LGBT+ activist, equality trainer and consultant
Leader of Lambeth Council
‘It’s not enough to protest, one needed to be involved in a political party to change it.’
Linda Bellos is an equality trainer, consultant and LGBT+ activist. She is of African and Eastern European Jewish heritage. Her parents were manual workers living in Brixton, south London. Bellos married in 1970 and had two children. She came out as a lesbian woman in 1980. As a black working-class lesbian, she was aware of being at the intersection of prejudices.
Her first job after university was on the feminist magazine Spare Rib. She was a prominent figure in left-wing politics in London in the 1980s. She was vice-chair of the Labour Party Black Sections. This successfully campaigned to select African, Caribbean and Asian candidates within the Labour Party.
In 1986 Bellos worked in the Greater London Council Women’s Unit. She was also a local councillor in the London Borough of Lambeth. Many Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups lived in Lambeth and there was a lot of poverty. There had been two riots in 1981 and 1985. The Conservative central government used rate-capping to cut local council budgets. Lambeth leaders were part of a national campaign to resist rate-capping.
Lambeth delayed their budget from April until July. Because of this Lambeth councillors were removed from office. Bellos put herself forward and became leader of the council. At 35 years old she was the first out lesbian leader of a local authority. She was one of the most outspoken local council leaders in the UK.
Bellos and the council supported policies to reduce inequalities in employment and pay. They also wanted to increase access to education and promote diversity. However, there was hostile division between right wing and left wing political views, as well as more divisions inside the Labour Party. Right wing newspapers took advantage.
The newspapers criticised Labour controlled councils. They printed stories that made Lambeth look particularly bad. They attacked equal opportunities and ‘political correctness’. They accused Bellos of banning black bin bags, manhole covers and Baa Baa Black Sheep. Many stories didn’t focus on Bellos’ politics. They focussed on her sexuality.
In 1987 Central Government announced a 25 per cent cut in funding for the following year. Lambeth objected to the cuts but were forced to plan for them. Bellos insisted the cuts needed to be done fairly. Lambeth used the first ever equality impact assessment to find out who would be affected the most. Trade unions resisted the planned cuts. They held strikes, they worked to rule and occupied council offices. In the Labour Party there were arguments about deciding the council budget. Bellos resigned as leader in April.
Voices and Visibility 2019