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.

Out There:

Scene, Non-scene, Unseen

I look at the gay scene and I can't believe it any more - hundreds of guys going around. When you compare 20 guys in one corner of Paddy's bar, it's completely mind boggling… It's wonderful. Obviously, 90% of the people who are out enjoying themselves today would have been living miserable, secret lives if the law hadn't changed.

John Watson, Remember When contributor

The census does not yet have a box to tick that's labelled "queer", but it is estimated that out of a population rapidly approaching half a million there are likely to be at least 20,000 to 40,000 Edinburgh citizens - and conceivably many more - who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

One thing in all the years I've lived here that has never ceased to amaze me: there are thousands of lesbians in Edinburgh, thousands and thousands. There absolutely are. But mostly they are all in little groups, unknown to each other.

Patricia McCaw, Remember When interviewer

To the occasional surprise of outsiders, we do not all know each other. We don't all live in each other's pockets. Today's LGBT Edinburgh, like the city as a whole, consists of many different worlds within worlds. There are any number of ways to live a rich, fulfilling, and entirely open LGBT life here. The bars and entertainment venues that make up what is conventionally known as "the scene" might be the most visible aspects of LGBT Edinburgh, but they are not the only places where we come together. Being out and going out are two entirely different things.

The collective recollections of Remember When contributors cover almost half a century of social life within the rainbow city. The changes have been massive but, in some people's view, not always for the better.

From the ways in which Remember When contributors talk about their present-day social lives, it is clear that the people crowding into the bars and clubs of the Pink Triangle on a Saturday night represent only one strand of the city's LGBT population. For some it is a generational issue: older gay men, for instance, speak of feeling out of place in social settings where only youthful good looks and gym-toned bodies are valued. And more than one unattached older lesbian has ruefully observed that many women, once settled with a partner, tend to disappear behind their own front doors. Others, across the age groups, would rather join a book group, sing in a choir or go hillwalking - and not necessarily only with those who share their sexual orientation.

This was not always the case. Older LGBT people recall a time when the only way we could be truly ourselves was to be among "our own kind". And the spaces where that was possible were few and far between. The scene, such as it was, was elusive, secret, and, in some eyes, sordid.

Gay men faced the ever-present risk of arrest and public disgrace. Lesbians had to grapple with their own invisibility, and a sense of almost unbearable isolation.

The 1950s - 1960s

In her interview, Iona McGregor, speaks evocatively of the isolation she felt during this era:

I acquired quite a lot of knowledge, intellectual knowledge [about lesbianism], but very, very little social contact because all the gay people, I met in the '50s were gay men and, of course, they were of this very, very camp generation. You know, something quite, quite different from the male gay identity nowadays. I did actually meet two gay women, but they were having a terrible time in Edinburgh. They were on their way to Singapore….
At the end of the '50s, I went down to London. It was quite obvious that I wasn't going to meet anybody or find any culture, gay culture for women anyway, in Edinburgh. Edinburgh in the late '50s was another universe from what Edinburgh is now. So I went down to London and … I had some very strange adventures on my own. I found out where the Gateways was [famous lesbian club of the period], but just as I was about to enter, a man shouted out across the road, 'That's right, dear. First on the left.' And I was so terrified, I just turned back.…

Her gay male contemporaries had other options. For many, the likeliest meeting places were the secluded spaces of the city's traditional cruising grounds, such as Calton Hill or a now-defunct footbridge across the tracks leading into Waverley Station. There was also a well-trodden circuit around certain public lavatories favoured for quick and furtive encounters, where the risk of arrest was considered a hazard worth facing or, for some people, part of the fun.

There were safer spaces too. Some community members, recalling the 1950s, speak of a bar halfway down Waverley Steps where well-dressed middle-class gentlemen gathered on Saturday nights to chat discreetly as a pianist played. And by the 1960s, certain Rose Street pubs, such as Paddy's bar and the Kenilworth, were well-established landmarks.

According to Ernie, born in 1942:

I would almost say that it was better, it was better being gay then in a kind of way. Partly because it was illegal. There was that bit of a thing about it being illegal. And because it was more concentrated. You didn't have to jump about to too many different places to find people. They were either in one bar or along the road in the other bar, and that was it…. But it's wide open now, almost too wide open, because it's spread out so far. But, in saying that, there's less fear of standing up and saying 'I am gay', which there was then.

David, another Edinburgh native born in the 1940s, describes how:

People would meet at the Kenilworth. Glances would be exchanged across the crowded bar and, almost by unwritten agreement, you would meet. In those days 'drinking up time' was 10 o'clock. Late licenses? Ha, no chance…. The Church of Scotland ran the town…. So at 10 o'clock you left the Kenilworth, wallked into Castle Street turned right and walked up the road to a coffee bar. It was called Crawfords. It was actually a baker's shop but at the back of it was this coffee bar which stayed open late - until 11! Exciting! Sophisticated! And that was where the gay community met - in Crawfords. And over our cups of coffee more glances would be exchanged and, if it was suitably dark, you might both go for a walk round the corner lanes in Rose Street or Thistle Street and 'things would happen'. If one of you was lucky enough to have a car you would go for a drive, usually up Calton Hill or other discreet places. The surrounding area around Inverleith Park was quite popular… In fact, it was so popular at one point, when you walked along, you couldn't tell if it was the wind moving the bushes or if it was couples....

David also recalls:

…One particular character who I will call Sticky…. Sticky had 'agricultural premises', shall we say, outside Edinburgh… and every Friday night in Crawfords, after the Kenilworth had shut, Sticky would appear, having parked the horse-box in George Street. A big horse-box in George Street, which, it's fair to say, wasn't exactly subtle. And Sticky would appear with a collection of young men and invite carefully selected and trusted friends to go back to his premises near Newbridge for what I can only describe as an orgy. And his orgies were legendary.
You have to remember this was a) pre-AIDS, so anything went; b) we were all young and dumb and full of testosterone and a few other things. Everybody who went to his premises knew what happened at those premises, so there was never any dubiety about 'oh, they got me drunk and forced me.' ... On a number of occasions the party started about midnight on the Friday night and finished at 8am on the Monday morning….

Meanwhile, back at the Crawfords coffee bar in Frederick Street and Castle Street, others were socialising more sedately. According to Ernie:

There was never any nonsense or any trouble in the cafŽs at all at any time. The gay crowd, there's never really trouble. But in Castle Street one night, the manager came to the door and stood at the door and, as we were going out, to each and every one of us, he said 'Thank you for your custom, but don't come back.' For no reason other than the fact that we were gay.

But that was not the end of the night. Gregan Crawford observes that:

10 o'clock for young people is just when the evening is starting, not when it's finishing, so consequently there was a very rich party life that went on after the pub. Everybody on a Friday or a Saturday night went back to somebody's flat; and there were great parties. Great crowds of people would go back to an individual's place or you just moved from place to place and that in itself meant that you got to know people far better than you ever did in a pub. You don't really get to know people till you go to their houses and see how they live.
Even at the time, when the positive reforms of the licensing law came in, I knew that it was going to change things for the worse in some respects. One of the things we lost, as a result of the later pub opening, was the party tradition. Parties just petered out, really.

Artist Jack Moncur vividly recalls one particularly eventful gathering:

There was one time, the police came… there were hundreds and hundreds of gay people there… that must have been the '70s. The music and all the rest of it was too loud; somebody had blabbed that there was a 'homosexual party'.... We all jumped the back wall... and it was Alan Alexander [another artist, now deceased, who was an enthusiastically flamboyant figure in the gay community at the time] who led the way: 'Come on, girls!' he said, and leapt over the back wall into Lauriston Place to safety. Nothing came of it, of course…. Ridiculous!

A very different atmosphere prevailed at the Abercromby Hotel in the New Town as one regular former explains:

You had to get dressed up in your good togs because that was quite a swish place," "You couldn't have gone in in a pair of jeans in those days.

According to Jack Moncur it was:

the prettiest little hotel you could wish for… five star, posh and very expensive…

He recalls how, soon after its opening in the late 1960s, the community claimed it for its own:

J [a local antique dealer] bought that property, did some conversions, and put in a new entrance way which is still there, which is now the Open Eye Gallery. And of course it wasn't a gay bar at all. The naughty Alan Alexander just spread the word about, saying 'Heavens! This fabulous new gay bar… the Abercromby, it's just on the corner there, stunning dŽcor' and of course that was it from then on - gay bar. And it was super, so elegant.

Dr David Stuart also celebrates the Abercromby's splendours:

The Abercromby Hotel used to be run by an antique dealer... who lived with his mum, a very fearsome lady in a whole block of the west end of Abercromby Place…. In the ground floor and basement he set up a stunningly grand looking gay bar; it was sensational, it had amazing museum-quality furniture in it and wonderful lacquered walls, the whole bit, interior decorated, and it really used to go like mad… the basement bar which was fairly cruisy and the top bar which was not quite so cruisy…. It was just great fun and Edinburgh has never had anything like it since…. It was great while it lasted. I don't know why it has gone…. It used to absolutely heave; you almost had to push your way through the front door even to get into the main hall let alone into the bars; it was very, very busy…. It was pretty mixed; it was all sorts of people; it was all ages, certainly.

But, as David Stuart goes on to recall, there were more dimensions to the city's gay milieu than even some of those within it might have suspected:

I came up for an interview [in 1960] and fell frantically in love with the city and thought 'God, this is where I want to live'. And it turned out that the chap that was holding the interview, Pete Davis, was a rather flamboyant gay man, although I was rather frightened of him to start with… I wasn't absolutely sure of my sexuality at the time anyway… [but], as I got to know him better and better, and we became quite good friends, I found out an amazing amount about the gay life that he'd led.
This was the generation that you can't interview because they're all dead. It was quite extraordinary, pre-Wolfenden, Edinburgh was a very inhibited sort of town in those days….
He was a lecturer then; he later became a professor, but only at the end of his career. He always rather blamed the fact that he was a rather flamboyant gay man for not having become a professor earlier. The university treated him with a certain amount of alarm and caution because he was quite remarkable. He used to give lectures with tartan trousers and frilly shirts and things, long before [anyone else did]. We used to wear cavalry twills and jackets and that sort of thing.
I don't know when he started lecturing but he had the most extraordinary career. He became very interested in plants and then he wanted to become an academic but before that of course the Second World War broke out and Peter became employed by the intelligence services and worked in Alexandria. I'm not quite sure what he did, anyway he used to go round Alexandria in the war… presumably seducing German officers and finding out what was going on, and he got to know some amazing people like Henry Miller [a well-known mid-20th century writer] and other luminaries who were living like gods at the time. He used to go collecting plants in Upper Egypt. He gave wonderful lectures; he was very popular and he was great fun. He used to have the most wonderful parties; he had a little house in St Bernard's Road and because he was quite well-connected to the arts community, he had wonderful things in it like Cocteau drawings and all that sort of stuff, marvellous antiques and he used to get all sorts of people to these parties; from duchesses to taxi drivers or some amazing seamen he would pick up in the bars in Leith the night before. He was a fascinating man and he had some extraordinary friends too, not all of whom were gay, obviously. You couldn't say openly you were gay but they all did frightfully well….
I had always thought, when I first came up, that the arts community was usually more tolerant of gay people than the science community which I'm in, so I got to know lots of art students and architects and things like that and some of them used to go to Paddy's bar and I used to go with them, and think 'God, is he gay? Is he gay? What about him?' and they usually weren't and that's all there was to it.
But Peter said that that didn't matter, he didn't like Paddy's bar…. There were several bars he used to go to in Leith. [One of these, now an upmarket restaurant] in those days was the most incredible pub.… It was all sailors and it was quite wild - and at one end of this sawdust pub, was a trestle table with the most extraordinary range of tarts I've ever seen, seated like the Last Supper. And they were covered in bruises and scabs and warts, terrible, underwear and cheap brooches. Peter had this incredibly upper class voice and said, could he have two halves, and the whole pub just went utterly absolutely quiet and I thought 'Jesus, we'll never get out of here!' but somebody waved to him over in the corner - it was some bloke he'd got off with several times.

Tales from Outlaw Country

Father Anthony Ross, who was the Catholic chaplain to Edinburgh University, made the basement of the Chaplaincy Centre in George Square available to the Scottish Minorities Group on a Saturday night to have a gay cafŽ and disco. So we fairly discreetly put fliers out in one or two of the toilets and one or two of the bars. And on our first night there was the usual crowd of - shall we say - the more camp and noisy members of the community, and one or two of the older, discreet ones. And a lot of young men, all with immaculately cut hair, turtleneck sweaters, sports jackets, razor-edge creased grey flannel trousers and black shiny toe-capped shoes: Edinburgh city police had decided we were going to be a den of Sodom and iniquity and they'd sent the entire squad along…. I remember clearly Ian Dunn and myself standing at the door with tears in our eyes, watching some of the more camp members of the community going up to them saying 'Excuse me - would you like to dance? I really love your turtleneck sweater!' and these guys would mutter 'Umm, oh, is that the time? - I've got to go…!'

David, an SMG activist in the early 1970s, on the first gay night at the Cobweb

Calton Hill used to be, I think it still is, a cruising area - you wouldn't get me near it for love nor money these days, it's dangerous, I wouldn't risk my life going there now. I actually was a regular and I went up one night about 30 years ago and met this guy and we were in the dark, there was nobody about, or so we thought. The police had obviously been watching us and the headlights of the car came on and they caught us in the headlights and we were arrested, spent the night in jail up at the High Street in separate cells! The following morning we were paraded in front of a number of police officers - this was before we even got into the court - and totally humiliated and embarrassed by the officer in charge. I really wouldn't like to think that the police would get away with doing something like that these days. The guy I was with was fined £40 and I was fined £25.Which was a lot of money then.

K., on being arrested in the 1970s

You've got to see this in the context of the at that time. Gay activity was against the law and we were regularly sent out to actually prosecute men for indulging in activity between consenting males. The truth of the matter is that in the 1960s and '70s we had a very poor relationship with the gay community… they were much more often victims of crime than they were offenders or perpetrators of crime. I think that complete failure in communication allowed criminality to prosper and allowed the activities of violent criminals to go undetected because, quite honestly, gay men had no confidence in reporting issues to the police.
There were one or two exceptionally violent crimes against gay men… It became apparent - and I was a senior officer in the CID at that time - there was a whole lot of violent criminality going on under our noses.… One of the greatest sins of the 1960s was that we'd not only failed to protect gay men but we actually tacitly approved or tolerated, we tolerated, the activities of, albeit a small group, a pretty hardened group, of violent criminals who we knew used to prey on gay men on Calton Hill.
There was an old provision under the Cleansing bye-laws against loitering in a public toilet. When I think about it now, we used to spend so much utterly fruitless time enacting these bye-laws whereby men would get fined 10 shillings at the Burgh Court. It was a complete nonsense. But the damaging side of that was that many of these men had their professional and personal lives ruined on the same basis. But I can remember clearly in that day we never questioned too much the morality of that. As far as we were concerned, it was against the law, we were tasked to do it and we were doing it....
You asked about the sea change, you asked about where the tipping point came. I think it was when we stopped seeing the gay community as a problem… and started seeing it as part of the community.

Tom Wood, Retired Deputy Chief Constable, Lothian and Borders Police

1970s - 1980s

At the beginning of the 1970s, the Scottish Minorities Group gatherings at the Cobweb, at the university's Catholic Chaplaincy Centre, were the first public social events outside the pubs and the relatively closed world of private parties. They became wildly popular, and soon outgrew the space available in the basement of a fairly modest 18th century building in George Square.

Gregan Crawford tells what happened next:

I'd been out on holiday that summer [1974] in San Francisco… I went to discos there and I just looked round and thought, 'Why don't we have these sorts of things in Scotland?' 'Why don't we have them in Edinburgh?' I'd never even seen them in London, let alone anywhere else in Britain. So, I felt we should have something more like this and I decided to make it happen….
There had been the discos in the Cobweb which I had been to for years, and then we moved around various halls. It was all very, very, primitive compared to these big commercial discos in America. So, I was by now a member of the Edinburgh Committee of the SMG and I volunteered to be the Social Convener….
On November 19th 1974, I think it was, we had our first disco in Nicky Tam's [formerly at the top of Victoria Street]. We did it on two floors: we had the disco on one floor and we had the food and stuff on the other; you always had to provide food, it was part of the licensing condition. We started off doing these discos every other month… and then they became monthly. And then eventually it became too big; too many people wanted to go: people queued up the street.
We moved to Stockbridge, to what was Tiffany's in those days, it later became Cinderella Rockerfellas. This was in St Stephen's Street; the building's now demolished and replaced with flats. It was owned by Mecca [a company which ran dance and bingo halls] and we used to go there on a Monday or a Tuesday night, which was a quiet night for them… but actually, we were told by the manager that these had the biggest bar takings and people were better behaved. The police, of course, keep an eye on these sorts of things. They said they never had any trouble when we were there.…
It was, I suppose, many more men than women but it was everybody who could get in… We had up to 700 people at these discos and in the end we were doing them fortnightly… In 1976 Eric Morley who ran Mecca, came up with his directors to spy out the land for doing a Miss World in Tiffany's in Edinburgh. They were up on a Tuesday night when we were having one of our discos and they were horrified that their family business with tits and bums and all that bit was being subverted by poofs! And so he issued instructions that it cease. I still have the correspondence.

With the demise of the popular SMG nights at Tiffany's, the commercial club scene emerged to meet what was obviously a huge demand. Entrepreneur Bill Grainger opened a club right on Princes Street. It was reached by finding a discreet doorway next to a jewellery shop called Watches of Switzerland, and climbing the stairs to encounter a new and very different kind of scene.

K, a loyal customer, recalls it fondly:

Fire Island, that was in Princes Street... it's now Waterstone's. It's all changed now but that was a great place, we used to have some smashing nights in there…. I used to love dancing and there was great music. They used to have live acts as well - I met Eartha Kitt once, she did an act up there one night. The Village People from America came over one night and they did a show. The place used to be packed on nights like that, it was just fantastic.
It was supposed to be gay but they let other people in on the understanding that they realised that it was a gay place and if they saw something that they didn't like, they had to leave. They weren't there to rule the roost because it was a place for gay people. There was very, very rarely any trouble in the place; a lot of straight people loved to go there because they liked the music, they liked the live shows that were put on and they liked the general atmosphere which was always relaxed, I mean people were out to have a really good time, there was no animosity or arguments or anything like that, people were just going there to have a damn good time and that's exactly what we did; that's why everybody enjoyed it so much, it was a brilliant place!

Alan Joy has been actively involved since the 1980s in creating many different kinds of community events and venues. His interview for Remember When is an invaluable source of information and stories on 20 years of the LGBT scene, including the history of such landmarks as the Blue Moon cafŽ in Broughton Street and the hugely popular club nights at Joy. His most recent venture is the very LGBT-friendly Regent pub in Abbeyhill:

I was working [on Gay Scotland] in the Lesbian and Gay Centre on Broughton Street. At the time there was a cafŽ above the office called Stonewall. It was owned by this collective group of people - really really pleasant people; I still run into them occasionally. It was certainly a lot of people for one little business to be supporting. I think they ran it for about 18 months and then decided to jack it in and the whole centre sort of died because there weren't people coming in any more. There were offices and so on but there wasn't a place where people could go and meet.
When I was a student I had worked in kitchens and bars and things like that over the holiday periods and there were two other people who were working on Gay Scotland as well who had done similar sorts of stuff. And we just sort of said, 'Why don't we open a cafŽ?' So there's me and a woman called Siobhan and another woman called Catriona and we thought, 'Yes, we'll give it a shot, just for a laugh, just for something to do.' So we bought the stuff from the people who had been running Stonewall, painted the walls a wee bit, didn't really change it round that much and off we went and that was the start of the Blue Moon cafŽ [April 1988].
The cafŽ was a place where people could meet, and I'd put people in touch with other people. So you might call me more of a facilitator at that point rather than a real on-the-street [activist], jumping up and down, waving a placard. I just didn't have time to do that any more but at least I was still able to provide a focus for people and an information place really, just things like having a noticeboard so that people could say, 'We're meeting'.
You either had the people who were into the political side of gay life or the people that belonged to the scene side of gay life and they just wouldn't mix at all. The political people used to think that the people who went to the gay bars and got drunk or whatever were just airheads and not worth bothering about, and all the people on the scene just thought that all the political people were boring. And they just never mixed. So [the cafŽ] was a way of getting people to talk to other people that maybe they would never have talked to in the past.
The Blue Moon at that time was really small. We only had eight tables in it, could seat 27 people. As it started getting busier and busier, obviously people used to come in and just hang around all afternoon, reading newspapers, if they had nothing to do or were just having a day off. You would get other people coming in and they would want to sit at a table and have a meal or have a coffee and you would say 'Well, we don't have any tables but you could sit there; there's a seat there' and by just putting people on to tables, people start having conversations and it could be a young woman sat next to an old man and they would end up striking up a conversation and that's what I really, really liked about the Blue Moon.
Some people didn't like it: 'We'd rather wait and have a table on our own'. 'Well, you can do but if somebody else comes in after you, I'm going to sit them down at your table anyway. We don't have enough space to let people have a table to themselves.
People got used to that idea and you saw friendships spring up where you would probably never think that they would do. I thought that was absolutely superb. I used to love that.

While still running the Blue Moon, Alan also started up the club that has given him the surname by which he's still known to much of the community:

… Well what actually happened was, when we were in the old Blue Moon, my manager at the time was called Maggie, and we used to go to the gay clubs in Edinburgh, but then we started going to the Scottish rave scene at the time, like early '90s, all the Acid House stuff, and we just thought 'Never heard anything like that before but it's absolutely superb!
But they weren't playing anything like that in the gay clubs so we used to start travelling around and going to these outdoor festivals, events happening in a few tents in a field somewhere near Kilmarnock. And it just seemed so new and exciting and fresh and the music was just amazing, the DJs were amazing, they had live bands on, huge places, loads and loads of people and I thought the atmosphere was so good and it was so friendly and OK it was very much a straight scene, but everyone was just, because it was all fresh and new, everyone was just really friendly, so if they found out that you were gay, it really didn't matter…. I suppose I had only knocked around on the gay scene and hadn't gone to any of the straight places in Edinburgh, so all this was happening at the time and passed me by a wee bit… I have always been interested in music; and then suddenly I was introduced to this new scene and it was like 'Wow! This is fantastic!'
So I said to Maggie, "Well wouldn't it be brilliant if we could introduce this sort of feeling, this sort of atmosphere, this sort of vibe, if you could transplant that into a gay environment, imagine what that would be like; it would be incredible. That was how the idea of Joy started. So this is about the early '90s and we used to put on Blue Moon parties at the time, just hire a venue on a quiet night, Sunday night or Friday in a club that wasn't doing particularly well and just move it around, whatever we could come up with and hand out free tickets in the Blue Moon and just say 'Come along to a party in two weeks time' and these parties started getting really busy and we would be getting 500, 600, 700 people.… We really did mix it up; you could have one of those techno tunes and then you played Madonna and then you'd play Rupert the Bear and then you would play whatever, a bit of Bee Gees, 'Night Fever' or something like that, party music really, and just mix it all up.

As LGBT life from Edinburgh has gradually come out from underground, so too have the ways of being out there. In the 1980s and the 1990s, radical changes in the ways we saw ourselves opened up a whole new set of social possibilities, including a variety of long- and short-lived writers' groups and reading groups, sports organisations such as the Gay Outdoor Club and the lesbian-friendly hillwallking group known as the Lilydots, and the equally dyke-friendly (though, again, never exclusively lesbian) women's drumming group, Commotion.

In 1982, Bob Orr and American-born writer Sigrid Nielsen founded the first bookshop, Lavender Menace, in a basement in Forth Street, just off Broughton Street. It launched at a time when radical publishing was coming of age, with a growing number of LGBT titles being produced - first by small independent presses in the United States and then by UK-based publishers such as Gay Men's Press, the Women's Press, Brilliance Books and Virago. But in addition to the books and music on its shelves, Lavender Menace provided a new kind of social space, as Bob recalls in his interview:

We wanted to open up people's eyes to a much broader idea of what it was to be gay.… People came out by coming to the bookshop because it was a safe haven…. Because it was in the basement and in a side street, we realised it was going to be quite a good place for people just to come.… Apart from saying hello and welcoming people, we weren't there questioning why they were there. The assumption was they were there to buy books, but we made it as relaxing and as safe a place as possible. And it seemed to work.

In 1987 the shop made the move that Bob describes as "from back street to high street," migrating to Georgian premises in Dundas Street, with a street-level window displaying the cream of LGBT literature to passing New Towners. In its new and more upmarket identity as West & Wilde [named in honour of writers Vita Sackville West and Oscar Wilde], the bookshop became a focus not just for the local community but for LGBT visitors from all over the world:

We put on shows during the Festival… that put us on the map so far as tourists were concerned…. People who were in Edinburgh in August, that was what they read: the Fringe programme. These really went on for about 10 years. Sigrid was really the driving force behind that and they were very successful and attracted a lot of people.… We became known, really, as the northerly outpost of the lesbian and gay reading and culture scene, you know, culture in the very broad sense…. We were definitely making a statement about gay culture, that we are more bedrock than off-the-wall.

The world of arts and letters, as embodied by West & Wilde, has traditionally been seen as a space where LGBT people can flourish. Sports are a different ballgame altogether - or are they?

Colin Smart explains how the Edinburgh-based rugby team, the Caledonian Thebans, has helped move those particular goalposts:

We have difficulty sometimes describing exactly what the Thebans are about because the original aim was to set up a rugby club where gay men can play rugby in a safe, supportive, friendly environment. That was the original suggestion and that's how it kicked off [in 2001]. However, along came a married man who said he wanted to play with us and we thought, well, if we now say no, we are potentially as discriminatory as any other club might be perceived to be….
Since we've started playing as a club against other clubs, predominantly more straight clubs, we've just had no prejudice, no hassle from the clubs [themselves]. There have been some issues with individuals within clubs, but as far as clubs and governing bodies are concerned there is absolutely no problem at all. So we think we are not a 'gay' rugby club because we've got straight players. We're not 'gay-friendly' because every club - many, many clubs - could call themselves 'gay-friendly'… there are quite a number of gay rugby players in Edinburgh playing in mainstream clubs. And, in some ways, the whole rationale for Thebans being set up has changed from a safe place for gay people to play rugby to be a safe place for gay people to get an introduction to rugby.
…We've never had any club say 'We're not going to play you 'cos you're a gay team'; we've never had any club passing odd comments. There was an incident where a player from a club on the west coast put up a match report [on his club website] which had talked about hairdressers, beauty-therapists, that sort of thing. It was quite a derogatory report and we just contacted the club's chairman and said, 'You do know that this [is] on your website?' He said, 'No.' He looked at it and it was down within an hour because that didn't represent the views of Bishopton Rugby Club; it was purely an individual's views, probably a drunk individual at that….
Acceptance isn't the right word. The fact that we're predominantly gay players is of no relevance almost…. It's a case of 'Can you play rugby? If you can, you've got a game….
You do get a lot of comments from people saying, 'Oh yes, what do you get up to in the scrums, what do you get up to in the rucks and mauls?' And the answer is 'protecting my head'. You've got 15 people with studded boots on running about your head; you're not thinking 'that's a nice pair of legs'.
You know the stereotypical view of a gay man is someone being a wimp, a pansy, effete in some way. If you have this player knocking his pan out week in, week out, at training and in games.… the whole question about the person being effete is gone….
We're making the point that 'just because I'm gay doesn't mean I can't play rugby'…. We've got a mixed team. So we've got people who are identified as gay, we've got people who are married, we've got female-to-male transsexual players - and that caused a bit of stick with the SRU [Scottish Rugby Union], they didn't know quite what to do. So, basically, anyone who can be identified as a man can play. So we've got a very broad mix of people in the club and, yes, we are a gay rugby club, but if you're speaking to one of our players you've no idea if that person's gay or straight. It's not relevant to the fact that you can play rugby.

One question that came up in many Remember When inteviews was about the existence of an identifiable LGBT community, not just in the past but now. Does Edinburgh actually have such a thing? Or are there many different communities with no particular links between them?

Writer and activist Bob Cant, recalling the city in the 1990s, thinks that class differences - typical of the city overall - revealed themselves in a particular way among the city's gay men:

In the 1990s I thought there were very strong pressures in Edinburgh to behave in a particular way, certainly as a gay man, and there were some people who were in opposition to that kind of pressure: people who earned tens and tens of thousands a week as advocates, and then they went to the New Town bar on a Saturday evening. And although they were wearing different clothes, they were still talking in the same power-tripping way.… I think some of them didn't even like to acknowledge that they experienced any discrimination at all, because they were successful white Edinburgh men with flats in the New Town, and I don't know how much they would have had things in common with youths from Muirhouse or Wester Hailes….

Class isn't the only thing that divides us. Annie Garven reflects that:

I have a bit of an aversion to things being organised. Just because I'm gay doesn't mean that 12 other people will be instant chums… I think and hope there is [an LGBT community], but I think that people who go to the LGBT Centre [for Health and Wellbeing] and to Pride and so on find it very dispiriting, trying to appeal to a community….
It often seems to me that there are a lot of gay people in Edinburgh who are real party-animals and I don't feel that I have a huge amount in common with them. I prefer to do my socialising either within my peer group or in mixed circles where I've something in common apart from sexuality. But then, I'm 52, I'm quite comfortable, do you know what I mean? It's very valuable to have this centre in Howe Street and feel comfortable in nice places, like women in Sala and so on. When I was first on my own, after my partner who lived with me [left Edinburgh], I found these quite good places to be because you can get into conversations without being perceived to be cruising. A bit like the Filmhouse or somewhere like that. You know, people are quite often quite friendly and it's not just me making some great intrusion if you ask someone if you can join them at the table, or whatever.
So I find it hard to answer the question about whether there's a gay community. Well there is in lots of ways, but it can be a little bit specialist. And of course I lost a lot of friends. I had quite a number of friends who went to California and did extremely naughty things before anyone knew about AIDS and quite a few of them died before the drugs are as good as they are now and it was ghastly, seeing your best friends die. But there was a real community. I think - awful - but things like SAM (Scottish AIDS Monitor) and SOLAS did help give a sense of community….

Activist Tim Hopkins, who has lived in Edinburgh for more than 20 years, observes that:

I suppose most of the LGBT communities don't go to the pub at all. Because, you know, you probably only see a few thousand people in the pub, even if you went there and counted them all up over the course of the year. So there must be a lot more people who aren't going to the pubs at all. I'm sure some of them, I'm sure most of them, do spend a very large time going out, but they go out to non-gay venues. Yeah, and I'm sure a lot of them have social lives that include lots of LGBT people that do it in a non-scene way, which after all is what people used to do 30 or 40 years ago. They're out to all their friends and so on, but just no interest in going out on the scene…. Maybe if there was a bigger diversity of venues then the community, other parts of the community, would be more visible. And that would be a good thing….
If you look at surveys, quite a lot of people say they do feel [some sense of an LGBT] community. And I think when you see people at Pride then it seems pretty clear that people do feel that community there at least. I suppose people's connection with one or more LGBT communities is going to be something that changes quite rapidly. And the size of these communities could be anything from just a handful of people they know to something really big that they might feel part of. I think, from personal experience, that most people probably feel part of lots of different communities, not all LGBT ones….

Calton Hill

Photo: Ken Wilson

The Kenilworth pub, Rose St

Photo: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland

Party in a flat after pub closing time, c.1975-76

Photo: Gregan Crawford

Photos: David Ross

Illustrator Kate Charlesworth on 100+ years of LGBT style

At the Scotsman newspaper offices on North Bridge, a participant at the December 1974 International Gay Rights Congress demonstrates the link between women's liberation and gay liberation.

Photo: Gregan Crawford

Annie Garven

Photo: Natalie Morgan-Klein

Flyer, illustrated by Kate Charlesworth, for one of the Scottish Lesbian Gatherings held in Edinburgh in the early 1990s

Fire Island Disco, 1984

Photo: Ken Wilson

Artist Jack Moncur dressed for a night out in the 1970s

Photo: Donated by Jack Moncur

Two costumed marchers at Pride 97 pay homage to a classic gay stereotype.

Photo: Ken Wilson

The Blue Moon CafŽ in Barony St.

Photo: Ken Wilson

The sign above the basement premises of Edinburgh's first LGBT bookshop, Lavender Menace in Forth St, was carried out of the shop and placed on the railings every morning, then stored indoors at night.

The sign for West & Wilde Bookshop in Dundas Street was painted in 1997 by Alistair McLeod, an Edinburgh decorator much in demand for his use of special paint effects, such as marbling, that were highly popular at the time.

Pride 2005, Edinburgh

Photo: Remember When archive

Caledonian Theban Colin Smart

Photo: Philip Ewe

Bob Cant

Photo: Philip Ewe