Natassia Cox remembers Pete Burns, his legacy, and how he continues to influence the LGBTQ+ community in the city and beyond…
Pete Burns was often slated by the media of the early 2010’s. However, he is our scouse, queer icon and he holds a place in the legacy of our city. The Dead or Alive frontman grew up in Port Sunlight and later moved to Princes Park with his wife. During his time in the city, he spent much of the 80’s setting the tone for a post-punk Liverpool.
During the 1980’s Burns worked at Probe Records. Being sneered for your record choice by Burns, who was donning full black contacts and a mass of black hair, was a Liverpool rite of passage. Tony Snell notes how Pete “scared the sh*t” out of him to which Liverpool’s current Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham echoed the sentiment, tweeting “me too”.
Not only was Burns renowned for putting the fear of God into record buyers, but he was also well known for poking fun at them. One anecdote is from a man who remembers visiting Probe aged 7 with his Mum. They shyly entered the record store looking for the infamous Sex Pistols album, “Nevermind the Bollocks.” When the mother whispered her enquiry over the counter Burns announced to the entire store the woman’s purchase sending her crimson.
Another customer remembers being kicked out of Probe for not buying a record and receiving Burn’s big, black boot up the arse on the way out. Through all these anecdotes people remember Burns being “always nice as pie” and these jokes just being part of the dry, scouse humour. Overall, Burns brought colour and excitement to a grey North-West City during the aftermath of punk.
Burns was also famous throughout Merseyside through his complete defiance of traditional heteronormativity. Pete Wylie dubbed him ‘a genuine mutant from Port Sunlight’ and Burns referred to himself as a “venus with a penis”. In his autobiography, he wrote “People always want to know – am I gay, bi, trans, or what? I say forget all that. There’s got to be a completely different terminology and I’m not aware it’s been invented yet.”
Burns never felt the need to even consider fitting in to labels that are pushed by heteronormative society. Although Pete Burns is often overlooked as a gay icon, The Vivienne’s hometown look on Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK Season 1 shows the influence he has had over Liverpool’s queers. The Vivienne owned the runway donned in a tartan jumpsuit and iconic brown boots. Through this homage to the Dead or Alive frontman, The Vivienne named Pete Burns as the ‘biggest Liverpool icon there is’ and explains the look encapsulates “everything Liverpool is about; music, fashion, genderbending.”
This is certainly true that scousers have always gone against the grain of traditional gender roles and heteronormativity. This is often be overlooked by the queer community who sometimes look to Brighton or London as their heritage sites, and scousers who often see their history through the lens of Liverpool as a port city.
It is so important for Liverpool’s queer community to remember their significance. This is particularly true considering recent homophobic attacks in this city. Liverpool’s LGBTQ+ community and their allies showed that they would not be bullied and reclaimed the streets through a protest in the city centre on 22nd June 2021. Protesters marched through Liverpool chanting, “Be angry, be here, be queer. We will not live in fear.”
In the present day, Liverpool’s queer community refuses to be bullied and silenced. It is through looking at Pete Burns’ role in the Liverpool scene in the 1980’s, to the protests in the present day, that the character of Liverpool’s queer community can be seen. Liverpool’s gay inhabitants are unapologetic, brave, and will unashamedly occupy their space. We can look to Pete Burns as somebody who paved the way for scouse queers to not be afraid. He is a reminder to all LGBTQ scousers that we shall remain brave and celebrated, as we continue to play our part in making this vibrant and colourful city what it is.
Cover Photo: Reddit