Gay West is a social and support group covering Bristol, Bath and the surrounding area. It was formally constituted on 16 September 1982 but it can trace its roots back to April 1970, making it one of the longest-surviving LGBT organisations in the UK. The group was formed from two earlier groups serving Bristol and Bath respectively.
In 1969 the Committee (later Campaign) for Homosexual Equality or CHE started encouraging the formation of groups outside its Manchester base. CHE Bristol Group was set up in April 1970 and initially flourished to the extent that there were two CHE groups in Bristol in the early 1970s. Numbers declined in the mid-1970s but a new generation of activists re-energised it from 1976 onwards with a mixture of public speaker meetings, political campaigns and social events.
The Bath Gay Awareness Group started in November 1971 as a social and campaigning group which held meetings in members’ homes, pubs and public venues such as the local Liberal Association headquarters in St Michael’s Place. In 1981, the group joined the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and became Bath CHE. A year later, when CHE reorganised itself, the group decided to become an independent social group and renamed itself Gay West in September 1982. In January 1983, CHE Bristol dissolved itself and merged with Gay West.
Gay West flourished during the 1980s, despite a generally hostile climate at the national level. It held some sort of social event nearly every day of the week and was the largest lesbian and gay organisation in the region. The group’s membership grew rapidly and reached 400 in 1992, with nearly 40% being women. During the 1990s, the group began to experience difficulties as more social opportunities opened up in Bristol and membership dropped. In the early 2000s, however, the situation stabilised and the group began to thrive again. Today its main activity is the weekly coffee shop known as the Rainbow Café held every Saturday morning in the centre of Bath, together with pub evenings in Bristol and Bath, and occasional social events.