skip to content

London’s Queer Scene: What’s Changed through the years?

Hey all queer and ally readers! During this LGBT+ history month, we want to go on a little journey through London’s queer scene, past and present (we can’t time travel yet, otherwise we promise we would do the future too!). We all know London’s got history, as one of the most culturally and historically rich cities in the world, there seems to be no end to her past. But how much do we know about how London’s queer scene has changed? Though the ‘queer scene’ may be interpreted to be a rather recent development, we want to explore more than this, and hope you love learning about the changes that London’s seen over time. 

Starting out with a bit of history, we’re going to set the scene and give you a bit of background on where London’s queer scene had been up to this far, before getting into some of the more modern and probably more well-known aspects of queer London.

The 1700s

Gay in the 1700s? In the 1700s, “Molly Houses” became popular as a meeting spot for gay men across London, though one raid ended with three hangings for ‘sexual crimes’. London has not always been tolerant of queer people, but queer people have always been in London, evidenced by history such as this. Despite the criminalization of sexual relations between men in the 1500s by Henry VIII, London found a way to keep the queer scene alive to the best of its ability during difficult times. 

The 1900s

Come the 1900s, there is still much prejudice in and about London. In 1916, we’re in Highbury magistrates court, and a solider wishing to be known as “Kathleen Woodhouse” is charged under the name “Frederick Wright”, with “being an idle and disorderly person in female attire”.  There was a long way to go before queer people were accepted in society, though the 1900s did see the rise in underground (literally) gay clubs and bars for men. The first in England being the Cave of the Golden Calf, it opened in 1912 and closed in 1914 due to bankruptcy. Still, it was a place for gay men to be able to gather in London, which was a step in the right direction. We know London has a much more active queer scene now, though the origins and history of London’s progress and tribulations are the first stepping stones in getting us to where we are today. 

For lesbians, the queer scene was much less active, at least in public. Women, of course, didn’t have many rights in history, and so sapphic activity would have been likely to have taken place indoors and privately. When women gained a little more freedom following the second world war, London saw more of a sapphic scene emerge, and women were able to socialize with each other more freely!

For those unaware of the history of the Stonewall riots or that just need a refresher, here is a little background before we look at its impact on the London queer scene. In 1969, for six days in Greenwich Village, NYC, protests occurred following a police raid of the Stonewall Inn, a gay club, involving “roughed up patrons” and 13 arrests. The Stonewall riots inspired Pride, a now heavily attended events by thousands in London alone, though in 1972, the yar of London’s first Pride, the event was less safe and fun and much more of a political and highly policed space, with a turnout of 1000-2000 people. In 1987, AIDS became the focal point of Pride, with attendees raising awareness of and calling attention to the pandemic. The first UK Black Pride was held in 2005, and the first Trans Pride held in 2019, fostering more inclusivity and representation within the LGBTQ+ community at Pride.

Modern London

Finally, and over time, LGBTQ+ people began gaining more freedom and rights, allowing Pride to become a more safe, inclusive and fun environment. In 2023, the turnout for Pride in London Parade saw 30,000 people registered, happily representing the growth in the queer community and allies attending Pride in London. 

Beyond Pride, London’s current queer scene sees more clubs and bars open than has been the case in the past, though there is still always room for improvement. One of London’s most recently opened lesbian bars, La Camionera, opened just a couple of weeks ago (read our article about it here!). This bar makes waves for lesbians across London, who have only one other dedicated bar for them in the city. Beyond this, modern London sees more gay bars, bars and drag clubs, as well as dedicated events and other types of shops across the city. 

One of the more historically well-known gay clubs in London is Heaven. In the 1980s, a gay club named Heaven saw the one of the first people to die of AIDS-related illness, 37-year-old Terry Higgins, collapse on the dancefloor of the club. Heaven opened in 1979, and is one of the first gay clubs to be found above street level.  It still stands today, and can be found near Charing Cross, at Under The Arches, Off Villier Street in London, alongside G-A-Y, representing just part of the current queer scene in London. 

Ultimately, London has seen a lot of changes within the queer scene, primarily prejudice, social tolerance and the opening and style of venues. Given how far we have come as a society, we hope to continue to see wonderful additions to London for the queer community, and love to see the growth in events, venues and safe spaces for queer people. 

Jo Carter
Jo Carter

Find me on: Web

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *