Northampton is a town in Northamptonshire in the East Midlands region of England that lies between Birmingham and London. Northampton is one of the largest towns in the United Kingdom with a population of 212,100 (2011 census). Since the Second World War, the history of LGBT people in and around the town has been recorded and documented in local and national media. The town now has a notably large LGBT community. The Boston is the town's gay bar, and there are various social groups, youth groups, forums and support groups across the town and wider county.
The town first held a Pride event in 2004, and despite not having an official Pride event every year, the LGBT people of Northampton continued to hold their own events to celebrate the local community. In recent years, in co-ordination with Northampton Borough Council, the Northampton LGBTQ and Allies Forum have helped to create a number of social events for the community. Northampton has had an official event to mark Pride each year since 2018. A larger Pride weekend and parade was planned for 2020, but cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and had to be held virtually. From 2012 until 2015, Northampton also held BooQfest, a gay and lesbian literary festival, which was revived in 2019 by different organisers.
The sexuality of James VI and I, King of England, Ireland and Scotland during the 17th century, has been a matter of dispute. Throughout his life, James had close relationships with male courtiers, which has caused debate among historians. Some of his biographers conclude that one of his lovers was George Villiers (later Duke of Buckingham). Apethorpe Palace, a country house in East Northamptonshire, which was reportedly a favourite royal residence of James was somewhere they would meet in private. During restoration works in the late 2000s, a previously unknown passage linking the bedchambers of James and Villiers was discovered.
1950s to 1980s
Northampton has documented evidence of the LGBT community since the 1950s, when the open space of Midsummer Meadow started to become a popular social networking location for gay and bisexual men, and remained that way for more than 50 years until its recent marinal regeneration. In the 1960s, a bar upstairs at the Black Boy Hotel on Wood Hill (now where the Prezzo restaurant stands) was reported to be popular with the local gay community.
Following the decriminisaltion of sexual activity between men in 1967, the national Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) was set up in 1969. The Northampton CHE Group was set up in February 1972, and called a public meeting in the Central Library on Abington Street. It was reportedly attended by over 50 attendees and resulted in the provision of a counselling centre for gay people in the town. Activists, with help from members of London groups, also co-ordinated controversial events in the town's Market Square to achieve publicity for the national campaign. Leaflets were distributed and the group held social events at the Angel Hotel on Bridge Street.
By the late 1970s, there were two gay venues on the Wellingborough Road in Northampton. The Princess Royal, a pub, and Dasbunker (or Monroe's as it was later known), a downstairs bar, were both popular standards of the Northampton gay scene in the late 1970s to 1980s. Both were notoriously raided by the police in less accepting times. The Princess Royal still trades as a pub, under the name of Jeckyll & Hyde, but is no longer a gay venue. Dasbunker last traded as a bar called Down Under in the early 2010s; it is now lies empty.
The Regent (or Sinatra's as it was later known) on Sheep Street was also a popular gay venue between the 1980s and 1990s. The venue changed names many times throughout its history; it was last known as The Black Cat Jazz Bar, but is now a restaurant called Cafe Marseille with flats above. Additionally, a pub in Clopton, a small village in East Northamptonshire, hosted a gay disco on Saturday nights in the early 1980s.
1990 to 2009
Support for the LGBT community began to increase in the town following the establishment of the Northampton Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Alliance (NLGBA) in 1993. It was based in offices at Charles House on Derngate and offered information, support, advocacy and training on LGB issues, established social groups and helplines as well as being a general resource centre for the local community. To celebrate their 10th anniversary, the NLGBA hosted a Forgotten Fairytales exhibition at the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery in 2004, attempting to record the history and culture of the LGBT community in Northamptonshire. The exhibition ran from March to April 2004. The Northampton Museum and Art Gallery has since hosted a number of LGBT-related exhibitions in recent years, including Gaze and Wonder featuring local LGBT artists in 2012, and Stamp Out Hate Crime's exhibition recognising both Holocaust Memorial Day and LGBT History Month in 2012. In previous years, the annual Holocaust Memorial Day exhibitions at the Guildhall included some specific LGB community content highlighting the suffering of LGB people in the Nazi Holocaust.
Between the 1990s and early 2000s, a number of LGBT venues started to appear in the town. The Jolly Anchor/Route 69 on Gas Street (now a Vietnamese restaurant) was a popular gay bar, as was K2 on Sheep Street (now a disused building). Blueberry Hill, an American diner-bar on Swan Street (now demolished), was also popular with gay people. However, all have since closed. In 2002, The Boston on College Street opened; it has remained the town's only gay bar since. Roadmender, a popular live music venue, also used to host a Friday gay night called Club Gaze in 2006. The Edge of Town, a gay-friendly pub on Regent Square, opened in 2010.
In 2003, Northampton Borough Council became one of the first councils in the country to recognise the needs of its LGBTQ community by setting up Northampton's LGB People's Forum (this was later renamed Northampton's LGBT and Q People's Forum, and is now known as Northampton LGBTQ and Allies Forum). The forum first met on 3 June 2003 and continue to meet several times each year at The Guildhall to provide a safe space for individuals who identify as LGBTQ, or have an interest in LGBTQ equality, to express their needs and views on services provided by the council and future plans for the town. Northampton Borough Council became a Stonewall Diversity Champion in 2010 and continually improved its ranking in Stonewall's Workplace Equality Index.
Northamptonshire held its first Pride event in September 2004, which consisted of a programme of LGBT-related arts, cinema, entertainment, literature as well as a public event in Abington Park.
Civil partnerships were granted for homosexual couples in the UK in late 2005 and Northamptonshire registered 37 civil partnerships around the county within the first 5 weeks of its legislation. The first civil partnership registered in Northamptonshire was between Lesley Carroll and Lorraine Warwick, a lesbian couple from Kingsthorpe, on 5 December 2005 at The Guildhall. In 2006, Northampton LGB People's Forum held one of the first Civil Partnerships and Weddings Fairs in the UK at the town's Guildhall in partnership with the NLGBA, helping to develop the first Northamptonshire directory of LGB-friendly providers and prompting some local businesses to proactively reach out to LGB customers soon after the introduction of civil partnerships. Previously, from 2003, Northamptonshire County Council had granted "commitment ceremonies" for gay and lesbian couples in Northamptonshire who were prevented by law of taking the the official route of marriage to cement their relationship. These ceremonies could be held in register offices, civic buildings and approved venues such as stately homes and hotels, and each couple was allowed their own personal programme at their ceremony, which cultimated in the signing of a souvenir certificate. At the 2011 census, 284 people in Northampton were registered in a civil partnership.
2005 also saw the release of the popular Golden Globe-nominated film Kinky Boots, which celebrates Northampton's famous shoe industry alongside the LGBT community by telling the true story of one man's revival of his failing family shoe firm by finding inspiration in an exotic drag queen. A musical theatre adaptation of the film, maintaining its Northampton backdrop, premiered on Broadway in 2013 and was nominated for 13 Tony Awards. In 2005, Northampton was also one of the stops for the 19th London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival on Tour, which brought a number of various LGBT-related films to the Forum Cinema.
In 2006, Northampton's LGBT community stood in shock after the death of Michael Fardon in a homophobic attack where he was hit in the head and then thrown down a concrete stairwell. He was found dead on College Street on 14 July 2006, a week after last being seen alive socialising at The Boston. The bar held a tribute evening two weeks after Fardon was last seen alive, where friends lit candles in his memory and a held a two-minute silence at midnight. His attacker, James Hyland, who had attacked another man in the bar two weeks prior to this incident, was jailed for life. Between 2006 and 2007, the Northamptonshire Police Hate Crimes Unit investigated 150 homophobic incidents. NLGBA said the actual number of offences could have been higher as many offences go unreported. In 2007, there was another raised alert when three vicious homophobic attacks were reported: two in Midsummer Meadow and one outside The Boston. In memory of Fardon, The Boston installed an Infobox in 2007, a computer information point connected to the police, which allowed people to report homophobic attacks anonymously and to check on the progress of any crime of which they are a victim. In 2009, Northamptonshire Police was ranked as the 84th best employer of gay people in Stonewall's top 100 employers of gay people.
Since 2007, Northampton has annually recognised the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) with a ceremony at the Guildhall for councillors and the community that includes a minute's noise on behalf of LGBT people around the world and speeches from local groups, the Northampton LGBTQ People's Forum and rainbow-flag raising. In 2012, rugby player Ben Cohen MBE attended, giving a personal speech about the death of his father in Northampton and how this led him to set up his Stand Up Foundation. The same year, the Northampton Youth Forum received a National Diversity Award, recognising a range of work including their help and support to the LGBT community in Northampton. The Youth Forum has continued its work with Ben Cohen and his Stand Up Foundation to develop its new national anti-bullying programme (which includes tackling homophobia) with the musical Wicked. Schools and colleges in Northampton had the opportunity to pilot it in the 2013 summer term before going nationwide with the new school year in September 2013.
Northamptonshire County Council also launched a pioneering approach to tackling homophobic bullying in schools in 2007. The Tackling Diversity and Sexuality resource was an approach with all the practical steps schools needed to take to reduce homophobic bullying for both adults and pupils and is being run in conjunction with the NLGBA and the Healthy Schools Programme. The launch of the pack – developed by the county council inspection and advisory service, NIAS – coincided with National Anti-Bullying Week and followed a major piece of research completed in Northamptonshire in 2004 that found a majority had witnessed other pupils being homophobically bullied and a large minority said that they themselves had been homophobically bullied.
Despite the collapse of the NLGBA in 2009, a number of Northampton-based LGBT-friendly organisations have appeared in recent years to empower LGBT people all over Northamptonshire. Northampton is now home to several LGBT-friendly organisations and groups including LGBT social events organiser FAN Northants and the Northampton Gay Book Group. Elsewhere in Northamptonshire, Kettering's Steps Cabaret Bar was a popular gay bar in 2009 whilst Bar Sun (also in Kettering) and Corby's Lodge Park Bar hosted special gay nights in 2008 and 2012 respectively.
In 2009, a gay couple from Northampton were featured in the ground-breaking Channel 4 Dispatches documentary series about adoptive parents, showing their 18-month attempt to be approved as adoptive parents. In 2010, a same-sex couple from Northampton joined Peter Tatchell's Equal Love campaign, which sought to overturn the twin prohibitions on same-sex marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships in the UK. The pair started a legal fight after their application for a civil marriage licence at the Northampton Register Officer was rejected. This motion challenged the UK's legal ban on same-sex marriage as only same-sex couples can apply for civil partnerships. The couple were among eight taking their case to the courts, arguing that UK law discriminates against gay people.
2010 to 2019
In 2011, a new community group, FAN Northants, was set up by local LGBT advocate Matthew Toresen. FAN Northants was set up with the aim of creating more social events for the local LGBT community. Their events included balls, cabarets, art exhibitions, pub nights, as well as supporting the work of other LGBT community organisations. Matthew Toresen, who has been a prominent figure for LGBT equality in the town, went on to receive an MBE in 2016 for his work for the LGBT community in Northampton. In 2014, he became the vice chair of the council's LGBTQ and Allies Forum, which continue to meet several times each year.
2011 also saw the launch of LGBT book club, Q Word (originally called Northampton Gay Book Group), which met at The Lamplighter, but moved to the Cheyne Walk Club in 2017. In 2012, Northampton's LGBT community proudly participated in Northampton Carnival's procession and at the annual Umbrella Fair. The town also hosted its first LGBT literary festival, booQfest, in addition to enjoying the success of many other FAN-endorsed events at popular venues and the setting up of Out There, a new service catering for LGBT youth. The town also established its very own gay-friendly rugby team Northampton Outlaws RFC the same year, making it the 9th gay-friendly rugby team in the UK and one of 40 internationally.
The same year, The Lowdown launched their own support group for the town's LGBT youth, Out There. They have met at various venues across the town including the Roadmender, The Lowdown, C2C, The Lab and are now ran from The Bridge (63C Gold Street). Out There has been such a success it now has branched into two groups: Out There Youth (for 13 to 20 year olds) and Out There Plus (for 18 to 25 year olds).
In 2013, the Northampton-based St Andrew's Healthcare was the only charity to take part in Stonewall's Healthcare Equality Index, coming 4th nationally and helping to develop baseline standards that organisations across the UK have to follow. St Andrew's Healthcare is a Stonewall Diversity Champion and in the past few years has continually improved its ranking in Stonewall's Healthcare Equality Index. St Andrew's placed at number 3 on the 2014 Index, before claiming the top spot at number 1 in 2015. St Andrew's also placed at 34 on the 2015 Workplace Equality Index. In 2013, Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (NHFT) was also one of twenty health service organisations to become a Stonewall Health Champion. The same year, both Northampton College and the University of Northampton celebrating LGBT History Month; it was the college's first celebration of the month. There were also LGBT celebrations at Northampton Carnival and the Umbrella Fair in 2013, in addition to the second outing of booQfest, Northampton's LGBT Literary Festival, and a visit from Peter Tatchell to give a talk at the town's Guildhall on human rights.
In 2014, following the legalisation of same-sex marriage, many same-sex couples from Northampton were wed on the first day the law came into effect on 29 March. BooQfest was celebrated for the third time, hosted by Q Word (previously Northampton Gay Book Group), in association with FAN Northants, the LGBTQ Forum, Royal & Derngate and coincided with International Coming Out Day. Q Film, the town's LGBT film group, also started in 2014, who meet once a month to watch LGBT-related films at the Northampton Filmhouse. A new LGBT network in Corby was also established in 2014 who also meet monthly. The same year, Northampton LGBT and Q People's Forum also launched the Straight Allies campaign at the annual Umbrella Fair.
In 2015, tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in Northamptonshire schools was the focus of the "I'm Still Me!" Conference in Northampton, which was organised by the Northamptonshire LGBT Partnership (Voluntary Impact Northamptonshire, NBC, FAN LGBT Community Network, Youth Works Kettering, The Lowdown, NHFT, Northampton School for Boys, Northampton College and NCC) and Stonewall. It was attended by 80 delegates and workshops explored issues for LGBT youth in general as well as good practice for both primary and secondary schools. Northampton School for Boys was also visited by Ian McKellen, who discussed LGBT rights and praised the school for its efforts to tackle homophobia and bullying. The students of school's LGBTQ Drama Group also gave a performance of their Theatre in Education piece titled "I'm Still Me", which they later took to the national Stonewall conference in London.
In 2017, a new LGBT support organisation called Q Space was set up, offering events, training and support groups for the LGBT community. They have ran at in the church halls of Castle Hill URC. The same year, Trangst, a teans social and peer support group was launched. They used to meet at Zapato Lounge, but now meet at The Optimist.
In 2018, a Pride event, created by Northampton Borough Council in collaboration with LGBT Forum, was held on 5 May to link up Northampton Pride in the UK and the US. A special video link was set up to unite the two events, and the day included speeches, music, an art exhibition and live performances.
In 2019, the LGBTQ Forum put on a Pride event in the town's Market Square which included music, food and activity stalls. It was reportedly attended by hundreds of people. The town's literary queer literary festival was also revived, this time by different organisers Q Story. The event was held at the Racecourse Pavilion in September 2019.
2020 to present
A Pride event, which included a parade through the town centre, was scheduled for 2020, but cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, a virtual event was held and streamed on Northampton Borough Council's Facebook and YouTube pages. In 2020, Northampton-based trans support group, Trans-pirational, was shortlisted for a National Diversity Award in the category of Community Organisation (LGBT).
- The Boston (gay bar)
- The Edge of Town (LGBT-friendly bar)
- Olly B's (LGBT-friendly cafe)
- Pink Punters (gay bar near Milton Keynes)
- FAN Northants (LGBT events group)
- Inclusive Meetup (LGBT meet-ups)
- Northampton LGBTQ and Allies Forum (run by the Borough Council)
- Northampton LGBT Social Group (LGBT social group)
- Northampton Outlaws RFC (inclusive rugby club)
- Out There (LGBT youth groups)
- Q:alliance (LGBT organisation based in Milton Keynes)
- Q Film (LGBT film group)
- Q Space (LGBT support organisation)
- Q Word (LGBT book club)
- Trangst (Trans social and support group)
- Northamptonshire Healthcare Foundation Trust (NHFT) LGBT Staff and Allies network
- Spectrum, Northants Police
- St Andrew's Healthcare staff LGBT group
Notable LGBT residents and allies
- Errol Flynn
- Maureen Colquhoun
- Ray Gosling
- Alan Moore
- Richard Coles
- Alan Carr
- Ben Cohen
- Matthew Toresen