About this Archive
Ian Townson is a gay political activist and collector of Brixton gay community's past and other gay liberation campaigns and events which otherwise would remain hidden from history. He was born and raised in Lancaster, escaping homophobic persecution in the mid-1970s to Brixton via Bradford where he met gay liberation activists from London while 'zapping' a conference on psycho-sexual disorders by 'expert' psychologists. He was invited to London by Colm Clifford and moved to Brixton in October 1974 at the age of 24. He began connecting with other radical gay people and became politically active in fighting for gay liberation to put an end to homophobic oppression and persecution in Britain. Through his political activism around the South London Gay Community Centre and living in the gay community squats he became an active campaigner and member of the South London Gay Liberation Theatre troupe (Brixton Faeries).
Townson was then a part of the Brixton gay community initially as a resident of squats occupied by small groups of gay people for several years.
These squats grew to between 9 or 10 back-to-back houses on Railton and Mayall Roads with a shared garden in between them. They were loosely managed by the various people who lived in them through use of the communal garden for recreation, shared open air meals, theatre rehearsals, campaign planning and regular social events between the different squatted households. The political activists who came together during Townson’s time in the squats became known as Brixton Gays, who joined together with other gay-centred groups for fundraisers, demonstrations, and campaigns. The Brixton Gays were joint organisers of the 1976 Gay Pride event and one of the squats was the HQ of the National Gay News Defence Committee. Their political views encompassed a central demand for gay liberation, as well as anti-racist/fascist beliefs. Throughout his time living in the Brixton gay community in the 1970s, Townson took part in demonstrations regarding other political causes including antifascism, solidarity with working class struggles, the WH Smith campaign to defend free speech, defence of Gay News against prosecution and many others.
Townson also was an active member of the South London Gay Community Centre in Brixton until their eviction from its squatted building in 1976. This community centre had acted as a magnet to draw more people, mostly gay men, into the area to squat. The Centre provided space for gay people to socialise as a drop-in centre and became an open and friendly advice hub for gay people coming out in 1970s South London. The Centre users met collectively each week to decide on the running of the Centre and various campaign priorities. Among activities at the centre were weekly discos, a dance and modern movement class, a wrestling group, and a general 'chill out' area with refreshments available. The Centre was also an organising place for campaigns including the South London Gay Liberation Front candidates for the local and general elections of 1974 and the 1976 Gay Pride event.
Outside of direct political activism, Townson was additionally a member of the South London Gay Liberation Theatre Group, which later became known as the Brixton Faeries. The group wrote and performed various plays during their existence up until around 1980, which often centred on issues of contention such as patriarchy, family structures, homophobia, and the sex lives of gay men.
Later in life, Ian Townson has dedicated much of his time to memorialising the Brixton Gays and Brixton Faeries, as well as lives of the gay people in their communal squatted homes and community centre in South London. His work includes personally recording oral interviews with friends and comrades from the squats in Brixton, and extensive preparatory research and networking for a publication on their collective history. He is presently working on a website about the Brixton gay community and remains politically active today, campaigning for gay rights locally and internationally, as well as standing up as an ally for transgender people, refugees, and victims of exploitation and inequality outside of Britain.
Scope and Content
Papers, correspondence, press cuttings, ephemera, publications, posters, photographs, and interviews collected by Ian Townson, including: papers including music and lyric sheets, notes from and minutes of meetings, preparatory research for a publication, notes from brainstorm sessions, hall hire applications, and playscripts, regarding: Brixton Faeries, homophobia, the gay community in 1970s Brixton, antifascism, communism and Marxism, and Icebreakers; correspondence between various members of the Gay Liberation Front, Brixton Faeries, Brixton Gays, Lambeth Council, and various theatres and halls, regarding: Brixton Faeries theatre productions, Labour Party election campaigns, homophobia, Communist Party of Great Britain, gay political campaigns and related organisations; ephemera including leaflets, flyers, advertisements, badges, programs and stickers, regarding: Brixton Faeries theatre group and associated productions, other theatre groups and productions, Gay Pride events, gay disco and nightclub events, Labour Party, elections, sadomasochism, trade unions, anti-racism, sexuality, antifascism, and nuclear disarmament; publications including newsletters, journals, newspapers, and magazines, regarding: politics, prose and poetry, psychology, Black liberation, feminism, education, National Council for Civil Liberties, Gay Liberation Front, anarchism, antifascism, and gay political activism, lifestyle and culture; posters regarding: gay political campaigns and protest, theatre productions, conferences, sexuality, and feminism; photographs regarding: squatted communal living in Brixton, political demonstrations by the Gay Liberation Front, Brixton Riots, the South London Gay Community Centre, theatre events, strikes, holidays, social events, and friendships amongst the Brixton gay community; and interviews and one broadcast on audio cassette tapes regarding: formative gay experiences, squatted communal living in Brixton, coming out, homophobia, Oval House, the South London Gay Community Centre, Irish gay people and experiences, and gay political activist organisations (c.1970-2005)
13 boxes; 3 oversized boxes; 1 badge box; 37 loose posters; 71 .jpg; 90 .wav [35.5 GB]