Growing up in an English Orphanage in the 1950s and 1960s there was always black and bi-racial children in my ‘family’ who were also my good friends. However, when I came out as gay in the 1970s in London I had somehow been adopted by a new group of friends who were primarily. It was not a conscious decision and one that I had never even thought about until just now after watching Claire Lawrie’s excellent documentary Beyond “There’s always a black issue Dear’.
Her film explores and celebrates black LGBT identities that grew up in the UK in the 1970s/80s. As the country was somewhat reluctantly coming to terms with the fact that homosexuality was finally legalized in 1969, it was black members of the LGBT community that met with the most hostility and sheer hatred.
However, the whole charismatic ‘cast’ that Lawrie has assembled is far from angry or bitter about the struggles of their youth. Without exception, they are all brimming with optimism and enthusiasm as they credit their youth to helping shape who they are today.
Talking with them all Lawrie discusses the particular influence that Black LGBT culture has had upon Fashion, Fine Art, Dance, Music, and Language, much of which has been appropriated by the cultural mainstream. Hearing how they created their own LGBTQ identities in a time when ‘if you were black you could be either Reggae or Soul’ is actually enthralling. It took me back to a time when evidently I failed to notice such wonderful culture exploding around me.
It’s impossible not to be carried away with the sheer energy and positive mischievousness of Les Child. His very successful dancing career included stints at Ballet Rambert, The Lindsay Kemp Company, and The Michael Clark Company. Often being the only black man in the company never deterred him at all and actually served to not only drive his ambition but unleash such a zest for life. Hearing Lee talk about forming his own voguing House of Child in the late 1980s paints a picture that despite the presence of all that homophobia in the outside world, he really knew how to maximize the opportunities for his life on his own terms.
On the other hand performer, Lanah P was born into the only black family in the North Town of Grimsby, which is as bleak at it sounds. With an immense amount of tenacity and talent, she formed her own very successful career working with queer icons such as Andy Bell from Erasure and The Michael Clark company. Lanah P is both practical and fearless and in her words ‘ has a black belt in other things besides her mouth’.
The movie Beyond is a real treasure trove of London’s LGBTQ cultural history with untold stories where 1970s, Soul, Disco, Punks, and Blitz Kids met in underground clubs, like The Four Aces in Dalston and Crackers in Soho. Lawrie’s doc, which you can watch below, captures a vital period, moving through the 70s, 80s, and early 90s into the explosion of queer culture at Taboo. It really is a must-see for any LGBTQ person who wants to know more about our community’s journey
Labels: 1970's, 2020, black London, London