How youth group became our sanctuary

Friday, 4th February — By Tom Foot

LGTG on Holloway Road 1984

Members of the LGTG in Holloway Road

THE London Gay Teenage Group (LGTG) was a groundbreaking official youth club set up and run by young people at a time when sex between male under 21s was still illegal.

It was founded in 296 Holloway Road and members also met once a week at 4 Caversham Road in Kentish Town.

Despite the hostility that could be found towards gay and lesbian people, Islington and Camden councils helped lead the way in terms of provision and youth support.

Dr Clifford Williams, who has written a book about the group’s history between 1967 to 1990 called Courage To Be, recalled: “To meet young people like me, of the same sexual orientation, for the first time it was amazing. I will never forget walking up those steps. It changed my life.

“We’d have dozens of us at those meetings in Holloway. It was a safe place – a place to meet your friends, listening to LPs on record players, drinking tea and chatting.

An LGTG meeting in Manor Park in 1985

“Later there was a young lesbians group there too, and in 1987 a new group for gay and lesbian young people was set up called The North London Line. It widened the provision for people aged up to 26. There were specialist groups too, for those who were HIV positive or survivors of sexual abuse.”

Dr Williams added: “Housing was cheaper then. Single gay men started congregating in Camden, Islington and also Haringey. They were fascinating places for gay people in the 1970s. There wasn’t anywhere you would feel more comfortable.

“The groups that were set up, they influenced the councils and led them to being quite radical. There were people on the council and youth workers who were willing to stand up and put their neck out.”

Born into a Quaker family and living in Sutton, Dr Williams said: “In some ways it’s more difficult for young people now. Everything is so tech-based. The face to face contact isn’t so easy. The non-commercial places to go are less common. Obviously in my day people gravitated to London. People from the provinces and villages to come to London. Today I don’t see that same sense of camaraderie.”

Dr Clifford Williams

He recalled how in Sutton issues of the Gay News paper were only available by special request at a library.

“Conservative councillors had objected to it being there,” he said.

“WH Smith had refused to sell it. You had to ask for it at the counter though, and that was quite a thing. It was a bit like coming out.

“So I would ask quite sheepishly and then go and sit in of the alcoves and read it where people could not see me. I remember going up on the underground and suddenly being introduced to all these like-minded people.”

Dr Williams recalled going out to an “Ice Breakers” gay disco at the old Prince Albert, that became the Central Station pub in King’s Cross.

Harlequin and Jain Clarke at the Kentish Town Project, Caversham Road in March 1982. Photo: Gregg Blachford

“It was a very exciting time but you had to be careful about who you told. There was so much prejudice and ignorance,” said Dr Williams.

He also recalled Dennis Nilsen’s serial murders of gay men in north London and how it had left parents of young gay people terrified.

“It was quite shocking but there were a lot of things at that time that were shocking,” he said. “It was a risky business. You were told to be careful, but it was not easy to be careful.

“People were set on fire and burnt to death. If you were gay you were called bent or poofter. You were automatically considered deviant.”

Dr Williams studied criminology and ended up becoming a police officer.

“I wanted to help improve community relations,” he said.

His book, which charts the rise of gay youth activism from the 1960s to 1990, is available from Housmans Bookshop in Caledonian Road.

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