PAINT THE TOWN PINK
Whether you’re gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, London welcomes you with open arms, so take the opportunity to broaden your horizons and paint the town pink, says Sam Rogg
We celebrate gay culture 50 years after the dec rim in ali station of homosexuality.
s you walk through Soho, an area famed for its flamboyant shops and fun-loving bars, it’s hard to believe that being gay was ever a crime in London. And yet until 1967, like much of the world, you could be convicted in England simply for loving the wrong person. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in this country, and while the transition hasn’t always been smooth, today the capital boasts one of the largest gay populations in Europe and a thriving LGBT+ scene that can be enjoyed by all.
SOHO AND BEYOND
Spanning one square mile near Oxford Street, Soho is the capital’s most famous district and the historic epicentre of London’s LGBT+ scene. It’s here that people of all sexualities have sought refuge over the centuries, including writer Oscar Wilde, who was eventually jailed for his indiscretion. They were drawn to the area by its streets lined with liberal-minded theatres, pubs and shops, many of which still stand today. Left: Pride celebrations This page, clockwise from top left: Gay’s the Word bookshop; Pride; shoes from the MuseumofTransology exhibition Elsewhere in the city, you’ll find a ‘gay village’ in the south in Vauxhall. Why not join a sightseeing, shopping, culture or history tour through London Gay Tours ( www.londongaytours.com)? Alternatively, plot your own walking tour that takes in such sights as the first gay bar in the UK, The Cave of the Golden Calf, at 9 Heddon Street (now a Gordon Ramsay restaurant); the sculpture AConversation withOscarWilde at 3 Adelaide Street; Gay’s the Word bookshop at 66 Marchmont Street; and Enigma code-breaker Alan Turing’s birthplace at 2 Warrington Crescent in Little Venice (now the four-star hotel The Colonnade). This year, some of the country’s magnificent Historic Royal Palaces are exploring LGBT+ stories from the royal courts, including a Pride,PowerandPolitics tour at the Tower of London (26-27 May), where you can discover how the close male friendships of King Edward II and his treatment of his favourites resulted in the rebellion of the earls and many executions. Hampton Court Palace will also be looking at the hidden stories of some of its most famous former inhabitants, including Queen Anne, who is believed to have enjoyed an intimate relationship with her Mistress of the Robes.
ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE
Theatre has played a leading role in London’s LGBT+ scene over the decades, and with more than 200 venues boasting a combined seating capacity of over 100,000, it’s fair to say that all the world’s a stage in London. In the West End, you’ll find the biggest concentration and variety, including Kinky Boots, featuring music and lyrics written by Cyndi Lauper. The show tells the true story of a British shoe factory that branched out and made women’s shoes in men’s sizes for transgender people.
South of the river there’s the legendary Royal Vauxhall Tavern ( 372KenningtonLane, SE115HY), with its regular drag-queen nights, and the world-famous National Theatre on the South Bank, which is staging Angels inAmerica:AGayFantasia onNationalThemes, a play made famous by the 2003 TV series with Al Pacino and Meryl Streep (from 11 Apr). Starring Andrew Garfield and directed by Olivier Awardwinner Marianne Elliott, this new staging of Tony Kushner’s play about 1980s America in the midst of the AIDS crisis and the Reagan years is sold out, but contact the box office for returns and day tickets.
QUEER BRITISH ART
This month, some of London’s leading museums and galleries are exploring themes of gender and sexual identity, including Tate Britain’s hotly anticipated QueerBritishArt1861-1967 (from 5 Apr). Featuring works by Francis Bacon, Evelyn De Morgan, Gluck, Glyn Philpot, Dora Carrington and Cecil Beaton, this major exhibition spans the playful to the political, the explicit to the domestic, and includes a full-length portrait of Oscar Wilde (owned by the writer), never before exhibited in the UK. ‘It’s a unique opportunity to see objects that connect to a diverse range of identities with some great stories attached to them,’ says curator Clare Barlow. ‘Where else in London are you going to be able to see a pink wig from a 1920s female impersonation act, racy magazines from the 1950s and the door of Oscar Wilde’s prison cell alongside Aubrey Beardsley drawings?’ While you’re at Tate Britain, be sure to see DavidHockney (to 29 May), a major retrospective of the British artist who famously helped normalise gay relationships in the 1960s through his work. Meanwhile, at the Fashion Space Gallery you can explore the many realities of modern trans life in MuseumofTransology (to 22 Apr; 20JohnPrince’sSt,W1G0BJ). Inside the gallery you’ll find the largest collection of trans artefacts and photographic portraiture ever to be displayed in the UK. ‘ The objects people have chosen to donate are strikingly intimate, and make a unique contribution to the broader social debates surrounding body politics, gender inequality and the continuing attachment of biological sex to gender despite three waves of feminism,’ says collector and curator EJ Scott. Next month, The British Museum will unveil Desire LoveIdentity:Exploring LGBTQHistories (from 1 May), which draws on material from ancient history to the present day, from around the globe.
PUBS AND BARS
From traditional British pubs to sprawling megaclubs, this city is famous for its diverse and inclusive LGBT+ nightlife – so don’t feel as though you can’t get in on the fun if you happen to be straight. Situated on Old Compton Street in Soho, the Admiral Duncan is one of the oldest gay pubs in the city, while on nearby Rupert Street, The Yard Bar boasts a beautiful plant-filled courtyard.
Freedom Bar on Wardour Street attracts many of the West End’s performers to its dancefloor, and we challenge anyone not to have a good time at legendary Heaven, under the arches close to Charing Cross station. Since the nightclub opened in 1979, anyone who is anyone has performed there, including Kylie Minogue, One Direction, Grace Jones, Cyndi Lauper and Madonna. As the Queen of Pop herself says: ‘Only when you’re dancing will you feel this free…’