Labour MP Siân James: The story of Pride could not have been told 10 years ago
MP Siân James who is depicted in one of this year’s biggest gay British films says its story can finally be told because attitudes have shifted for the better.
‘Pride’, one of the most celebrated British gay films in recent years, tells the real life inspiring tale of how Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), a group of gay activists in London, decided to fundraise for a mining community in South Wales during the miners’ strike of 1984-85.
In the film Siân James is depicted by actress Jessica Gunning as being one of the most passionate supporters of LGSM’s efforts. Siân was a housewife married to a miner in the Swansea Valley when the strikes began. She started by volunteering to help other mining families, eventually helping feed a thousand families a week across the Welsh valleys.
After the strikes ended, she didn’t want to stop campaigning. She took her A-levels, got her degree, worked for the students’ union, was a fundraiser for Save the Children, became a director of Welsh Women’s Aid and in 2005 was elected MP for Swansea East.
Speaking to the Labour Party website, Siân says the film illustrates the fact that some in her community did not appreciate LGSM’s efforts at the time.
“Quite recently someone approached my daughter at work and said: ‘I’m really ashamed at how I behaved during the strike when I heard that lesbians and gays were supporting the miners — I was one of those people who said really nasty things. But I was wrong, I was really, really wrong. Because when I met these people they were just like us.’ That was lovely to hear.”
Siân continued: “I don’t think we could have told the story 20 or even 10 years ago. I don’t think people like Jonathan [LGSM member and one of the film’s leading characters] would have felt confident to come out and admit that he was HIV positive and had been for such a long time.
“I don’t think society was prepared for that then, but we’ve come such a long way. We can be proud that as the Labour Party we’ve been big instigators in the whole movement of giving lesbians and gay men equal rights and protection under the law.”
Siân added: “I’ve had people say how inspirational the film is, how much they’ve enjoyed it and how they’ve laughed and cried over it. Someone actually wrote to say they’d gone to see it in Atlanta last week and it got a standing ovation. My mind boggles that people all the way over there are watching this film and are getting it. There’s only one reference they don’t understand in America, and that’s the one about Delia Smith because they have no idea who she is!”
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), who refused to acknowledge the support of LGSM during the strike, eventually recognised its contribution to their cause.
At the 1985 Labour Party convention in Bournemouth, a resolution committing Labour to support LGBT rights passed for the first time due to block voting support from the NUM.