In the late 1980s, amidst the height of the AIDS pandemic and rampant homophobia, Shirley McGah co-founded the removal company Lesbus in London. During those challenging times when gay and bisexual men faced discrimination and fear, very few businesses were willing to assist them with moving. McGah, undeterred by the widespread fear of AIDS, expressed her commitment: “If someone was sick in the van, I’d just clean it up.”
In 1988, Shirley partnered with the Terrence Higgins Trust, Britain’s first AIDS charity, to support individuals living with HIV. Over the years, the company evolved from Lesbus to Shirley’s Removals, maintaining its mission of serving the LGBTQ+ community and those in need.
Fighting Discrimination in Housing
Recent research by Generation Rent and akt (formerly the Albert Kennedy Trust) in 2022 revealed that 13% of LGBTQ+ renters experienced discrimination from landlords or letting agents. Discrimination included unresponsive behavior, unfair treatment, and discomfort stemming from gender identity. One respondent shared a distressing experience of landlords misgendering them, highlighting the ongoing challenges faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in housing.
Shirley’s Removals, now under the leadership of Magali Boato and Wendy Robertson, continues the legacy of serving the LGBTQ+ community. They have expanded their services to assist more trans people, particularly trans women who often seek help due to harassment from neighbors or landlords.
A Diverse Clientele
While 40-50% of Shirley’s Removals’ customers are from the LGBTQ+ community, they have garnered support from straight allies who appreciate their commitment to inclusivity. The company’s annual revenues grew by 30% between 2021 and 2022, indicating the increasing demand for their services.
Today, LGBTQ+ individuals can live anywhere they choose, reflecting a significant shift in societal attitudes since the ’80s. Shirley’s Removals has extended its services to cities outside London, including Manchester and Brighton, popular destinations for LGBTQ+ people.
Shirley’s Removals challenged not only the prejudices against the LGBTQ+ community but also traditional gender stereotypes. In an industry predominantly perceived as male-dominated, Shirley, Magali, and Wendy have collectively redefined the notion of the “man with a van.”
Their commitment to inclusivity extends beyond the LGBTQ+ community, reaching vulnerable individuals, victims of domestic abuse, and the elderly. They offer women-only teams to ensure the safety and comfort of clients in need.
In a time when stereotypes were rife, Shirley’s Removals stands as a beacon of progress, proving that compassion, inclusivity, and determination can break down barriers and create positive change.
By embracing diversity and reinventing stereotypes, Shirley’s Removals continues to pave the way for a more inclusive future.