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4 June 2013

Diva Magazine

Step back in time and find out what went on behind the green door of the world's most famous lesbian club

Between 1945 and 1985 there was one place in London that everyone knew was where girls could meet girls - the Gateways Club.

First launched as a bohemian drinking club by owner Ted Ware (pictured with lesbian punters, right), it welcomed lesbians as members from the early days. By the mid-60s Ted had handed the running of the club over to his wife Gina and bar manager Smithy, and the Gateways membership had become women-only. 

Housed behind an anonymous green door in a basement in Bramerton Street, just off Chelsea's ultra-hip King's Road, the Gateways was right in the heart of swinging London during the 1960s.

In 1968 the club and its regulars played a central role in the film The Killing of Sister George, with Beryl Reid and Susannah York. Few in the cinema audiences would have realised that they were watching real lesbian couples smooching in the dance floor scene, some of whom took real risks to appear so openly in a mainstream film, but following the film's release the club became world famous.

Scroll down to see a clip for yourself and keep an eye out for Smithy (behind the bar in a blue top) and Gina (receiving members in a black dress) playing themselves, as well as the murals on the walls (a throwback to the club's bohemian beginnings) and the iconic Gateways stairs, down which every nervous first-time visitor had to make her descent.

The Gateways became the definitive notion of a lesbian club. Women arrived at its door from all over the world. Many were taken aback by the regulars' apparent adherence to the strict butch-femme codes of the day; many felt they fitted right in. While Gina and Smithy were careful to discourage overt politicking amongst their clientele, some of the first women to campaign openly for lesbian rights were members of the club, including Jackie Forster and Mary McIntosh.

This month clubbers will have the opportunity to revisit "the Gates" as the Duckie collective presents Duckie Goes to the Gateways: "a vintage lesbian show bar for butch and femme women and men". Taking place over two nights during Pride weekend (28-29 June), the club will re-imagine the Gateways  as experienced by lesbians from the 50s to the 80s: the fights, the staircase, Sister George and the long-standing requirement to pick one of just two possible styles - butch or femme. Just as in the old days, clubbers are encouraged to adopt one of the two gender identities for the night, along with the fashion of their chosen decade.

With entertainment by Ursula Martinez, Jess Love, The Eggs Collective and Figs in Wigs, sideshows from Lucille Power, Sue Frumin, Open Barbers and The Drakes, and choreography by Lea Anderson and Florence Peake, plus hostess Amy Lamé and the Readers Wifes on the decks, it promises to be a memorable night on the tiles as well as a thoughtful celebration of lesbian history and heritage.

Ahead of the big night(s) interested parties are invited to take part in a Gateways Salon on 12 June. Amy Lamé will be joined by Jill Gardiner, author of the definitive history of the club, From the Closet to the Screen: Women at the Gateways Club, 1945 - 1985, with Louise Carolin from DIVA magazine and Gateways regular Crunchy. Come along and learn more about lesbian life from the 40s to the 80s. How were butch and femme roles defined for women of the era? Were owner Gina and bar manager Smithy really lovers? And what is the Gateways legacy for lesbian culture in the 21st century?

Sling on your blazers and pouffe up your petticoats, girls. We're going down the Gates!

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