One thing is abundantly clear: The Campaign for Homosexual Equality in London holds a strong appeal for an amazing variety of people, from the teenager to the GOAP. This has posed problems-of direction, action, administration. The only thing all our members have absolutely in common is that they are gay or bisexual. Attitudes become polarized quickly and harden. Dialogue is abrasive but continual.
Membership increases steadily. Word-of-mouth information spreads rapidly demolishing the idea that Che is some kind of a cloak and dagger operation which gained ground in some touchy quarters. I wore my Che badge at the St. Pancras GLF dance and was subjected to all kinds of unsolicited abuse from total strangers. But Che has absolutely got to offer a homc-if you like-to everyone. A sense of oppression is not confined to the articulate young. The older, inhibited, repressed or just downright shy gay is conscious of taking a tremendous step in joining.
These are the very root of the organisation, the essential framework within which anything and everything is possible At the moment there are 11 groups based in central London with others in Croydon (very flourishing, active and successful), Lewisham. Windsor, Essex, Kent, Brighton, Reading, the Chilterns, St. Albans and Ilford. Local community groups are established in Kensington, Highbury and Islington, Kilburn and Ealing.
Each group has a minimum of 30 members. They meet once a month which is any member’s minimal committment. Some meet fortnightly, some every week. Each group evolves its own characteristic; some are rather inclined to social-type meetings, others prefer discussion and debates. Others are making definite progress towards liaison and meetings with representatives of other bodies. Any Che member can go to any meeting. Very involved people can generally make a meeting of some sort every night.
Groups set up their own social activities-parties, picnics, rallies, theatres, cinemas-anything to provide a useful and pleasant social scene for people who are a bit lonely and cut off.
This is the central-London group for students and young people; it is large, expanding, coherent. Runs a remarkably well-balanced programme meaning some two or three meetings a week. The programme runs on (a) meetings that could be called educational-i.e. visits from psychologists, doctors, boss-figures who talk, debate and get harassed in turn; (b) purely social activity, (c) activist events leafletting etc. The establishment of Gaysoc at London University has meant a lot of campus infiltration, notable invasion of ‘straight’ discos etc.
A move to approach the headmasters of 200 schools asking for permission to address senior pupils on homosexuality is under way.
The virtually limitless energy of a great many members is being harnessed into fund-raising activities which produces a full calendar of events ranging from dances and discos to bazaars and boat trips. Sub-groups concerned with drama, poetry, music and photography are under way. One of the main aims of Che nationally is to provide decent social meeting places for gays and it now seems likely that the first permanent club will be in London, providing facilities for meetings, rest, research, the lot. No one imagines it will happen overnight and everyone realises that only we can do it-no one else is going to help us. Hence the fundraising events which serve a twin purpose of raising cash and providing amusing evenings.
Several working parties are in operation, open to all members.
1. Social Responsibilities
Designed to look at social problems which impinge upon the homosexual community and affect all facets of life. To do research into the causes and effects of legislation and to assess the public’s image of the homophile with a view to improving it.
2. Gay Liaison
Making contact with all homophile organisations throughout the world. Much reciprocal membership with gay clubs etc. abroad now established.
People willing to go out and talk to other organisations-like Rotary Clubs. Women’s Institutes. Parent-Teachers etc.-about being gay. Most invitations so far from Young Liberals. Friends, Young Conservatives, Mental Health Associations. But it all helps.
People with a deep religious or spiritual experience, plus those concerned with the churches of all denominations and their attitudes to homosexuality.
Perhaps the most important, significant and successful venture in Che so far. Essentially a befriending service, set up by Michael Launder in co-operations with the Rev. Michael Butler who is the Deputy Director of the Samaritans. Premises for individual interviews and group work on two nights a week have been secured. Friend is advertised to new enquiries to Che and response is channelled to existing regional branches-Manchester, the trans-Pennines, Cambridge, Liverpool and Leeds. The rest to the London headquarters. About IS new enquiries arrive each week in this way. Later Friend will be in operation five nights a week, and it is expected that within a year a national network will be established enabling Friend to be advertised to the general public. Apart from
the obvious service of help on an immediate basis. Friend is keeping a record of its progress so that eventually an analysis of the type of problems dealt with will be regularly available to professional bodies and the press.
This is the London-based magazine produced by Che members. It is not representative of official policy at local or national level. Intended primarily as a communications sheet, it remains the only regular magazine with a reliable diary of all gay events-Che, GLF,
SMG and others, London and national. Developing into a vivacious platform for all sorts of ideas and views. Lots of contributions needed from everyone, everywhere. Six issues, post paid, cost £1.50 from 23 Avon Court, Keswick Road, London SW1$ 2JU. 32 pages, pictures, news, letters, etc.
Implicit in the above notes is that Che involves gay women just as much as gay men. The name of the organisation has meant that initially it appealed to men. But the intake of women is now regular and growing. There is no group exclusive to women, they belong to groups along with the men.
WHERE IS CHE?
Che began in 1964, but it was only after the passing of the Sexual Offences Act that it was able to expand properly. Its history is now a matter of history. But the result is that its headquarters are in Manchester. Nationally we have almost 3,000 members-and these are members who have paid a £1.50 annual sub. to the organisation. Money used for our office and paid staff, for producing the monthly bulletin for members, for producing pamphlets, leaflets, stickers, posters, to help start new Che groups all over the country which are sometimes an alternative but mostly the only scene for gay people. We are often accused of being over-structured. This is simply the outsider’s confusion. Che runs remarkably smoothly considering the number of people involved and the almost limitless range of responsibilities we have undertaken. Until we have acquired permanent premises in London, enquiries must be routed through Manchester. So write direct to the General Secretary, Paul Temperton, 28 Kennedy Street, Manchester, M2 4BG (061-228 1985). Or to Roger Baker. Flat F, 23/24 Great James Street, London, WC1N 3ES.