Queer Footprints is a short, radical guide to London’s LGBT+ history. The quick read covers places, people and protests that have shaped the capital. It links the experiences and struggles against homophobia and transphobia to wider fights against racism, fascism and class inequality.
The book is based on a series of walks around different parts of London. It covers all the must-see LGBT+ sites. These walks venture into Soho, Brixton, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly, Whitechapel, King’s Cross and Ladbroke Grove.
Short stops along the walks allow for brief coverage of the happenings on the streets or in different pubs. The guidebook mainly covers the period around and after the gay liberation movement sparked in the US and Britain in the 1960s and 1970s, with eyewitness accounts.
It also details in depth the role of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) in fighting for LGBT+ rights.
We hear from GLF activist Ted Brown, who said, “We joined a fight against a whole system of domination, with its divide-and-rule logic that extended into the individual self.” Author and tour guide Dan Glass details what life was like in the aftermath of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967.
And he shows how London’s emerging gay scene was swallowed into the Aids crisis. But we also get a look into the lives of some historic figures such as writer Oscar Wilde and notorious activist Quentin Crisp, whose story of being caught cruising for sex in 1947 by cops is detailed.
There’s also a visit to Cable Street, the sight of an heroic fight by anti-fascists against Nazi Oswald Mosley. And there’s insight into east London’s Molly Houses and how music has impacted LGBT+ spaces.
Glass rightly recognises the changing nature of spaces such as Soho, where it’s difficult for everyone to be themselves when the price of a pint is so expensive. He paints a colourful picture of London’s gay spaces. And he reminds those who have become accustomed to the rainbow-clad streets of Soho that these places didn’t exist until the 1970s.
Glass importantly covers how GLF groups showed solidarity in the anti-racist fight, especially after the police shooting of Cherry Groce that led to the Brixton riots in 1985. In some parts of the book, it’s not just about LGBT+ history and more a history of class resistance against oppression without specifically saying so. For instance, there’s a focus on the anti-fascist movement and the organisation of the Anti Nazi League.
Glass explained how LGBT+ activists held a banner reading, “Gays welcome anti-fascists” at the Rock Against Racism festival in south London in 1978. Glass rightly recognises the role of the British Empire in colonising the world and how racism was upheld in Britain.
Another welcome stop on the tour is Notting Hill, “a hotbed of revolutionary ideas” in the wake of the first carnivals against police violence in the 1960s. We learn about the importance of Heaven, one of the first gay nightclubs and its links with the Terrence Higgins Trust, which was formed by the LGBT+ community to campaign against Aids.
It also details how the Aids Act Up! campaign took off during Margaret Thatcher’s Section 28, which banned any mention of LGBT+ people in schools. The tour also stops at more recent sites of protests for trans rights and against the current Tory government.
Glass writes when pondering about Marx, “Can we imagine a post-capitalist world where exploitation is the past and queer freedom is the future?” The book certainly isn’t trying to answer this question.
But the book’s retelling of stories from history that are too often kept hidden is refreshing.
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