Chris Strachan: Full Interview
Interviewed by Hari Jonkers
4 August 2018
HJ: Okay, so this is Hari recording for the West Yorkshire Queer Stories project at the Leeds City Museum on the 4th of August 2018 and today I am interviewing Chris. Welcome Chris, thank you for coming. Can you start by telling us a little more about yourself?
CS: My name’s Chris, I identify as bisexual. In 1989 I was involved along with several others in setting up, as to my knowledge, the first bisexual group in Yorkshire. Leeds Bisexual Group which was set up with four people who met in the Whitelocks pub in Leeds and we went on to form a group which ran for about five to six years.
HJ: And what sort of activities did you get involved with as a group?
CS: Well we had various social activities, I mean, we had discussions, we had some parties. We had – we did some walks as well. We’d go to places like Hebden Bridge and walk. We also went to the annual BiCon conference which is held for bisexuals in different parts of the country.
HJ: And can you share any more of your experiences about being bisexual and living in West Yorkshire, in general, at that time?
CS: Yes, I’m what you might call a late developer. I come from what I would think of as a ‘straight’ background of having relationships with the opposite sex. But, I mean, I think I’ve always known really but I had – at that time I didn’t really acknowledge it. But I was, I was wanting to meet other people like myself. And I went to a BiCon conference in London which was in 1988, October 1988 and met up with other people there and we exchanged phone numbers and eventually got a group set up in Leeds.
HJ: Fabulous. So, since 1988 when you started being involved, how do you think the bisexual community has changed or developed?
CS: Well I think at that time bisexuals felt very marginalised, even within the LGBT sector. There was quite a – there was hostility from some sections of the gay community. I think the London Gay Switchboard or centre wouldn’t allow bisexuals, self-identifying bisexuals, into their premises at that time. Of course, it’s changed a lot since. Of course, also about that time there was the AIDS crisis and Section 28, the Conservative government, and there was hostility towards gay people and bisexuals and sometime bisexuals were blamed even more for spreading HIV. But, I mean, that aspect as we all know has got – has changed a lot. The bisexual community has kept going and every year they, the national group run, well, a group run in every different part of the country run a BiCon – bisexual convention.
HJ: Have you been to any BiCons in West Yorkshire at all?
CS: Yes, I’ve been to several. I’ve been to one in Leeds, well two in Leeds. And Bradford as well.
HJ: And the activities and events that BiCon organise, how have they changed over time, since the beginning days?
CS: Well I’ve got to give credit to the people who run it. They work very hard and they’ve been quite vigorous at campaigning against what they call bi-invisibility and bi-phobia. And they’ve helped to set up a lot of different groups, such as the one in Manchester which is very successful.
In some respects, I don’t think they’ve changed quite enough. There was a bisexual asylum seeker in Leeds, quite a celebrated case, and he was due to be deported to Jamaica. And I raised this at the BiCon in Leeds, in I think it was about 2014 or 2015. A lot of people were sympathetic, some people donated or said they would sign, but the organisers of the conference refused to put out a press release about the conference supports this guy, you know, because they were frightened that some people might have their jobs in jeopardy that work for the UK BA [British Airways] or whatever.
HJ: And do you think that groups that you’ve been involved in, or BiCon, should have a more political role?
CS: Well certainly when it comes to people who are actually bisexual. I mean this pers – yeah, well I mean not, not in broad general politics, no. But certainly, when it involves a bisexual individual who’s threatened with deportation because – things have got a lot better – not perfect by any means, but a lot better for LGBT people. But not for asylum seekers. They ask a lot of humiliating questions and people can be deported to countries like Jamaica, or Nigeria, and face possible death in those places.
HJ: And what would you say has been you most positive, or thing you’re most proud of from being involved in the Leeds first bisexual group and BiCon?
CS: Well, I think setting it up, and I think, raising that point on my own at a crowded meeting in Leeds a few years ago. I think those are the two main ones.
HJ: And do you think it’s changed you being involved in that sort of activism and event organising?
CS: Oh I think so, yes. I think it’s made me more confident.
HJ: And as it’s Pride this weekend, tomorrow in Leeds, do you have memories of your first Pride that you attended?
CS: Yes, the first Pride I went to was in London in 1997. And it was with a bisexual contingent and that felt like a big event. But since then I’ve been on quite a lot of Prides.
HJ: Do you have any standout Pride memories? Highlights or lowlights?
CS: Um – that’s a hard one to answer that. I can’t think of any one in particular. I felt good about going to them though.
HJ: And how do you think Pride has changed over the years since you’ve been going?
CS: Um – it’s increased a lot which is good. It’s become a lot more commercialised which, in my opinion, isn’t so good. There’s the whole issue of the pink pound and Pride is a protest which I think it is. But it’s good that it’s burgeoned from what it was, and a lot of people are involved who would have shunned LGBT people, LGBT people before. And you can see on the streets of Leeds and Manchester big crowds are supportive, totally supportive which I really like.
HJ: Yes, how do you think Pride has supported the LGBTQ+ community’s struggle for equality?
CS: Well, I think it’s been key. Particularly in the early days, you know, from the 70s onwards. At the time of the miners’ strike. Of course, the famous, you know, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, you may have seen the film Pride, and they changed the course of history. I know they didn’t mean to, and the Welsh miners sent their coaches to Hyde Park, you know, and they were all streaming out of their coaches to support gay people.
HJ: And do you have any more memories, personal memories of that time, of the miners’ strike and the gay community and their interactions together?
CS: Well, at that time I wasn’t out. I was in a relationship with a woman at that time. And I wasn’t particularly into the miners’ strike. So, I have to confess I wasn’t involved in it at all. One of my best friends, the one who set – helped set up the group with me, she was one of the members of Lesbians And Gays Support the Miners and she’s got lots of memories and, but, she’s not very well at the moment.
HJ: And taking it back to when you and your best friend set up that group, do you remember anything about the logistics – where you would meet and how often?
CS: Yes, we first of all met in the basement of somewhere, a shop, I think it was an outdoor wear shop very near the Corn Exchange. It was a basement and I think it was used for an environmental group, but we hired that for a bit. And then we moved, I think during the same year, or a bit later in the year in 1989, we moved to The Adelphi near Leeds Bridge where we had our meetings from then on.
HJ: I can see from your notes in front of you, you’ve got lots of dates from I think about 1988-89-1990, so how did the organisation progress after you moved from [to] The Adelphi, how did you publicise yourself?
CS: Well, at that time there was a paper called the Leeds Other Paper. It was a lefty, bohemian, sort of Time Out kind of publication. It had lots of things in, it had gigs, it had all sorts of community activities and of course that sort of thing would be on the internet now. But we used to advertise the group in there. And that’s how we got more people in. And, you know, it used to be – at one time we were meeting twice a month, on a Monday. I mean we had, we had a period where it was fairly enthusiastic and lots of events but unfortunately it tailed off towards the end. And eventually it collapsed.
HJ: And when did, when did it collapse?
CS: Well, let’s see, I think somewhere between ‘92 and ‘93. It didn’t collapse totally but what happened was the group split – um [pause] there were two men, I don’t want to blame them too much, but what they wanted is to separate the group, they wanted everyone to go over to The Old Red Lion which is a gay pub, a gay men’s pub which is not far from The Adelphi but I think at the same time many people, and most of the women, decided to leave, form another group which I didn’t know about, so, so my notes say, I made some remarks that I – ‘Bi group in Leeds dominated by M and I. They have little time for anyone else, they act the wacky lads. I’m pissed off and so is K.’ [laughs]
HJ: And just out of curiosity, your notes, are these notes you made recently in preparation for coming to talk to us.
CS: Yes, I made them about a year ago.
HJ: Okay. And they reflect – did you keep a diary at the time?
CS: Yes, these are all entries from my diary. They’re not – you know I haven’t sort of embroidered them, I’ve just written what I had in the diary, but I’ve anonymised the names.
HJ: And so, the group split in 92-93 –
CS: It didn’t split altogether. It was a bit complicated because – and there were some, there were a few women who came along to this other group. And I believe – I mean, to the one in The Red Lion. And some women apparently went to another venue which I didn’t know anything about.
HJ: Okay. And after the mid-‘90s, since that point, what has happened with the two groups, or the one group, that you helped set up?
CS: Well, between about ‘95, my last entry is in ‘95, between then and the early 2000s nothing much. People went their separate ways. I still went to BiCons. But not so many of them. And in the – I can’t remember the exact date – but in I think about sort of 2004-5 there was an attempt to set up another group in Leeds which didn’t come to anything.
HJ: And were you involved in the attempt to set up that group?
CS: I was, yes. I wasn’t the prime mover, there was somebody else, but we – we had a meeting and we had adverts about it online and so on but, I don’t know why, but nobody came.
HJ: Do you think there is a need still, in 2018, for bisexual groups in Leeds and other places?
CS: I’m sure there is.
HJ: And why do you think that is, what issues do you think the community or individuals still face?
CS: Well, I still think that bisexuals feel they don’t really belong to either a straight world or the gay world. It’s pro– some of it’s, some of it’s probably misplaced fears but I think they still lack, still lack perception. As recently as 2003, Unison, there’s been a gay group banned bisexuals. Maybe that was changed, I think, the following year. So, that was one of the biggest unions in the country.
HJ: And I was wondering as well, do you have any, sort of, negative, particularly negative experiences or events that you would like to share from trying to set up the bisexual group? Perhaps how it was perceived by the wider community in Leeds?
CS: Oh yeah. I’ve got here that when we – there was a BiCon in Coventry, it was in a college and I’ve got a night [paper rustles], this was 1989, um [pause], ‘late evening abuse shouted outside venue by people hostile to BiCon.’ That was in the middle of Coventry. There were also misunderstandings, I think people came along – there was a married couple who came along and they were looking for a threesome [paper rustles]. Also, two of us were, were, we were sort of, rather pushed into counselling this man who’d, he’d met the love of his life through cottaging and he was married and it was threatening his marriage and he was very upset about this. And we had a long sort of counselling session really, although we were not qualified counsellors, in a pub. I hope we helped him.
HJ: How did it make you feel to suddenly be pushed into that role of being a counsellor, but you know you’re not qualified or trained?
CS: Well, yes, a little bit scary I think, but I think we managed alright. I mean, perhaps the other guy was a bit better than I was, you know, at dealing with it.
HJ: And do you have any other memories of setting up the first bisexual group you’d like to add or attending BiCons?
CS: Well, I might add that one of our members was called Jake. Jake Arnott. And if you’ve ever heard of the book Long Firm, he wrote a lot – quite a few very successful crime novels. About ten years ago they were, some of them were televised. Long Firm, He Kills Coppers, true crime – so he’s quite a well-known crime writer. He writes other novels, but they’ve usually got some connection with sexuality as well. The one, Long Firm, was loosely based on the Krays, you know, one of whom was gay, although he was a sort of hard man and gangster as well. So, he’s the most famous ex-member, you know.
I’m just trying – I can’t really think of anything very exciting [paper rustles]. Only it was a social group, and it – I think it was good to have that feeling of support, you know.
HJ: Absolutely. If there’s anything else you’d like to add then do add now, if not we’ll bring it to a close.
CS: Oh, can I just think a moment?
HJ: So, as we paused, you just mentioned Chris that you feel a bit too old, for it. Can you explain a bit more about that?
CS: Well, if I go to BiCons, or if I go to the Leeds Bi Group as it is now, I find I’m the oldest one. I mean, I’m now 71 and there’s nobody else, hardly anybody in these places that’s my age. And I don’t know whether that’s just my generation are not very involved in these things, but it does make me feel a bit of an odd one out.
HJ: Do you have bisexual friends in a similar age range that you know?
HJ: And do you know why they choose not to go to BiCon?
CS: Well, probably because of the same reason. In fact, some of them have packed up long before me.
HJ: Do you think there could be room or a need to set up an older group specifically?
CS: I think, yes, I think it’s probably a good idea. I don’t feel I’ve got the time or the energy myself to do that. I think it’d be good if somebody did. I don’t know whether there’d be enough even in a city like Leeds to have older bisexual people. Maybe Manchester or London. I think it’d be a good idea though.
HJ: Sure. Well, thank you. Are there any final thoughts you’d like to add?
CS: Can’t think of anything.
HJ: Alright, thank you very much.