Plays depicting historic role in gay rights

The real Ray Gosling, who chaired a historic meeting supporting gay rights at Burnley Central Library. (s)

The real Ray Gosling, who chaired a historic meeting supporting gay rights at Burnley Central Library. (s)

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Two playwrights are preserving the memory of Burnley’s historic role in the fight for gay and lesbian rights through two new productions.

The Burnley Buggers’ Ball, written by Stephen M. Hornby, and Abi Hyne’s Burnley’s Lesbian Liberator tells of two early and rare occasions of ordinary people standing up to the establishment and discovering their power through unity and mobilisation.


The first story recounts a public meeting - chaired by Granada journalist Ray Gosling - at Burnley Central Library in 1971 that championed the opening of the first ever LGBT centre in the old Co-Operative Society premises.


It saw a rare melding of two activists group - one from the North, one from London - with differing approaches to the cause.


“One of the great things that happened,” Stephen said, “was that a radical group of people dressed in in-your-face drag travelled from London to be there.


“The Gay Liberation thought the whole system needed chucking out. They thought democracy wasn’t working.”


Yet the group came together with conservative campaigners in the North who believed equality could be achieved by working through the law: lobbying MPs; writing letters to newspapers etc.


The second play details the struggle of bus driver Mary Winter, sacked for nothing more than wearing a Lesbian Liberation badge.


Unsupported by her trade union, she battled in 1978 against her dismissal by garnering celebrity support, assembling women’s groups across the country and staging a demonstration outside Burnley Bus Station.


“It was the first time women’s groups mobilised together,” Abi said. “It was unusual for feminists to publicly support lesbians as they had felt it would distract or put people off their fight.”


“In both these stories,” she added, “the campaigners lost their battles to win the war.”


“For the first time, everyone realised they weren’t alone and if they worked together,” Stephen added, “they could make change happen.”


The show will include a reenactment of Mary’s demonstration (please be aware audiences will be standing at this point).


MP Julie Cooper will attend tomorrow’s showing at noon and will offer a few words at the end of the demonstration.


Mayor of Burnley Coun. Jeff Sumner will be at the 2pm performance.


The plays will be presented for the most part at Burnley Central Library, with further showings on Saturday, February 25th at noon and 2pm.


Tickets are free and available on Eventbrite.