Two decisions of considerable importance to the national development of CHE were made at the organisation’s National Council held in London on November 25. The Council agreed to recognise hybrid groups and also agreed to set up a Standing Committee on promoting legal equality.
A little background is necessary to explain the implications of these decisions. CHE’s National Council is a quarterly event and is attended by the National Executive Committee and delegates from CHE groups all over the country. Unusually, the National Council is one of CHE’s best events since it promotes a feeling of unity and togetherness among the widely separated groups. People from different parts of the country meet their colleagues, learn of their activities at first hand and come to understand each other’s local problems in a very realistic way. But in order to have a voice in the Council’s discussions a group must first be recognised by the Council. This is usually a formality. When the Council met in September 1971 it was agreed that the criteria for group recognition should be that the group should consist only of CHE members, that there should be ten or more members registered in the national CHE headquarters.
Since then however the homophile movement has expanded and gathered strength. In many places this has meant the evolution of groups that consist only partly of CHE members but also of other, unaligned people and which are called by another name: Reading Gay Alliance, Gay Cambridge and the Bristol Gay Awareness group are examples.
This development has worried certain people within CHE and the first thing the Council had to discuss was a proposal from Bristol CHE which asked the Council to restrict recognition to groups that are comprised only of paid-up members of CHE.
Discussion was brisk, mostly against the proposal, and in the course of it we learned a great deal about conditions outside London relating to gay groups.
Derrick Stephens, the convenor of the Bristol CHE group who made the proposition suggested three reasons why he had done so. First he felt that by accepting non-CHF. members groups could come under the influence of GLF. Then he felt that hybrid groups would contribute towards a “blurring of CHE’s image”, and finally that CHE as a whole could come under the influece of GLF.
The delegate from Cardiff felt that the proposal was “too rigid, too narrow and had no flexibility”. In Cardiff he reported, the local GLF had become less and less in sympathy with national GLF and had disbanded. But most of these activists now came along to Cardiff CHE meetings and they had found no particular differences in outlook. “There are no reds under the bed in Cardiff”, he claimed.
He indicated that the tradition of open meetings was a help to nervous or shy people who didn’t want to give their names and addresses first, before getting involved. If the proposal was agreed Cardiff CHE would have either to expel group members or leave the National Council – and he felt it would be the latter.
The Tyneside guy said it would deny local groups freedom, would give the impression that CHE was an inward looking organisation, would result in people leaving CHE, would prevent people joining and anyway was technically impossible to implement.
Bernard Greaves explained the situation in Cambridge, explaining that a hybrid group was the only solution. “We must overcome sectarian division within the community”, he said, “Gay Cambridge has a tradition of open meetings and we must destroy any thought of a secret society. This proposal is just about petty-minded, beaurocratic tidyness”, he added.
Martin Stafford said he felt the proposal was unworkable but that it was nevertheless laudable. “Concern with CHE’s image is correct, we must consider it seriously or we will have no corporate identity of any kind.”
We heard that when Reading was just a CHE group there were 13 members, now there were more than 100. “And what can you do with 13 CHE members except sit around and discuss constitutions. Let’s get on and do things and get an image in that way”.
The proposal was defeated and group recognition went ahead.
For some time it was felt that CHE’s aims and objectives were a little vague and confused. Earlier this year they were broken down (by the PPB system) into detailed and precise parts. The first objective, thus examined was “to promote legal equality”
The working party laid its proposals before the Council which were accepted, and this means the setting up of a Standing Committee charged with co-ordination of all CHE’s efforts in the legal/police field.
In practical terms this means that handling examples of discrimination, harassment etc will no longer be a matter of inconclusive discussions, perhaps letters to relevant bodies and papers, but will be tackled in an efficient manner on all possible levels.