WITH the largest LGBTQ+ population outside of London, Brighton has gained a reputation over the decades as being the "gay capital" of the UK. To mark the end of Pride Month, The Argus takes a closer look at the history of the LGBTQ+ community in the city.

From fishing village to seaside retreat

After originally starting life as a fishing village, Brighton gained a reputation as a seaside resort from the 1730s after a fad for bathing in seawater. Further growth followed when the Prince Regent - later King George IV - started spending his leisure time in the town.

The floating population of holidaymakers, alongside good transport links to London and the number of soldiers garrisoned in the town during the Napoleonic Wars, attracted many LGBTQ+ people. However, harsh legal penalties existed at the time for homosexuality and some faced violent attacks.

In May 1836, London solicitor Stanley Stokes was mobbed and his throat cut in East Street, after he made sexual approaches to a groom at the New Ship Hotel.

In contrast, in some instances unmarried women could live together and be recognised as a pair without attracting much comment.

British philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts would spend part of the year at the Royal Albion Hotel with her companion Hannah Brown and would even send joint Christmas cards.

When Hannah passed away, Angela confided that she had been "the sunshine of my life for 52 years".

The opening of Brighton’s first LGBT venues

Brighton’s reputation as a seaside escape grew in the twenties and thirties, with LGBTQ+ people viewing the town as a place to have a good time.

In 1929, a transgender man married a woman at St. Peter’s Church, but was later found guilty of making a false statement on a marriage certificate and sentenced to nine months in prison. Meanwhile, pubs with LGBTQ+ clientele began to thrive, particularly the now-closed Star of Brunswick.

The Argus: Brighton was bombed during the Second World War Brighton was bombed during the Second World War

When the Second World War broke out, the town was closed to visitors due to the fear of German invasion, with the beach covered in barbed wire.

However, for some of Brighton’s LGBTQ+ residents, soldiers based in the town attracted their interest.

A blind eye was often taken to gatherings by police, who were busy with other matters, but naval authorities were forced to make the Star of Brunswick out of bounds after attracting much interest from cadets at the Hove training base HMS King Alfred.

Forces away from home who met other LGBTQ+ people for the first time also heard about Brighton and its reputation, with many coming to visit and stay following the conclusion of the war.

Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Brighton was the top destination for gay holidaymakers, with word spreading about guesthouses which were either owned by gay men or would ignore instances of what was then illegal activity.

Although several LGBTQ+ friendly venues existed in the town, police raids often put people off from visiting, particularly as they would often take the name and address of those present.

Those who did take the risk would keep an alias for such occasions to prevent the risk of being outed and losing their job, home and even family and friends.

Protest and organisation

The age of "flower power" in the late sixties saw homosexuality decriminalised in the UK and a movement grew among younger people to challenge homophobic attitudes and norms.

With the launch of Gay News, Britain’s first national gay newspaper, LGBTQ+ venues and organisations could let others know of their existence.

LGBTQ+ organisations started to form in the early seventies, with the Sussex Gay Liberation Front launched in February 1971 by a group of university students and LGBT residents.

The group organised its first protest in October of the same year, and a full Pride march in July 1973.

However, only a tiny group were ready to take to the streets and another Pride march would not take place for many years.

The following years saw the launch of the Brighton Lesbian Group, the Brighton Gay Switchboard - then known as the Lavender Line - which provided a support line for LGBT people, as well as hosting the 1979 national conference of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality.

As the seventies progressed, LGBTQ+ communities gained greater attention in the press, but were often followed by backlash and protest.

In one documentary in 1976 by the regional ITV station, the future head of the Terrence Higgins Trust Tony Whitehead was filmed kissing his boyfriend at Brighton Station.

His employer, British Home Stores, sacked him after the broadcast, prompting protests from local liberation groups outside the branch in Churchill Square.

The outbreak of the AIDS epidemic in the early eighties sparked panic in the LGBTQ+ community in Brighton and around the world.

Local activists sprung to action, fearing existing services would be unable to cope with the crisis, with the Brighton Gay Switchboard publishing one of the first leaflets in the country to explain the facts of the disease.

A Sussex AIDS Helpline was set up in 1985, and soon expanded to train volunteers to set up a home care service for those living with AIDS.

The return of Brighton Pride

The introduction of Section 28 in 1988, which prohibited local councils from the "promotion of homosexuality", prompted a new wave of LGBTQ+ activism, with the Brighton Area Action Against Section 28 (BAAAS28) organising a march every May from Hove Town Hall to Brighton Town Hall to protest against the legislation.

In 1991, campaigners changed the focus of the protests to one of celebration - marking the return of Brighton Pride after 18 years.

The Argus: Simon Dack's photograph of the Pride march in 1992 Simon Dack's photograph of the Pride march in 1992

The event grew into the major attraction it is today, among residents and visitors alike. 1992 saw the launch of Pride in The Park, and the event attracted major sponsorship for the first time in 1995.

LGBTQ+ nightclubs began to gain success in the town with the first sizeable gay club, Revenge, launching in 1991, and the first full-time bar aimed at lesbians opening its doors in 2000.

Turn of the century

With the turn of the millennium, Brighton Pride became a charity but, after running into financial ruin, organisers controversially introduced an entrance fee to their annual park festival.

Since 2012, the event has raised close to £1 million for local LGBTQ+ community groups and attracts hundreds of thousands of people every year, as well as some of the biggest musical acts, including Kylie Minogue and Britney Spears.

As calls grew for greater equality for the transgender community, Brighton become the host for the first and largest Trans Pride outside of the United States in 2013.

However, the success of LGBTQ+ events and outlets across Brighton has been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced bars and clubs to close and for Brighton Pride to be cancelled two years in a row.