By Gabriella Costanzo

Brixton is known for being the home of queer icon David Bowie and the famous Electric Avenue, but did you know it's also an important segment of LGBTQ+ history in the UK?

Oxyman / A23, Brixton Road / CC BY-SA 2.0

The South London Gay Community Centre

In the ‘70s and ‘80s, queer people were known to squat in abandoned buildings. For some, it was a common lifestyle option, but for others, it was a necessity. People arrived at squats for numerous reasons: to flee oppressive situations, find the company of others like them, and attack the norm of “straight” society through alternative lifestyles.

Determined to bring the gay identity to light, a group of gay and queer people began occupying and squatting at 78 Railton Road in March of 1974, turning it into the South London Gay Community Centre. The centre would become a focal point to bring people together, and where they conducted both political actions and social activities.

The Gay Centre worked with other community-based groups in the area to challenge prejudice, discrimination, complacency, and much more. Notable figures such as Malcolm Greatbanks, Alistar Kerr, and Michael Mason worked and participated in the local and general elections in 1974 to raise more awareness.

The Brixton Faeries

Originally known as the South London Gay Theatre Group, the Brixton Faeries produced a plethora of productions attacking patriarchal values and bringing to light the oppression they faced.

Some notable performances include “Mr Punchs Nuclear Family” which showed the devastating effects of patriarchal values and male-dominated authority, and “Out of It” which reflects the relationship between patriarchal values, fascism, and extremes of Christian morality and their contribution to gay oppression.

Brixton Road, London

The Rebel Dykes 

In the 1980s, a group of radical lesbians, who mixed their sexual politics with squat culture known later as the Rebel Dykes, called Brixton home. Escaping to Brixton and living within empty buildings throughout the capital, these women were attracted to its diversity and experimentation, where they created a safe space for sexual openness, creativity, and activism. Some notable Rebel Dykes include Siobhan Fahey and Karen Fischer, as well as Atalanta Kernick.

Siobhan Fahey is the producer of the 2021 Rebel Dykes film. Karen Fisch is an activist, producer, and much more for the community. Atalanta Kernick and others began taking courses in building maintenance, carpentry, electrics, and plumbing which they took to care for the buildings and use towards trade jobs.

As if they were erased from squat culture of the 1980s, these women are commonly attributed with the 1990s movements due to their ‘punky intersectional feminism.’ In reality, they helped to establish women-only squats as well as the opening of the first lesbian fetish club.

While lesbian relationships have never officially been illegal within the UK government, it was still a dangerous life. In 1988, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher enacted Section 28 into the UK government, only to be reformed in 2003. The section outlawed the promotion of homosexuality as a “pretend family relationship.”

Rebel Dykes Archive, Bishopsgate Institute

LGBT February 2023 Events in Brixton

  • Going into the Care Closet?; 16 February
    • Brixton Library
    • Asking do we need to go back in the closet when we get old?
  • Market Row Street Party; 17 February
    • 7 pm – 11:30 pm; free entry before 8 pm, 5 pounds afterward
    • Hosted by Eddie Lockhart and Yvonne Taylor
  • Lesbians Talk Issues; 23 February
    • Brixton Library
    • Workshop speaking on Lesbian London in the 1990s
  • LGBTQ+ Fair for all the Family; 25 February
    • Tate South Lambeth Library
    • 10 am – 4 pm
  • Tate South Lambeth Library Film Club – LGBTQ+ History Month Special; 27 February
    • South Lambeth Library
    • Celebrate LGBTQ+ Cinema with a screening
  • Virtual Reality story of Kindred; 17 & 24 February to 5pm
    • Brixton Library
    • Based on the true story of one aspirational LGBTQ+ parent’s groundbreaking journey through an adaptation process
    • Ages 13+

 Event Links:

- Brixton Library Events

- Market Row Street Party

A Brief Timeline

1970: UK Gay Liberation Front (GLF) was founded at the London School of Economics

  • Initially included gay men and lesbians committed to feminist goals and revolutionary change

27 November 1970: 150 GLF members participate in a torchlight rally against police harassment

1971: GLF was forced to leave LSE

9 September 1971: Protests of Mary Whitehouse’s National/Nationwide (?) Festival of Light

  • Operation Rupert: Non-violent protests mocking and disrupting the proceedings
  • The event prompted the birth of the National Gay News Defense Committee (NGNDC)

Early 1970s: “Gay Days” and other events held across London bringing together LGBTQ people

1 July 1972: England’s first Gay Pride March

  • Two thousand men and women marched down Oxford Street to Hyde Park for a public picnic and visible demonstration of their existence

March 1974: 78 Railton Road squatted by the South London Gay Liberation becoming the UK’s first gay center

April 1976: SLGL evicted from the building

7 August 1976: Gay Pride hosted/organized by Brixton Gay’s

1978: Brixton Gays support Anti-Nazi League March, Rock Against Racism festival in Brockwell Park

1980s: Rebel Dykes begin squatting in Brixton

1981: Brixton Riots, a result of racism and heavy-handed harassment of black people by the police

1988: Section 28 of the Local Government Act barred local authorities from ‘promoting’ homosexuality

2003: Section 28 removed

2012: Squatting became illegal

2021: The movie about the Rebel Dykes released in the UK and Ireland

Further Readings and Links

To learn more about the Brixton Faeries and squatting, watch this series of interviews of South London Gay Liberation Front members, who squatted the first Gay Community Centre.

- ‘Brixton Fairies: Made Possible by Squatting’

 If you are interested in learning more about the Rebel Dykes, you can watch their movie released in 2021, and browse through their online archives.

- Rebel Dykes Trailer 2021

- Rebel Dykes History Project

- Rebel Dykes Art and Archive