LGBTQ+ lives in the South West

Claire G and Helen discuss LGBTQ+ life in the South West.

Claire G


There was no kind of public or school or educational forum or group where you could be yourself. Another thing I remember particularly well was at the Sixth Form College I went to – so, this would have been kind of ‘88, ‘89, ’90 – and the student union there was coming under pressure from the National Union of Students because they didn’t have an LGB soc – LGB society, as they were called then – and why didn’t they? And again, there was one of my peers who I kind of really looked up to as being really trendy, said oh, well, I don’t think there’s much call for it around here. This kind of idea that there aren’t gay people in Devon, we don’t need that, we don’t need anything. And it’s just like being erased while you’re still alive. And you can’t speak up. And I wouldn’t have dared to say anything. That invisibility, I guess, is a sort of side effect of not being able to talk about things at all. And it’s self-perpetuating, of course.

And it wasn’t till I went to university that I actually, finally managed to kind of join a group for gay people, and that was an absolute revelation. But by then, it was probably too late. I think the psychological damage was probably done by then. But nevertheless I was obviously very, very glad to meet those people. But then of course I had to return to Devon after I left university. And that made it feel like going to university was just a flash in the pan, and now I was back in Devon. It was like going back to, honestly going back to the Dark Ages, which is probably not quite fair, but… And there were actually pubs you could go to back then, although the kind of people that maybe I would have hung out with had already left the area. And I’ve kind of stopped engaging really with what’s on offer locally, I mean there’s very little, but it must have been very different in cities. And Devon’s still not a great place to be. I shouldn’t say that, should I? But it’s true. It’s very limited and restrictive.



In Plymouth – and again, imagine a world without the Internet – so, in Plymouth, I didn’t know what a lesbian looked like. I didn’t know there were any in Plymouth. But there was a radical bookshop, and I think many small provincial towns had bookshops like this. It was a small, radical bookshop on Mutley Plain in Plymouth called “In Other Words”. It’s long gone now, but it stocked books and magazines and various newsletters and things that were kind of to do with people who lived on the margins. So there’s a lot of really interesting stuff to do with poetry and literature and the arts scene. And I used to find this place fascinating. It was just down the road from my school, and we’d sort of sneak off there, couple of school friends and I would go in there. And I suppose that I was quite academic and quite booky, so I quite liked books anyway. And there’s a whole bunch of stuff about books of poetry and literature by women. And I was quite interested in reading about, you know, women, radical women’s lives in history. So that was the kind of thing they stocked.

And they also had magazines like “Spare Ribs”, sorry, “Spare Rib”, which came from more the ‘70s than the ‘80s actually, that was associated with sort of second wave feminism. And I remember reading “Spare Rib” and actually feeling a bit awkward reading it in public, reading it on the bus, you know, it always seemed a bit kind of secretive and radical. Seems hilarious now! But there were overt relationship references in that, relationships between women, and there were pictures of, you know, women who identified as lesbians in it. And I thought that was really extraordinary. Okay, so that’s what lesbians looked like. And I really started to enjoy reading about historic women who, you know, were kind of unconventional in some way or another, so that’s kind of how I found my niche really.