By Denis Fernando
Pride, which depicts the solidarity shown by activists in the lesbian and gay community in the mid 80s towards the miners struggle, has a touching, profound meaning for ‘solidarity’ at its heart.
It is full of funny, touching and powerful moments, as both miners and lesbian and gay people face defeats that were characteristic of the Thatcher era. It portrays the depth of homophobia that the lesbian and gay community faced, from the fear of AIDS, to family rejection upon coming out, to violence in the streets from homophobic attacks and vandalism.
It is refreshing to see a film that starts with a banner stating ‘Thatcher out’. From the outset Mark Ashton, a founding member of LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) can see the parallels between the treatment by the police, public, the media and the politicians that oppressed the miners and the lesbian and gay community. With prejudice in both communities against the other on clear view, Pride demonstrates how a small group of lesbian and gay activists give unflinching, uncompromising support to the miners struggle, twinning with and donating funds to the Dulais Valley in South Wales, which in turn breaks down homophobia.
This is explored on many levels, from the trivial, such as straight miners learning from gay men how to dance in order to socialise better with straight women, to the deeply profound; David Donovan of Dulais NUM addresses the ‘pits and perverts’ fundraiser at the electric ballroom headlined by Bronski Beat, thanking people for supporting the miners’ ‘coal not dole’ slogan, stating that in return, the day will come when miners will wear the gay rights badge. ‘Perverts’ being a name that was often used to vilify the community in the press. Despite a series of defeats for miners and the lesbian and gay community, the film ends on an emotional high and reminds us that following this joint struggle, the NUM block vote was instrumental in the vote to enshrine lesbian and gay equality rights in Labour party policy. The film also portrays how Sian James was empowered by her active role in the strike and went on to become the first woman elected to represent Swansea East.
Pride shows that small groups of people doing the right thing can make a big difference. This can be said of LGSM and the progressives on the Dulais NUM committee, who both uncompromisingly supported the joint unity in the face of a big struggle. It shows the importance of dialogue in order to overcome prejudice. A lesson that rings true for all communities today. When Mark Ashton is asked why he is supporting the miners, he reminds a Pink press journalist that without coal there would be no power for the clubs where he dances till 3am. David Donovan says that these groups made history.
With its powerful messages for unity over the odds, it is odd to think that a film had not been made earlier about this powerful story. Yes, it has been clearly stylised for the screen, with some of the script setting up the laughs and it is a shame that Mark Ashton’s communist affiliations are not mentioned.
However, overall, Pride has the opportunity to be a mainstream success, depicting how hard it was for different working class communities in the Thatcher era, and how their forged unity, provides an example for all those struggling against injustice. It sowed seeds of hope that we can still see the legacy of today.
Watch LGSM’s documentary ‘All out! Dancing in Dulais’ made by the original campaigners for raising awareness in mining communities about their solidarity.