groups always have: coming out and that kind of thing; a lot of quite political ones, the politics of bisexuality. Sometimes we'd have a speaker. We'd have new members coming every week. After the group we always went on for some sort of social event. The bit I remember most was going to the Northumberland Bar, as was, on Northumberland Street every Thursday night and just carrying on socialising there.
We did a newsletter. I think it was bi-monthly actually, listing all the meetings that were coming up. Early on I'm not sure if it had a name, but later it was called the Ubiquitous, which stands for Uppity Bisexual Queers United In Their Outrageous Unconventional Sexuality. Outlandish? I can't remember what exactly. It circulated mostly within Edinburgh, to people who came to the group. We did cull the mailing list every so often, but the Ubiquitous went to all the people on the database, and the database did reach several hundred."The [early] newsletters looked different every time and had different types of content every time. It was really interesting. And the posters were done by somebody different every week. And some people were really arty and some people weren't. We copied them at SCRAM, the Scottish Campaign for Resisting Atomic Menace, just above Lavender Menace [Edinburgh's first gay and lesbian bookshop]... they had a photocopier. And we could change the ink so it would photocopy in blue or whatever colour paper. So our posters were different every week. Very active, those early few years. Until people started getting jobs and having too much to do.
There was a preponderance of people in their twenties and thirties. But our youngest member was 16 and our oldest was in his 70s, so it really did span all age groups. And it spanned all kinds of people as well. ... I always felt that I was meeting people I would never have met in any other context.
It went through ups and downs. There were years where it would sort of reach two or three people coming to a meeting and new people would come and they'd think, 'Oh, there's hardly anybody here,' and then they'd never come back again. But, mostly there was a sort of core of people who were interested in making it continue.... And people would come and rally round and make things happen. We had training for facilitators so that people would feel drawn in. And social events… For a long time all the women in the group went to the Turkish Baths at Portobello for a couple of years, every Sunday morning. And, you know, that was absolutely lovely.
And for another period we all met at The Northumberland for Sunday lunch. Other times there were bike rides and walks and picnics in Warriston Cemetery.
We organised I don't know how many conferences. Four or five national conferences. …UK-wide. Every two years we would end up hosting a conference. The very first one we held was at.…I think it was at the Pleasance. That's certainly where the lesbian and gay socialist one was held. I think the bisexual one was there as well. We held one at Tollcross Community Centre and there was one at the Methodist Central Hall. And we were always very keen, like from the start, on access… We had signers for deaf people. And we always made sure we had wheelchair access…
Oh, we had workshops on every kind of topic under the sun. You know, from coming out, to academic studies on bisexuality, safer sex and a whole range of things. But we had sort of ongoing debates about various things. For example, whether transsexual people - particularly the controversy was about male to female transsexual people - whether they could use women-only space. And we said, yes, they could… but there was always some controversy about that. An interesting ongoing debate.

The 1990s and Beyond

Tim Hopkins, of the Equality Network, has been at the centre of LGBT activism in Edinburgh since the mid-1980s. He has an almost photographic memory for dates and details, and his Remember When interview is a richly detailed chronicle of twenty years of LGBT politics. The following extracts focus on his recollections of three different 1990s campaigns.

Tim Hopkins on Act-Up:

Act-Up was quite active in '90 and '91. In fact it organised the first really successful demonstration that I went on, which was outside the Scottish Office in St Andrew's House. And it was to protest against the way that HIV money was split up around the health regions. In those days HIV money was divided amongst the health regions in proportion to the population of the regions. And we said it should be divided taking into account the number of people with HIV in each region. And so we organised this demo.
It was the first demo I had been on that was properly organised. We notified the press and everything. We lay down on the road in front of the buses and stuff like that.… And we got MPs to come along. Gavin Strang came along. And at least one other MP … I think it was Ron Brown actually who was then the MP for Leith. And Gavin Strang was asked by the press, by the TV people, 'Don't you think it's terrible these people are blocking the traffic and stuff?
And he said, 'Well, you have to understand why it is that people feel so strongly about this. …' He said he supported what we were saying. Because remember, they were in opposition then.
And in fact shortly after they did change the way that the money was split up. Which was good. I'm not saying that that was caused by the demonstration, but when that kind of thing happens it definitely gives a boost to the people who are doing the campaigning.

Tim Hopkins on the beginnings of the LGBT Equality Network:

The Sex Offenders Bill was published by the Tory government in late '96, and I got a copy of it and read it, and realised it was highly discriminatory for Scotland, but not for England and Wales, and that turned out to be because Stonewall and Outrage had done work on it for England and Wales, and completely ignored Scotland. ... So we decided that we needed to campaign about it.
It was mostly, I think, Helen [Chambers], Derek Ogg and myself that were heavily involved around Christmas '96 in starting a campaign to get this Bill changed. Because it would have been a disaster. It would have meant that men who are fined £50 for cottaging or shagging on Calton Hill would have wound up on the Sex Offenders Register in Scotland, but not on a similar thing in England.
We decided we needed a name, so we called ourselves the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Equality Network. And that was based on the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network in Ireland, which had been very successful in getting the law changed in Ireland in the early '90s. This was the end of '96. And we did loads of work on it in early '97, talking to civil servants, getting MPs to put amendments into the legislation and so on. And, eventually, the Scottish Office backed down - Michael Forsyth was Scottish Secretary at the time - and eventually they said, yes, okay, we will change it. So that was good. That Act was passed just before the general election in 1997.
So we thought, shall we just wind up this thing? ... No, what we'll do is have a conference, a national conference, about what needs to be done for LGB equality and we'll have it the day before Pride Edinburgh '97, the second Pride. We had it on the Friday in Edinburgh City Chambers, and that was the first Equality For All conference, probably because Equality For All was the slogan for Pride that year.… Something like 120 people came, and we've still got the reports of it, identified all sorts of issues, and more to the point it said we want the Equality Network to carry on. So that was the start …

Tim Hopkins on the campaign against the Bank of Scotland's proposed partnership with Pat Robertson [militantly homophobic American televangelist and financier]:

March '99 was when the Bank of Scotland thing happened. The Bank of Scotland announced that they were going to do this deal with Pat Robertson. Previous to that we'd had some successes: we'd changed the Sex Offenders Act, we'd changed the Scotland Act, and we had an influence on the consultative steering group report. The Bank of Scotland thing was completely different. And we had a meeting to discuss whether or not we wanted to do anything about it. And we decided we did. That it would be good for LGBT equality to make publicly the links between his sexism and his racism and his homophobia. We never thought that the bank would actually be forced to back down, but for various reasons it was.

Pride 1995

Doogie Hothersall was one of the organisers of the first full-scale Pride march and festival to take place in Scotland:

A lot of people were saying, 'Well, you'll never make something like that happen in Edinburgh.' It's interesting because a bunch of people in Glasgow that had started getting going said, '[it] shouldn't be in Edinburgh, you need to be in Glasgow, we've got the numbers of people to host it.' The next year, when we insisted that it was going to move from city to city, there was masses of opposition: they said it needed to stay in Edinburgh. So it was a constant battle to have a vision and to actually follow through on that vision rather than be swayed into the self-interest of different groups. And, essentially, right up to June 17th, we really didn't know, if anyone was going to turn up at all. We knew by April/May that we had convinced enough people, that there were going to be people there .... But everybody was completely in the dark as to whether anyone, any significant numbers of people, were going to turn up. It was quite possible that we would have lots of stall holders, lots of stewards and no actual people.
Well, it was very clearly intended to be a community empowerment thing and to hark back to protest as well. In 1995 obviously Section 28 was still around, but a whole bunch of oppressive legislation was still on the books and, socially, we were behind where we are now and there was still a long way to go.
But, anyway, it was really important for us that the Pride thing wasn't just a festival: it was a march, the act of protest, and then the celebration afterwards that we had done the march. That was the bottom line and so it was never queers-only but it needed to be focussed around us, not something that somebody walking past laughed at. It certainly wasn't trying to put people off walking past and joining in, it was meant to be an attractive thing: people come along and find out what's going on, maybe see some of the stalls, pick up some leaflets and stuff.
But, really, it was focussed on the community because, the danger with advertising broadly when you're at that sort of stage of an organisation, if somebody is appearing, a mainstream popular act, it tilts the festival against what you're trying to do. And we did hear after that the atmosphere was really surprising and incredibly empowering for a lot of people because it was the first time - and Lark in the Park had happened, and that was really the first big gathering thing up here - but Pride was 1995, it was the first time people had really felt that coming together, that in-your-face march and I think it really worked for a lot of people.
On the day itself none of the main people involved, apart from Tim Hopkins, who was stewarding the march, got anywhere apart from the festival site. We were running around trying to do all the last minute disaster-limiting problems, fill in the gaps, so we never saw the gathering for the first march.
There are two things on that day that really stick in my memory. We all had radios, but the ones on the march were too far away to communicate with the ones at the festival. The link points were Tim, as the Chief Steward of the march, and me, as the festival coordinator. And we did it by phone, so we literally didn't know even at the time that the march was starting (because he was running around like a blue-arsed fly and not able to phone) how many people were coming, whether there was anybody there.
And then I remember getting a phone call, probably about 20 minutes before they were due to arrive on the site, and it was Tim's voice in a real cacophony of whistles and shouts and so on and he just said, 'I've just asked the policeman next to me for an estimate of the number and he says it's 3,000.
The tingle is going down my spine again now when I think about it. That was so far away from our expectations. We thought 500. We thought if we could get 1,000 we would be as happy as Larry. But, if the police estimate 3,000, you actually are talking about 5,000 or 10,000. So at that point I put the phone down and got the radio out for the festival people and there was a lump in my throat when I said, "I hope you are all ready because in 15 minutes 3,000 people are going to arrive here' and there was a stunned silence for a minute and then 'whoops' went all the way round the different tents. So it was really a moment of truth.
I think the other [outstanding memory from the day] actually came afterwards. There was this chap who lived on the corner of Barony Street, a second floor flat, and he was dying of AIDS that summer. And his last wish was to take part in the first Pride. He wasn't able to do that because he was too ill, but what he wanted to do at least was to see it. And we found out a few days afterwards that about 12 o'clock, when it was all just setting off, he was able to stand at his window and see the march head off - and he died about half an hour after that. It was such a big thing for so many people.

Kate Fearnley, active on many different LGBT fronts from the 1980s, recalls the joys of banner-making:

There was a little period when S and I were into making banners. The first one we made just said … What did it say? Lesbian and Gay Equality, or something along those lines. Something very basic. On this marvellous, heavy blue satin with a gold fringe. We'd been going to a march in Glasgow and the night before the march we went back to the flat and on the doorstep of the flat downstairs we found this material and we thought fantastic, we can make a banner, we'll make it in the morning, in time for the march. And, actually, we spent days making it and missed the march completely. But it was a really lovely banner. It was very heavy, but very beautiful. And then we kind of got the bug and we made the Pinko Commie Queers one. And we made one for Scottish Homosexual Rights Group, as was. And we made the Gay Scotland one that had a triangle with a big GS like the logo of Gay Scotland. And an Edinburgh Bisexual Group one, of course. I can't remember what else.… But we had great fun with the sewing machine and a lot of colourful material.

Transgender Activism

Lewis Payne on the beginnings of Trans Men in Scotland:

Towards the end of 2002 we started to put out feelers to see if people were interested in getting together a trans men support group. People were, so that's where Trans Men Scotland started really, from that point, and we started meeting in our living room until December of 2002. We had 13 guys come to the first meeting and that's where we started. There were guys like ourselves who had already transitioned and other people who were still coming out or in transition and a lot of quite younger guys. When we started to transition, I think most people who were in that big first wave, were in their 30s to early 40s but even just a few years later, it seemed that it was people in their 20s and late teens were the people who were coming out, so the age was growing younger. Also then in 2003 the LGBT Centre [for Health and Wellbeing] had got awarded funding, and quite early on we went and met Tony Stevenson there, and wanted to talk to them about what they were going to do around trans work. They had got T in the name - we asked what did that mean to them. We made those connections quite early on, and by then the group had been meeting for quite a while and we wanted to get it out of our living rooms. We started meeting there, and that's provided us with a good space for the group to be able to flourish.
We meet every month and do discussions and the group has grown from there. There are probably about 30 guys or so that are in touch with us from all over Scotland, so there's quite a significant community and people are coming out all the time.

Lewis Payne

Cecil Sinclair

Photo: Remember When archive

Interior of Scottish Minorities Group's new premises at 60 Broughton Street before the departure of the sitting tenants, 1974

Photo: Gregan Crawford

Interior and exterior of the Centre at 60 Broughton Streetm, mid-1970s

Photo: Gregan Crawford

Early Scottish Minorities Group poster, c. 1970

Lesbian feminist badge, mid-1970s

International Gay Rights Congress participants take their message to the media, marching on The Scotsman and the BBC, December 1974

Photo: Gregan Crawford   

The late Ian Dunn,SMG activist and first Gay Scotland editor, pasting up an issue of the magazine in the basement at 60 Broughton Street, 1984

Photo: Ken Wilson

Safe-sex missionaries from The Order of Perpetual Indulgence at Pride 1997, Edinburgh

Photo: Ken Wilson]

badge, c. 1980s, combining the gay symbol of the pink triangle with a slogan used at the time to reinforce the importance of open discussion and public awareness of the threat posed by HIV-Aids

Stonewall CafŽ at the Centre at 60 Broughton Street, 1997

Photo: Ken Wilson

Postcard printed c. 2000 for use in campaign for the Repeal of Section 28 (in Scottish law, actually Section 2A). The reverse side of the card is pre-printed with a message to Members of the Scottish Parliament, with space for a constituent's signature.

Newspaper poster quoting Pat Robertson's observation about Scotland's powerful homosexuals, in response to the LGBT community's militant campaign against his prospective partnership with the Bank of Scotland in 1999.

Badge from the first Pride Scotland march, held in Edinburgh in 1995.

Clashing world-views at the foot of the Mound during the 1997 Pride march in Edinburgh

Photo: Ken Wilson

The Edinburgh contingent at a Pride march in London, late 1980s, carrying the Pinko Commie Queers banner made by Kate Fearnley and friends.

Photo: Kate Fearnley




Half a century of LGBT activism:

A Rough Guide to Some of the Highlights


The publication of the Wolfenden Report recommended changes in the (English) law on male homosexuality.


Passage of law decriminalising certain restricted aspects of homosexual relations between two consenting male adults in England and Wales.

1969 Scotland's first gay rights organisation, the Scottish Minorities Group (SMG) is founded in February 1969.

1969 The Stonewall riots: On 17 June 1969 an assortment of drag queens, lesbians, and other patrons of the Stonewall Bar in New York's Greenwich Village militantly resisted police harassment. Their battle with the police and subsequent arrests were followed by massive demonstrations. The encounter galvanized activists and became "the shot heard round the world" for gay and lesbian rights campaigners.


The Gay Liberation Front (GLF) espousing a more radical and militant approach to gay issues than the reform-oriented Scottish Minorities Group, is set up in Scotland, and is active 1971-1973.

1971 The Traverse Theatre, as part of a series of public debates called "The Traverse Trials", staged a debate on the motion that all discrimination against homsexuals should end. SMG and GLF join forces to argue the case. Their opponents are two psychiatrists and a Tory councillor, who described gay people as "so-called human beings".

1974 An International Gay Rights Conference is held at Edinburgh University. Events include a march to the steps of the offices of the Scotsman newspaper, an early prototype of Pride marches yet to come.

Throughout the 1970s, SMG engages in a 10-year-campaign to reform Scottish laws on homosexuality.

The mid-1970s sees the emergence of lesbian feminist groups, drawing members both from mixed gay groups and, especially, from the Women's Liberation Movement. A vocal separatist strand within the lesbian feminist community criticises female activists who choose to work alongside men of any sexual orientation, on the grounds that women's primary struggle should be against all aspects of patriarchal power.

1974 Lothian Gay and Lesbian Switchboard is launched.

1978 Scottish Minorities Group renames itself the Scottish Homosexual Rights Group (SHRG).


1980 MP Robin Cook puts forward a successful amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, to bring Scottish law regarding homosexuality into line with that of England and Wales. In 1981 the bill becomes law, giving Scottish men, in certain specific circumstances, the first opportunity to engage in homosexual sex without breaking the law.

1982 Launch of Gay Scotland magazine.

1982 The opening of Lavender Menace, Scotland's first gay and lesbian bookshop.

1983Scottish AIDS Monitor (SAM) is founded to provide care and support for people with HIV/AIDS, campaigning for better services for those affected, and distributing information on prevention and safe sex-education for gay men.

1983 The establishment of a Transvestite/Transexual Group, which launches the magazine Tartan Skirt.

1983 The foundation, in the back room at Lavender Menace bookshop of ELLGYM (Edinburgh and Lothians Lesbian and Gay Youth Movement), which held weekly meetings and ran annual conferences entitled "Corrupted Youth" for several years during the 1980s.

1984Edinburgh Bisexual Group is formed, growing out of a workshop held at the Lesbian and Gay Socialist Conference.

1988The Scottish Homosexual Action Group, more popularly known as SHAG, is formed in Edinburgh, to fight the homophobic legislation being devised by the Tory government under Margaret Thatcher. SHAG and other activists persuade what was then Edinburgh District Council to allow them to stage Lark in the Park - a music festival celebrating lesbian and gay identity - in the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens.

1988Enactment of the infamous Section 28 (sometimes referred to as Section 2A), forbidding any local authority to "intentionally promote homosexuality or promote the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship."

1990s and beyond

1995 On 17 June 1995 thousands of people march through Edinburgh on Scotland's first Lesbian & Gay Pride March.

1996 Lesbian & Gay Pride is renamed Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Pride.

1998 The age of consent for same-sex relationships between men is lowered to 16 years of age.

1999The Bank of Scotland (now HBoS) announces plans for a financial partnership with the homophobic, right-wing US evangelist Pat Robertson. Mass protests include demonstrations at the Bank's headquarters on the Mound and many LGBT people and our allies, as well as trade unions and public sector organisations, threaten to - or do - withdraw their accounts. Eventually the deal falls through.

2000 On 21 June 2000 the Scottish Parliament repeals Section 2A - Section 28.

2003 New legislation makes it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of actual or perceived orientation.

2004 On 10 February 2004 the UK Gender Recognition Act gives transsexuals the right to full legal recognition of changes of gender.

2005 In December 2005 same-sex couples become entitled to register civil partnerships, giving them most of the same rights and responsibilities accorded to mixed-sex couples in marriage.

2006 In March the Adoption and Children (Scotland Bill) give unmarried couples including same-sex couples the right to adopt jointly.

2006 On 6 May 2006 the first Remember When exhibition is opened at the City Arts Centre and an LGBT archive established in the City of Edinburgh's permanent social history collection.