Squatting in Brixton: towards a local queer history
History Birkbeck London, UK
In 1974, the South London Gay Centre opened on squatted premises in Brixton's Railton Road. It had a short and chequered history, but it also spawned an extraordinary gay squatting community based in houses on the same street and the parallel Mayall Road. The 10 houses and the communal gardens which were formed between the two terraces became the focus for experiments in art, theatre, sex, politics, and domestic life over the next decade - and beyond. Though the houses were incorporated into the Brixton Housing Co-op in the mid 80s and converted into individual flats, they were reserved for gay tenants, including a number of the original squatters. The properties are still linked by the communal garden. A gay community has thus endured here in one form or another for over 30 years, and this paper, based on newly available archival material and a series of oral history interviews, reflects on the particular contours of queer life in this context. It explores especially the underlying politics of the squatters, looking at the ways in which they related to the wider local community and at how sexual, class and ethnic identifications intersected for them. In this close focus I make an argument for a 'local turn' in queer history-making, one which would allow us to understand more fully the particularities of gay identities and communities and so provide a counter to the more sweeping and totalising
accounts of recent gay life.