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

Where London - - Contents -

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.


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.lon­don­gay­ 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.


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.


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.


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…’

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