During the height of The Gateway club’s popularity in the 1960s, Mick Jagger turned up and begged for entry. He knew this was a space for women only but he wasn’t taking no for an answer. “He said ‘Go on Gina, I’ll wear a dress,’” recalls Jacquie Lawrence, director of a new documentary on the legendary club. “She said ‘Nope, even you, Mick, are not coming in…’”
The story of The Gateways club, the punkishly subterranean venue for lesbian women which opened in the 1940s and closed in 1985, is the subject of a new documentary airing at this year’s BFI Flare LGBTQ Festival. The event runs 16-27 March and will platform gay documentaries and feature films, as well as host panel talks and DJ nights.
Gateways Grind – named after an intimate dance women performed at the club – is full of gripping stories like this. “We’ve got Barbara Hoskins, who went to Gateways in the 1940s,” says Lawrence. “She was Edward Heath and Harold Wilson’s speech writer. Can you imagine having somewhere to go as a lesbian when you didn’t even exist? We weren’t outlawed because we didn’t exist.”
By Lawrence’s count there is just one dedicated lesbian bar in London these days, She bar, which closes relatively early and is often busy with men. “The story is we need lesbian spaces where we can be ourselves, even though we don’t have to remain anonymous and hidden anymore – we still need that special space.
“[By the late 1960s] there was a club you could go to six nights a week that was exclusively lesbian – show me that now.” While Lawrence “loves” producer Russell T Davies’ LGBTQ work, such as recent Channel 4 hit It’s A Sin, she insists: “My God, [men] get so much more screen time than we do.”
Is she interested in setting up a successor to The Gateway? “Watch this space,” she says.
Another queer film at Flare festival taking London as inspiration is In From The Side, about a gay rugby team, which director Matt Carter tells City A.M. is an exploration of “masculinity, fraternity, belonging and ultimately forbidden love.” Carter argues “it’s important that the LGBTQIA+ community has a dedicated space to honour, tell and elevate our stories so they can reach a wider audience.”
Flare festival programmer Michael Blyth echoes Lawrence’s call for more queer spaces in the capital. “Over the past decade we have seen the closure of multiple queer venues in London, and Flare stands as an invaluable safe space for the entire queer community,” he says. “We may well see more queer stories on mainstream viewing platforms, but there is still a long way to go in addressing a long history of queer stories absent from our screens.”
Lawrence calls it her “mission in life” to pass on queer histories which may otherwise get forgotten. “I’ve had younger women say, ‘Thank you, you’re giving us a slice of history we didn’t even know we had.’ These women, they were pioneers.”
BFI Flare Festival shows new feature films and documentaries, as well as events, and runs from 16-25 March. Gateways Grind has one further screening on Sunday 27 March at 3.20pm at BFI Southbank. Tickets are on sale now.