It all started so well. “In a hundred years’ time, when I’m forgotten, the charter will still be seen as one of the most significant documents of its time,” said Ken Livingstone in 1986, as he launched the Greater London Council’s Charter for Lesbian and Gay Rights at the London Lesbian and Gay Centre. The five-storey building cost more than £1 million [$1.3 million] to open and was the biggest single project any public body had financed for the lesbian and gay community.
The center was seen as one of the jewels in the crown of the Labour administration’s policy of funding minority groups. At a time when lesbians and gay men reported suffering from workplace discrimination, street harassment, and frequent arrests, the center acted as an oasis for people to gather, socialize, and express themselves. The center also provided office space for gay organizations—bookshops, coffee shops, theater groups—enabling them to grow and prosper. But six years after its launch, it closed in a torrent of political infighting and mounting financial losses, the clues of which are still found today in the Hall-Carpenter Archives at the London School of Economics.
Differences between queer people came to the fore within the microcosm of the center, as debates over the inclusion of open bisexuals and S&M groups made headlines. Hit by the Conservative government’s withdrawal of grant funding, spiraling debts and arguments over representation, the LLGC’s vision for a harmonious community began to fall apart by the early 90s. On the 30th anniversary of its opening, we spoke to former management staff, volunteers, and members about the centre’s legacy and why so few people today know it ever existed.
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