Two new plays about Burnley, the forgotten battleground for gay and lesbian rights
In the 1970s, Burnley was the UK’s battleground for gay and lesbian rights, with two ground-breaking public struggles at either end of the decade. To mark the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act (1967), LGBT History Month has commissioned two brilliant new dramas from Inkbrew Productions to recreate this amazing forgotten history. Both plays will be performed in February 2017 at the original sites of the events in Burnley and also have a showcase in Manchester.
The two plays will be performed as a double bill created with professional actors, writers and directors working with volunteers and a series of local community partners: Burnley Youth Theatre, East Lancs LGBT, Burnley Mechanics, Burnley & Pendle Libraries and Hidden Histories. This will be unique collaborative project for Burnley and a first for LGBT History Month nationally.
Stephen M Hornby explains how two new plays marking 50 years since the 1967 Sexual Offences Act were inspired by real-life events for Attitude magazine.
“My new play begins with a blind woman fighting to speak in a public meeting in Burnley in 1971. This packed meeting is an almost forgotten but ground-breaking part of LGBT history; it concerned a plan to open the first gay centre in the UK. One of the biggest issues I had with dramatising the meeting was that Allan Horsfall, the grandfather of LGBT rights in the UK and one of this year’s heros, didn’t speak. Then, by an extraordinary coincidence, I met Michael Steed, who was one of the original speakers at the meeting and he agrees to an interview. Michael’s recall of events is incredibly detailed and what he decides to reveal to me for the first time is amazing. It challenges the published historical accounts of the meeting and it gives me a way to tell the whole story from Allan’s perspective…And …I hear about Mary Winter. In 1978, Mary was a bus driver who was sacked for wearing a Lesbian Liberation badge to work. She turned to her union for support, but they refused to give it to her. Mary mobilised women’s groups around the UK and staged a demo outside Burnley Bus Station (conveniently just behind the library).
I’ve written The Burnley Buggers’ Ball about the 1971 meeting and found the wonderful Abi Hynes to write Burnley’s Lesbian Liberator about the 1978 demo. The two plays form a double bill with an ensemble cast and take place both in the original sites of the events in Burnley and in showcases in Manchester and Liverpool. They’re commissioned by LGBT History Month nationally as this year’s Festival Theatre to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which partially decriminalised male homosexual acts. If I had to find a cheesy strapline for these two plays it would be: They lost their fights so that we could win the war. But history rejects this compression. History is always complex and often contradictory. It is a way of forgetting as much as remembering, as any minority knows. So, I’ll resist reducing it to 10 words and invite you instead to enjoy it as two new plays.”
The Burnley Buggers’ Ball, by Stephen M Hornby, tells the story of a transformative public meeting held at Burnley Central Library in 1971. The meeting was about the right to open the first ever LGBT centre in old Co-Operative Society premises, and saw activists in London join forces with activists from the North West to take on the Establishment.
Burnley’s Lesbian Liberator, by Abi Hynes, dramatises the political activism of Mary Winter, a bus driver sacked for nothing more than wearing a ‘Lesbian Liberation’ badge and unsupported by her trade union. She fought back against her employers in 1978 using a network of women’s groups across the UK, and staging a demo outside the Burnley Bus Station.
Russell T Davies, the TV writer and producer famous for Doctor Who and Queer As Folk ,is a patron of the project and said:
“This is precisely what LGBT History Month should be doing, uncovering hidden history, finding great stories and bringing them to life again for new audiences. And who knew they’d both be about Burnley! It’s marvellous to think of this mill town in East Lancashire being the centre of the struggle for UK gay and lesbian rights in the 1970s.”
Professor Sue Sanders, National Chair of LGBT History Month said:
“These are two little known but crucial events in UK LGBT history. These are the watershed moments of resistance, of self-assertion and collective organisation. These are the moments when we as a community first stood up in public and said, ‘NO’. Our work is to unbury these stories that prove that as a community we have been active, aware and clear about the work that needs to be done to ensure both individual rights and civil rights. The dramatisation of these stories brings to life the struggle that all minority communities have gone through to gain their rights.”
The plays will be staged at Burnley Central Library on 18th and 25th of February 2017 at 12 noon and 2pm. Each performance lasts approximately 75 minutes and is free on a ‘first come, first served’ basis. The showcase performance is at the Martin Harris Centre in Manchester on 24th February at 7.30pm. Tickets are £8/£5 concession available on the door or in advance from the Centre.
To read Stephens full article in Attitude click here. Download the promotional posters for the two plays by clicking the images below.