Direct Action
READING ROOM: ON PROTEST was a one-day alternative public library in Ipswich (UK) on Friday 29…
Pacitti Company

Back in the 1980’s a very well known high street newsagents in the UK refused to stock Gay Times, a magazine which at that pre-internet time was really the only way many people could find out about the scene, activism, or how to meet others. This was particularly pointed in smaller towns and villages, where it was potentially dangerous to order any gay themed item through your local family newagents.

In response, a campaign started where every Saturday lunchtime — which was always a very busy period in WH Smiths — people would wander round the store, filling their baskets to the brim with goods to purchase. At the till — which needed each item to be entered by hand (this was pre-bar codes) — lesbian and gay customers would wait right until the last item was rung in, then ask for a copy of Gay Times. When the cashier said the shop didn’t sell it, the customer would leave, and every item had to then be taken off the till roll and by hand. And then the next queer shopper would step up with their full basket of goods…

This campaign created a till block in WH Smiths up and down the land, and was so successful in its non-violent direct action that it forced WH SMiths to do a complete 180 and stock Gay Times.

Whilst this may seem almost antiquated as a tale now, that networked channel of communication being open almost certainly afforded the cohesion that meant subsequent campaigns around an equal age of consent were able to also succeed.

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