Glasgow Gay Centre, SMG and SHRG
In the Becoming Visible exhibition, there is a photograph taken in the Courtyard outside the Glasgow Gay Centre at 534 Sauchiehall Street. The happy smiling faces in the photograph belie the fact that it was a sad day for many gay people in Glasgow, because this was the day that the Gay Centre closed its door for the last time.
The Centre came into being in the late 70's as a result of the efforts by members of the Glasgow Branch of the Scottish Minorities Group (SMG) subsequently the Scottish Homosexual Rights Group (SHRG), now Outright Scotland - a group of people dedicated to campaigning for 'The Rights and Welfare of Homosexual men and Women.' This group were already active in other spheres such as the formation of the Glasgow Gay Advisory Service (GGAS) which set up a telephone information and help line in premises provided by a sympathetic businessman.
From 12 Renfield Street, SMG published newsletters. In 1978, the newsletter 'SMG News' changed to 'Gay Scotland', and the group itself was renamed the Scottish Homosexual Rights Group (SHRG). Gay Scotland was the forerunner of the glossy of the same name, now unfortunately defunct. I believe the title is still owned by Outright Scotland, so we may yet see it rise phoenix-like in the future.
It should be remembered that sexual activity between males (consenting or not) was still against the law in Scotland and could be punishable by up to life imprisonment.
Gay discos were organised by SMG/SHRG in Glasgow usually in Council Halls, and amongst the earliest were those held in Partick Burgh Hall and Woodside Halls. It says much for the licensing authorities that applications for licences were usually granted, given the of state of the law in relation to gays. Gay was still a comparatively new word in those days and still meant to most people to 'be happy'.
Discos were very popular and I suppose it was inevitable that commercial groups also started to run discos. One of the earliest and most popular was 'Shadows Disco' held in the Western Hotel just off Great Western Road.
An interesting ruse used by disco organisers to obtain late licenses from the authorities was to encourage Gays to hold their '21st birthday' parties in gay venues. 'No presents please' was usually printed on the invitation tickets.
It was about this time that SHRG as it was now called decided to buy premises in Queens Crescent to form a licensed Gay Club. This was successful for some time but unfortunately it could not compete with the new gay venues which had recently came on the scene in Glasgow (the biggest of which is still up and running in Glasford Street) and it accrued debts. It had to be closed down and the original coffee bar and small function suite had to be sold. Nevertheless SMG/SHRG showed the way forward and benefits of their efforts are apparent today.
SMG/SHRG also had telephone contacts throughout Scotland from Inverness to Carlisle (yes Carlisle) and also had an active branch in Paisley where weekly meetings were held and who ran regular discos in the AUEW Halls and latterly in the Students Union in Hunter Street. At one point the Paisley Group opened a gay information line which was originally located at a business address in Paisley and it was operated successfully for some time. However one of the local papers, the Paisley Daily Express, got wind of it and printed a story about it under banner headlines 'PAISLEY GOES GAY'. It went on to report that a gay group had opened a telephone information line 'at a secret address in Paisley'. The response of the group was for one of our members who had access to a badge making machine to produce hundreds of badges with the slogan PAISLEY GOES GAY and to distribute them throughout the town.
This is my personal recollection of events as I remember them but cannot vouch for complete accuracy and it is in no way a criticism of the commercial operators who have helped to make a thriving gay scene in Glasgow. Finally I would like to pay tribute to all who have spent a lot of time and effort in providing the excellent centre in Dixon Street.
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