After a performance of Dear Love of Comrades at the small theatre at Birmingham Rep (Studio?), we were making our way to a gay club, The Grosvenor House Hotel. We had to park the Sweaties Ford Transit minibus round the corner from it and were walking towards the club. We passed two parked cars. What was odd, was that they had their lights on and were full to bursting of with young people. I thought nothing of it and we carried on. As we were walking, whoever was next to me said, “OK. Just keep walking.” I asked why but then it immediately became apparent: a group of young men – six or seven maybe? – all screaming obscenities were running full tilt towards us from behind, each armed with some improvised weapon and immediately set about attacking us. Thinking about it afterwards, we realised they had brought their girlfriends along to watch. You just don’t know what you are going to do in situations like that until they happen. One of them was attacking someone else, so I started trying to pick him off and, of course, he then set about me. His ‘weapon’ was the stand of what used (ironically) to be called ‘A Companion Set’ – fire tongs, brush and poker hung from a stalk with a solid cast iron base to stop it falling over. I ended up bent double on the pavement in a spreading a pool of my own blood. Bizarrely, I was wearing a fine, rust-coloured, 1920s Harris Tweed check overcoat which I had bought earlier in a charity shop for a pound and somehow, a tiny part of my brain was concerned in case the blood ruined it. Luckily for us, some Parks Police were driving by in a little Bedford van and pulled over to see what was going on. The sight of uniforms was enough to scare them off and they scuttled into the night. Ambulances were called and some of us ended up in hospital. The surgeon who sewed up my head up told me that if I ever became bald, the world would see a Mercedes symbol which he had just embroidered into my scalp.
I recall we were interviewed a day or so later about our queer bashing on a local Birmingham radio station, which we were pleased to do – queer bashing needed to be fought – though the broadcasters rather blotted their copybooks by letting slip some casual racism about some area of Birmingham. Also, sometime later, because of the attack, I was interviewed on Capital Radio. All fine then, at the end, the interviewer said, “So, Ray, what would be your advice to people about protecting themselves against queer bashing?” I hadn’t seen that one coming. I expect he thought I was going to say we should all take courses in self-defence or something like that. Fortunately, an answer came to me. “I would encourage anyone who is gay and hasn’t yet come out, to do it, because as long as we just “them’ – faceless nobodies, they can attack us with impunity. But once we are “John” or “Mary” – ‘real people’, it will be harder to do that”.
Ray now runs the The Queer Tango Project: http://queertangobook.org/