BOOK REVIEW: Queer Beyond London by Matt Cook & Alison Oram

September 12, 2022

Queer Beyond London

Sexuality and Locality in Brighton, Leeds, Manchester and Plymouth

Where exactly is queer England? There has been much discussion of London as a queer city, but what about the many thousands of queer lives lived elsewhere?

From Manchester’s bars and nightclubs to Brighton’s seafront, the attractions of Leeds to the dockside delights of Plymouth, in Queer Beyond London two leading LGBTQ historians take us on a journey through four cities with rich and diverse queer histories. They show how geography, size, economy, city government and local history and culture shaped LGBTQ life in these places, each city forging a vibrant queer culture of its own.

Each quarter of the book has the same set up, a chronological look at the historical development of Queer communities in each city, examining the events, shocks, opportunities, and communities who joined together to work to produce the vibrant LGBTQ+ communities we celebrate them for today. Each different city/town has its own demographic make up which is examined in detail by the writers, allowing the lived experience, opinions and memories of the people who built those communities to be heard clearly.

The book is a collection of oral histories collected with a well-researched framework of political and community development, but it’s much more than that. It’s also a loving testament to the power of Queer community to build the spaces we need and cry out for, and shows how that was done, through exploring events, ‘scene’ developments – clubs, bars and sex spaces, differing groups building alliances to challenge power and privilege and the huge shocks of the AIDS crises and brutal Conservative government imposed anti LGBTQ+ polices of the Thatcher years.  There’s a huge sense of place in these chapters examining how urban geography and psycho geographies intersect to forge  LGBTQ+ people a map for their safe places, and spaces which powerfully enable Queer joy. The book is alive with happy activism, and the voices of people who got off their analogue asses to make change real, and did it together.

It’s a story of hope and resilience, it’s a story of coping and caring and it’s a story of family. Found family; chosen family putting its united foot down and saying ‘here we will build a home for all of us. By us, For us, With us.’  I live in Brighton, one of the places detailed in the book. I was called here by its glittering lighthouse of love from the deepest Welsh Valleys and the themes, values and ideas exposed by this thoroughly enjoyable book echo my own experiences and those of my Queer friends in building ourselves our Gilded Twisted Love Ghetto.

Authors Matt Cook and Alison Oram have captured not just huge amounts of data in this project but the essence of how LGBTQ+ and Queer groups coalesce around a few special core places in the UK, each with special meaning to the communities who live there, but also which call out, clarion, bold and strong to each of us who yearns for a place to be seen.  By interview and research, they’ve captured bold, beautiful oral histories of people who struggled and battled with abuse and systemic prejudice, allowing these voices to share the power of overcoming and celebrating the victories of loving and living authentically.

The authors also wrote the National Trust’s first LGBTQ guidebook, Prejudice and Pride.

It’s a great book, part history, part dream, part political, part romance, part research but wholly celebratory. A book that tells Our story, by those that built and continue to build the spaces we choose to live in.  The range of voices written in its pages reflects the diversity of our community back to us, but time and time again the book comes back to one bold assertion, that together we are the strongest, that together we can make our dreams come true, that together we can overcome.


Out now £20

For more info or to order the book follow this link to the publisher’s website

The accompanying website from the research project which produced the book also shares much more historical, visual, and photographic details and research, supporting the book and allowing the rich materials gathered by the authors to be shared further, check it out