The London Lesbian & Gay Teenage Group, which started in 1975, was pretty damn revolutionary as one of the world’s very first youth groups exclusively for queer kids.
Kevin O’Neill was a fresh faced 19 year old when he started going to the group, which at this stage was based in Manor Gardens in Islington, London. We caught up to talk about his coming out experience, his memories of the group, and some of the shenanigans he got up to with other members….Transcript
Kevin O’Neill 00:00
Which how I met was how I managed to get a blowjob or watching just the top left hand corner of Kramer versus Kramer.
K Anderson 00:12
I am K Anderson and you are listening to lost spaces, a podcast that mourns the death of queer nightlife. Every episode I talk to a different person about a venue from their past, the memories they created there, and the people that they used to know. The London lesbian and gay teenage group, which started in 1975, was pretty damn revolutionary as one of the world’s very first youth groups exclusively for queer kids. Kevin O’Neill was a fresh faced 19 year old when he started going to the group. And we recently caught up to talk about his coming out experience, his memories of the group and some of the shenanigans that he got up to with other members.
Kevin O’Neill 01:26
I came out at 19 which meant the tie came
K Anderson 01:36
like 1819 the year I really
Kevin O’Neill 01:42
yeah, it was all the soldiers coming back from from the Napoleonic Wars. And it was wonderful. It’s a wonderful, you were there waving a flag. Thank you know, I came out at the age of I came out to my mother. Just about a month before my 19th birthday. And this was in December of 1979. So so I can run around telling people that I came out of in my teens in the 70s. But really, I’d say that I came out when I was 19 in 1980. Because I told me man, and and in a big, huge round. And then I went down top inmates from New theatre
K Anderson 02:31
from Youth Theatre. I mean, that’s kind of a clue, right? Yes.
Kevin O’Neill 02:36
Definitely. And then kind of nothing really happened until after my birthday. I didn’t have sex with a man until I was 19. So I came out to my mother before I like had sex, but I knew I was okay.
K Anderson 02:58
So that was more of like a big terror coming out of the closet and then yeah, I think the fall there. Yeah, doors swinging open was later on ball
Kevin O’Neill 03:08
door swinging open. dredging memory. Actually, it was probably by 20th birthday. Yes, no, it would have been my 20th when I’m still living at home, I have come out I started going to London at an age group. I started going out to gay bars predominantly. The most frequent one for me then was the blackout. I made gay friends and I 20th birthday so invited. Friends Oh,
K Anderson 03:45
so non queer friends.
Kevin O’Neill 03:48
Few I still I have not completely lost touch with all my sixth form friends then there was still one or two. Interestingly, the one or two who who I was still friends with were the ones who were quite on the age and marginalised by Claire and Pete the punks. Yeah, Pete the carpenter and his girlfriend Claire was at six for one who was really very clever and got lots of a levels despite the fact that everything was pierced and died and I’m sticking up with with soap. Stand up with soap.
K Anderson 04:36
Like in the Mohawk. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Let me just say that take
Kevin O’Neill 04:41
I’ve gotten that idea. I never went down. In fact, I remember six more common room coming, Claire coming in really excited. One morning go. Oh my god. Oh my god. Sid Vicious spat at me spat on me last night at 100 Club. Yeah, days before the internet days before the internet, so yeah, so I then had this kind of afternoon tea party, strangely, where I got one of one or two of my six one friends together with my new gay friends. And I invited them round to my parents home. And that was your coming out party. And that was, I think now I think this was 20 because I wouldn’t have in the space between coming out to my mom in December and having my 19th birthday in January, I, you know, nothing would have really changed. came out to my mom, when she spoke to my eldest sister, and my other sister said, Our mom said, Oh, God, I don’t know. Should I tell your father? Amanda said, No, that’s for Kevin to do. And why did she have to stick her or in it? Now I’ve got this really difficult task that I had to come out to my father separately. And I had not had a particularly good relationship with him.
K Anderson 06:03
But in hindsight, was that a good thing? Or was it just agonising? And I can I can
Kevin O’Neill 06:11
need to I can take months for me to answer probably took two to maybe three months. Me to pluck up the courage with this thing hanging over me. You’ve got to tell your dad and enter was anti climatic when you did come in, or was it? Everyone having come to my mom in a huge rail?
K Anderson 06:33
What was that like throwing plates? And you made me this way? No.
Kevin O’Neill 06:37
Plate throwing. But what did involve? You made me this way? She’s my mom. Making me gay. dreadful thing to do? Yeah, no, I invited all of my youth theatre group. Back to my house for post show. Post. Perform. Run. Yeah. Party. And moments, I guess, regimes granted. We’re having a good time. But my dad’s been away on business was really tired. And wasn’t going to have any of it. But he got money to throw us out. Yeah, we wouldn’t do it directly. She had to do all the dirty work. So you know, the party that he just got going, we got chucked out. Okay, that’s my mom. And then the aftermath.
K Anderson 07:38
The gloves came off. That’s
Kevin O’Neill 07:39
when the gloves big round, accuse her and run out of the house. Catch up with with your theatre friends. And come out to them. And always surprised but fine about it.
K Anderson 07:59
Both so you just were like, by the way, I’m gay. And then you ran off from your mom. Well, what do I got? We’ve got that. But then what was it like coming home?
Kevin O’Neill 08:12
Oh, I don’t remember that. Oh, you don’t remember cuz we we found somewhere to go on to somebody else’s flattened got pissed? Well, yeah, of course. Yeah. teenager. My mom, I’ve just had a blazing route, I really welled up. What am I going to do? I’m going to smoke loads of cigarettes. Because we didn’t smoke like the dope like that. And really, really best.
K Anderson 08:38
But so when you did like eventually come back? Didn’t Did you and your mom actually talk about what you’d said? Or was it just like, let’s pretend nothing happened? Half and half. There was a sorry about the route. I didn’t mean it. That is your fault. But I am gay. Man. That
Kevin O’Neill 09:05
means that that is true. That bit has been true for a very, very long time. And then what did she say? Oh, well, I spoke to your sister and she thinks that you have to tell them. So again, it wasn’t a huge there wasn’t a huge discussion about it. Yeah. little bits of discussions about it. I don’t know whether they Yeah, I think did she actually do the old worried because of a life of loneliness trope. Maybe she didn’t do that. I
K Anderson 09:49
could have gone and could have gone either way. I love you anyway. Or Oh, actually. Yeah, I love you. Anyway, we are going to be really low. Did I know that she was right? Oh,
Kevin O’Neill 10:05
dad. So my dad, then yes, we’re telling him what was that like? completely the opposite. I’d have this thing hanging over me that I had to tell my dad. And one day I plucked up courage and he was in the front room writing. Because he used to run management training courses as he was writing, preparing for the next course. And I just walked in and said, Dad, I’ve got something to tell you. And he said that it kind of nodded. didn’t respond much. And I just said, Well, I’m I’m gay. Probably said something else, but not much. He just didn’t respond much. Silence. And then I thought, and then I just said, well, that’s probably come as a shock. And you’ll need time to think about that. Can you do it? I go. You’re not responding at all. You’re just sitting there pen poised and sharp object. Yeah. But then he said he apparently I was told. Only Mum, mum. Yes. Not directly by him. Or my childhood. Basically, I was brought up by mum with mediated interventions from my father. He didn’t engage directly most of the time that they had a discussion and he’d said this thing about his sympathy. I think the word with sympathy was used for homosexuals decrease, depending on the reason why, and pairing most sympathy for men whose homosexuality was innate, that they were born that way. Less sympathy for men whose homosexuality was there by nurture? Okay, yeah. And no sympathy at all for for men whose homosexuality was fashion.
K Anderson 12:29
Kevin O’Neill 12:33
And how do you tell the difference? I’ve no idea how you tell the difference. I you know, presumably, I mean, he’d watched me grow up in the 70s. were being a David Bowie fan. So presumably, the fashion lot with people like David Bowie and mock by London and all the all the others
K Anderson 12:56
who were just wearing it.
Kevin O’Neill 12:57
Yeah, who just selling records? or selling culture. God knows who the end date ones may be had huge sympathies for rum. Oh, the TV presenter who did the generation game with with glasses on a chain can help you know, not from this country originally. You’re not old enough to have been there in the 70s either. Perry Grayson still is not a peak to British men of my age. And there will be lots of Larry Grayson shutter reactions. Oh shot there. Yeah, he was very feminists. And his whole stock deck was was based on being
K Anderson 13:56
Kevin O’Neill 13:58
supercamp. But with no edge whatsoever. So no threat and a figure of fun that you could laugh out. Yeah.
K Anderson 14:05
Which is really the only representation of queer man at that time anyway, right.
Kevin O’Neill 14:14
There were one or two others who were quite company effeminate. Had a slight edge,
K Anderson 14:21
Kevin O’Neill 14:23
to them. Back in the 60s, you’d had Kenneth Williams and Hugh paddock on around the home. Doing Sandy and Julian, Sandy and Sandy and Jules. Oh, and this is
K Anderson 14:37
a radio show.
Kevin O’Neill 14:38
This was a radio show. And this was a radio show that use a lot of polari coded language, and they were screamingly camp, but also made sexual references. So it was kind of there was kind of references within their app. To fancying croquet sailors or something like that. Yeah. So that they had a hint of sexuality in there. Yeah. Larry Grayson was just completely neutered.
K Anderson 15:15
Yeah, it was just like a candle. Yeah, yeah. And so the shutter is because he represented the worst of or he represented
Kevin O’Neill 15:24
around the the most feminine. And the most neutered.
K Anderson 15:29
Yeah. And so back to my original question, which is about coming out in in London in the late 70s, early 80s. And I guess for anyone who isn’t from London, there is romanticising of the place as like, you know, a haven or like somewhere where everyone’s accepting and tolerant and open. What were your experiences? So we’ve talked about your parents, but what were your experiences, like wider than that in coming out?
Kevin O’Neill 16:01
Well, I had school in sixth form friends. But I moved on from them very quickly. And kind of turned my back. My eldest sister had an openly gay friend. And apparently they disgust me. I would like themselves before you came out before I came out, okay. In fact, my sister subsequently has said, Oh, we knew that you were gay before you came out. And I had to remind her that Well, actually, you didn’t know for definite, you suspected? Because mum was the first person I’d ever spoken to about it. So yeah, quite slightly twisting, but claiming this kind of Yeah. So yeah, it wasn’t a huge amount. The penetrated my life in the outer suburbs. But of course, once I had come out, it was there and available for me at the other end of the Metropolitan line, so I came out and I could access gay bars. We had the saulsbury was the only bar in the West End. And that wasn’t great. Because the proprietor didn’t like gays. It was a gay bar because of it. Yeah. It was it was gay bar by virtue of being featured in the film, the victim, okay without bow guard. It had been used as a gay bar back in the 50s and 60s, but was very discreet. And the fat film made it less discreet. So it became more of a known destination purchase what the proprietor was not happy about.
K Anderson 18:10
Wait, because I understand that. So it was clear before
Kevin O’Neill 18:15
Yes, but it was it was much more concealable on how easy it Yeah, on the DL, but Oh,
K Anderson 18:23
so it’s not because of the people that were there. It was because of the people that weren’t there that knew it was queer slightly and the increased number of people there and as a proprietor why would that upset you having more people
Kevin O’Neill 18:40
because of the the more openly gay people then deterring other tourist business, okay. But also, it wasn’t just a business issue for him. It was like, you know, their queers, dirty queers. Or carrots.
K Anderson 19:05
I’d say the queers before were the more kind of like, they had more shame. So they were more
Kevin O’Neill 19:13
possibly, possibly, but also fewer and fewer in number easier to ignore.
K Anderson 19:19
Okay, oh, so, so they were also heterosexual people there. In the 60s and 70s. Why don’t you know all the answers to my question. Anyway,
Kevin O’Neill 19:33
the only gay bar in the in the centre of town. competence didn’t know until 1986. So in that period, of my very early coming out, there was no gay bar in Soho. There. We’re Clark and the hand been gay bars in the past. But think the past gay bars have been pushed out of existence by the very corrupt Metro Police fire squad. That that rules so whoa and allowed organised crime to run it out. Okay, kick back. So, by the way when I was coming out, so I was very much sleazy straight sides.
K Anderson 20:26
Interesting. So the whole of our comms industry, which is now like, yeah, you pick us up? What’s the word? ubiquitous, ubiquitous? With, like your way around with, with like queer bars that was just for straight people?
Kevin O’Neill 20:48
Yes, off Soho, you have places like the colony Club, which was a private member’s club. And not a specifically gay one, but a specifically alternative and bohemian one run by a boulder like, and with loads of gay details like, clientele like Francis Bacon. Yeah. But they were also private.
K Anderson 21:17
And so let’s let’s get onto topic because we’re here. Yes, group coming out. You asked me about coming out. But at that time, thank you. Sorry, you didn’t start growing to the group until you’d come out? Yes. But by that age, you were like, of legal age to go to bars and clubs. Yeah. So what was the appeal of going to a youth group, instead of going to
Kevin O’Neill 21:41
the appeal was I was legal age to go to bars and clubs, but I was not legal age to have sex with a man. And also, it was about
K Anderson 21:53
and the only reason you’d go to a bar is to have sex. Is that what you’re saying? No. I’m not saying I mean, that’s the only reason I go to bars but also the bars do you? No, it gave me
Kevin O’Neill 22:16
something other. Another way of meeting gay people. That was not around bars. There was not around cruising. That was not around. pickups. Oh, yeah. We’re not saying that the word relationships and liaisons formed at the Teenage Dream. But it was not about that. Yeah. So that was up. For me, it did have age restrictions to it. Being an elite funded club, it had to be over 16. But also with an age of consent of 21. That was the cap. Okay, it was put on The Club. So when you’re 21, you you no longer went. And that was about protecting the people who went there. Not in the sense of protecting them from predatory older men, but in the sense of protecting them from you know, you’re over 21 you meet and hook up with someone who’s 20. And that’s a legal break. And that’s been a facilitated at this club. Yes. Which is funded by a local educational authority. So,
K Anderson 23:41
yeah, yes. Slightly problematic. Yeah, it was problematic. Yeah, so he gave me that. I did you remember the first time we went? Shall I don’t? Specifically, well, let’s move on to the next question.
Kevin O’Neill 23:59
I can remember various various times of going but the specifics the very first time I went, I don’t remember. Well, when I don’t even remember how I found out about it.
K Anderson 24:12
Oh, okay. Do you remember any of the feelings before you went? What was mixed up with the anticipation of growing
Kevin O’Neill 24:19
nervousness? Yeah, definitely. But obviously not enough nervousness to make the very first time particularly memorable. Well, I think I have a vague memory of of finding it difficult to locate because it was slightly recessed from the road of audience address. And, and I had a little garden in front of it. So there was kind of you’re looking for a particular number and you Kind of you haven’t got to the number. So you walk past the gate that’s there. And then you think, and then you get to another number which is higher than I am. So, yeah. So there was there was confusion actually, of finding the building.
K Anderson 25:17
Yeah, because I guess it wouldn’t have been signed, like there wouldn’t have been assigned.
Kevin O’Neill 25:20
No, because it wasn’t just the London a teenage group. It was it was a space that had been rented out from somewhere else. So it was it was I think back then it was, was also a health based NHS, will Community Health Organisation who had the main buildings, but they also had a garden and down the end of the garden was this single storey three room building, which they rented out
K Anderson 26:06
for four groups diluting one of those was the group you went to one of those was the London golden age group. So what would you expect to happen in session at the group
Kevin O’Neill 26:22
chatting, coffee, drinking, smoking in the main. So it wasn’t like a structured, there were structured events, which I was just coming on. Oh, okay. Sorry. And then we would have talks, people would come and give us talks. Or we might have some other kinds of activities. Occasionally there was a disco. So what do we have in salt range? There was a wrestler called kendo Nagasaki, who always wore a mask when performing. And he was gay in in the cold closet during his career, which was predominantly 70s. So I think his career was over, but he came in and gave a talk, possibly a little bit of a demo. One time when hit with his wrestling fingers. Yeah, yeah. And indeed, he did take his mask off and reveal spiking kendo Nagasaki he was not Japanese, he was
K Anderson 27:42
some white man from the north. simpler time.
Kevin O’Neill 27:52
We had Lisa power, very well known, lesbian, deliberately non separatist activist, founder of Stonewall and th v. t. In later years, as an activist came and gave us a talk brought along a copy of the joy of lesbian sex. told all the young girls there were useful
K Anderson 28:27
and informative this book was and what were their demos this time
Kevin O’Neill 28:30
as there were no demos, but there was a warning that she warned that joy of lesbian sex, very useful resource, but do not try the one that involves the hairdryer, the ribbon and the feather. And that’s all she said. I’m not gonna say anymore. And she refused to say anymore and left it completely up to our imaginations. And I’ve never got hold of a copy of the joy of lesbian sex. So I don’t know.
K Anderson 29:02
I don’t know when they’re listening. But please get in touch.
Kevin O’Neill 29:09
Exactly. Oh, that state that stayed with me. decades. Thank you, Lisa power. I have avoided the hairdryer ribbon and feather all these years. But please walk.
K Anderson 29:26
Maybe she was vegan and against the use of animal products in order to know you’re not.
Kevin O’Neill 29:34
I have got no idea about hey, I can get a munching. Oh. And who else do we? Oh, we had a we had a camping weekend. Which unfortunately, clashed with my eldest sister His 21st birthday party so I missed the beginning of it but and
K Anderson 30:11
by the time we got there everyone had already paid off again. I said Damn it This was an ace
Kevin O’Neill 30:29
scouting campsite that Ilia had access to specifically earlier round one but without an Essex and and the we’re a scout camp in one corner of large field and and we we got shoved up with the other end of the corner and we there was no mixing
K Anderson 30:52
no mixing at all with snow and Schadler how to tie knots and
Kevin O’Neill 30:57
not that no yeah, so I was not there for the first night. So the the over excitements and silliness of the first night passed me by. and the day after my sister’s property, I read my mom’s car and drove out there and join them for just the one night Saturday. I got any other any more stories about the the brief dalliance not a boyfriend. I have a brief dalliance I had with somebody who worked as a projectionist for the Odeon cinema chain in one of the one of the big audience uptown. Who invited me to come and see him at work. Somebody tied up on evening chat chatting in the projection booth. Which how I met was how I managed to get a blowjob or watching just the top left hand corner of Kramer vs. Kramer.
K Anderson 32:19
Good film to get sucked off to. Yeah, exactly. Oscar winning it was pretty reasonable. Basically, people in the cinema just didn’t see like a head back down. On the screen. There was no shadowing.
Kevin O’Neill 32:40
And thankfully, nothing jammed in projector. Fine. I when I started going to the between age group, I’d already decided that I was going to do big travel around North America. And I was working to fund that. So I did that on I went off and I did my three months, trekking around North America came back, went back to the teenage group, and then was that it’s all this kind of guilty stuff going on. Because apparently, while I was away, this guy had had sex with somebody else in the group. And I’m kinda like thinking, what film did they see filmed? But I was also thinking like, because it was like, somebody who’s had sex. Was he my boyfriend? Nobody told me this. We had a couple of days. We wasn’t my boyfriend. Oh, so everyone was like looking at you sympathetic? Yeah. I’m not worried about I had sex in America. Yeah, but it was. Yes, people’s assumptions. But of course, you know, much teenagers. They just want something because, yeah. It’s interesting that somebody somebody is currently writing a history of it, and doing a lot of research. And in conjunction with that, they have set up a website and Facebook group page, which has reconnected me with with people from the teenage group. We had a picnic up on hamster teeth last year. Which was fun. It was that though. Yeah, well, it was slightly weird. The other kind of weirdest thing is through this group, I’m discovering more and more people who were not at the teenage group at the time I was but subsequently, who I have subsequently met in other walks of life. So you went there and you went there and you know Michael Wayne shires was there Oh, okay. And choreographer blink of your mouth. Yeah. Like, yeah. He’s famous. He is he’s been. He’s been
K Anderson 35:26
Kevin O’Neill 35:29
No, I think it’s Cinderella currently is his current production.
K Anderson 35:35
Well, let me look it up and I’ll pretend that I’ve just come to me out my friends being really slow. So company adventures in motion pictures. So, male swan. Okay, here we go. Are you ready to do board math? Yeah, that’s it, man. He is a former member of Jimmy some of it was a member of the time I went not as regular as I was. session before he was famous, but not the other members of bronski beat? Maybe Steve Bronstein? I don’t know maybe maybe they did. So we wrap up. If I were to ask you to use five words to describe lesbian or gay teenage group, would it be Oh God, I hate these. What would it be another five words?
Kevin O’Neill 37:04
five words. A London lesbian and gay teenage group. Fun, relaxed. Silly. supportive. I’m down to just one word left now. Oh, God, the pressure, the pressure. And having said that, I’ve just stumped my brain.
K Anderson 37:44
Young? Undoubtedly. Did you attend the London lesbian and gay teenage group? Well, if you did, I would love to hear from you. Tell me your stories and share any photos or anecdotes through social media. You can find me on most platforms that’s Facebook, Instagram, under the user name K. Anderson music. Love spaces is not only a podcast, a better concept record as well. I’ve been writing songs about queer venues and the people who used to live their lives there. And we’ll be releasing songs over the coming year. You can hear the first single well groomed boys which is also playing underneath my talking on all streaming platforms. If you enjoyed today’s episode, I would really appreciate if you subscribe, left a review on Apple podcasts or just told people who you think might be interested in hearing the stories too. I am K Anderson and you have been listening to lost spaces.