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When Pride Trumped Prejudice

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How’s this for a pitch? It’s 1984 and striking coal miners in a tiny Welsh town are being starved out by the British government when a band of big-city gay and lesbian activists from London decides to champion their cause. The unlikely allies join forces to rally against some common foes — Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the police, and the British media — in a battle for equality and dignity. If it were fiction, no one would believe it. But this obscure historical footnote is not only true, it has inspired a new indie gem, Pride (out Sept. 26), a lump-in-your-throat crowd-pleaser reminiscent of The Full Monty and Billy Elliot.

When first-time screenwriter Stephen Beresford initially heard about Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), he recalls, ”I thought it was some kind of gay myth.” With good reason. Decades before same-sex marriage was legalized, British gays and lesbians faced routine harassment by police officers on the streets. At the same time, the National Union of Mineworkers mounted a protracted strike in response to the Thatcher government’s plan to shutter dozens of mines. That’s when London-based gay activist Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) enlisted his friends to raise money for the struggling miners. Incredibly, union rep Dai Donovan (Paddy Considine) invited them back to his small, deeply religious Welsh town.

When LGSM members rolled up in their multicolored van, the reception was mixed, to say the least. Some of the miners wanted to refuse LGSM’s money, and some were outright hostile, throwing bottles at the visitors. ”What’s interesting about prejudice is that it’s never nuanced,” says Beresford. ”It’s plain, simple stupidity…. But if you show up and say, ‘Here I am,’ those things melt away. It’s that proximity — that’s what happened here.”

Much of the emotional power of Pride, directed by Matthew Warchus (Simpatico), comes from watching the barriers between the two groups come down. In one scene, the flamboyant Jonathan Blake (Dominic West) breaks the ice at a Welsh union hall by shimmying to the disco hit ”Shame, Shame, Shame.” The real Blake, now 65, doesn’t recall performing an elaborate dance solo, but says the scene captures the spirit of the time. ”Those days were so extraordinary and sort of fierce,” says Blake with a laugh. ”I certainly threw myself into it.”

In May, Warchus and Beresford screened the film for the real-life LGSM members and former miners. ”It was loaded with emotion before we went in,” says Matthew Jackson, LGSM’s record keeper. ”We were in pieces when it was finished.”

Sadly, not all members of LGSM lived to see their efforts celebrated on screen. Ashton died of AIDS in 1987. Remarkably, Blake, one of the first people diagnosed with HIV in the U.K. in 1982, has survived. ”At the time no one knew what [AIDS] meant, except that it was a death sentence,” he says. ”I tried to commit suicide, but I couldn’t bear for someone to come and clean up the mess. So I thought, ‘All right, in that case, you gotta get out there and live.”’

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