‘It felt as though an orgy could erupt at any moment’ – the Pride I’ll never forget

The Gay Pride march in 1982 started much as it had every year at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, with about 10,000 of us ready to walk the route along Park Lane to Piccadilly. The plan was to finish at the University of London Union (ULU) on Mallet Street, where people could have a few drinks and a dance at the student union before dispersing to the gay bars scattered across London in Earl’s Court, Kings Road, Notting Hill Gate, Camden Town. We set off in high spirits – even the ranks of police (an enemy to us back then) lining the street did little to put us off. But as we started down Park Lane the heavens opened. It wasn’t long before everyone was completely drenched.

I was 32 and had been going to Pride marches for many years. Previous marches had drawn crowds of bemused onlookers. To me, Pride was not just to party but an opportunity to make our demands for equality heard (chief among them an equal age of consent, which was 21 for gay people then). It was a demonstration and we wanted an audience. We wanted the public to see and hear us. The rain took that away.

Nevertheless, we arrived, sodden and somewhat dispirited at our destination, the ULU. As we entered the building, the most glorious thing presented itself: a small room with washing machines and, more importantly, two very large dryers. Without any hesitation or need for encouragement a posse of gay men crammed in, stripped all but naked and threw their sodden outfits into the vast tumble dryers. Being the proverbial “clone” I was wearing Levi 501 jeans (but definitely not the check shirt); I stripped down to my underwear and threw them in the dryer.

We shivered with cold, until the heat from the machines and from the mass of bodies thronging the room relaxed us. Then the party took off. There was no need for music – the hubbub of chat and the screeches of delight as people slipped back into their now warm clothes was enough. It was a little too public for an orgy, though it felt as though it could erupt at any moment. It felt transgressive; our inhibitions peeled away. It was extraordinary and electrifying.

It didn’t last long. Once people dried off they dispersed into the night. The promise of a great dance party faded away into anticlimax. But I’ll always remember that brief moment of respite. It’s not often that I have been in such a situation where I have felt the spirit of Gay Pride – that proud sense of self – settle on all of us. When you’re in a minority there’s a sense that you constantly have to look over your shoulder, but that afternoon we felt relaxed and safe. The rain may have robbed us of a crowd, but it reminded us of the impromptu joy that came with being among our own kind.

Comments are closed.