1973: EURO GAYS WE MIGHT BE, BUT THE STRUGGLE MUST GO ON

As 1973 dawns it is time for the Homosexual Society to take stock of its position and to decide what action must be taken in the days that lie ahead. The record so far is reasonably satisfactory. It is not as bad as some of the critics and carpers make out: nor is it as good as some of our professing activists and demo-mongers profess.

For those who are fighting for our cause and for those who are only too well aware of the nature of the problems which confront us much of what follows may seem repetitive. But, as a great advertising man, Sir William Crawford, once said, the key to a successful campaign is domination, concentration and repetition. State the message loud and clear, use all the available resources in such a way that that message is got across and go on sending it out until people are forced to pay attention. It is better to say a few things firmly and often than a great many things in the form of a confused dissertation.

The first priority must be to penetrate the political barriers of hostility and inertia and to set on foot further reforms of law on homosexuality. The most important, and the most obvious because the present state of affairs is so patently ridiculous, is to bring the age of consent for men down to 16. To claim that women are so much more mature that a gap of five years is justifiable is plain stupid and not in accordance with the facts of Life. It is time for a bit of Men’s Lib for a change.

The Scots, who are always boasting that they are better educated as a nation than anyone else in Britain, should undertake some effective self-education and press for the existing law to be extended to their own country. In Northern Ireland a bit of sanity would be welcome for once. Now that Westminster is in control, or claims to be, the same conditions should be made to apply.

The social segregation of the Armed Forces and the Merchant Navy is undemocratic and demonstrably absurd as well as being somewhat laughable under all the known circumstances. There will be resistence from the top-brass who always resist change on principle. It should be pointed out to them that such an attitude is an admission of failure on their part to keep order in their own house. And that is a very poor advertisement for the powers of leadership of which they are so proud.

Relationships with the Police must be reviewed at top level otherwise the situation threatens to deteriorate and that is not in the interests of the Force who have quite enough problems on their plate without adding to them. The new Commissioner of Police is a great reformer: this is one reform he should tackle as a matter of urgency.

There must be an end to harrassment and effective action must be taken to stamp out the offensive and immoral practice of “queer-bashing” which is an abuse of civil liberties and worse than “mugging” which is causing much more public alarm. The rules concerning homosexual assembly must be abolished and that involves political as well as police action as also does the whole question of advertising as was made clear by the ‘IT’ case.

Socially, an advance must be planned on three fronts: the education of parents, teachers and children, the improvement of medical training and understanding; the recognition of the existence and position of homosexuals by men of religion.

The Ministry of Education must be approached with a view to discussing the establishment of enlightened sex education, including education about homosexuality, in schools. Until a directive comes from above, local education authorities and headmasters will be unwilling and afraid to act. There is plenty of evidence of that. Parent-teacher organisations must be persuaded to support this move so far as is possible.

Margaret Thatcher may not be everybody’s pin-up girl and the new Under-Secretary, Norman St John Stevas has not been made exactly welcome in every quarter. But they both like to lay claim to being progressive in their outlook. They should be confronted.

The Medical Profession should be challenged with regard to its failure to implement the recommendations of the Wolfenden Committee. At a meeting held at Guys Hospital in 1972, the Chairman, a distinguished physician, declared at the outset that he knew nothing about homosexuality. That was not any sort of a joke. The answer to him and to those like him is physician heal thyself. The campaign must be carried into the medical camp and there must be more meetings not only at hospitals but local doctors and psychiatrists should be invited to address meetings under the auspices of homosexual organisations.

The Churches must be clearly asked to state their attitude to homosexuality and homosexuals. This must be done not only at the level of parish priests and the like but also at the top. The veiws expressed by Dr Norman Pittenger in his book “Time For Consent” should be put to them and their reactions to them should be sought. Unlike Pilate we have time to wait for our answer – but not for ever. The meeting of Jewish homosexuals in London, despite the snide remarks which appeared in Gay News, was a courageous and heartening occasion. It is hoped that progress will continue to be made in that field.

Also on the credit side for 1972 have been the activities of CHE, SMG and GLF. It has been asserted in certain quarters, including in the correspondence columns of Gay News, that such organisations tend to promote a ghetto mentality and to increase, rather than decrease, the division between homosexuals and the rest of society. That is poppy-cock. To begin with, if society had behaved in a more intelligent and rational manner such activities would not have been made necessary. Such considerations apart, they provide important and essential grounds for homosexuals to meet one another and to exchange views. They are also of the greatest social and psychological value for those homosexuals who are lonely or depressed.

Gay News, a product of 1972, is a courageous venture which deserves to succeed and prosper in 1973. It is a forum for opinions of all kinds by homosexuals and others and that is healthy. Because not enough space is provided by the main media of communication it fills the gap and it may well encourage its colleages in the Press world to pay more attention to the subject. Every homosexual should support a publication which speaks out fearlessly for the cause. This is no time for reticence or silence: those days are over.

On the political front CHE held fringe meetings at all the Party conferences in the autumn. In 1973 it holds its own conference at Morecambe. These public appearances are important because they help to make clear that we are not an element to be disregarded with impunity. There are over a million and a half, probably more, of us. Politically that is something which should not be forgotten. It is particularly something which the Liberal Party, which is aiming at a national revival, should note. All political candidates from now on should be sent the questionnaire which was prepared by CHE and sent out at Sutton and Cheame by-election. Gay News should be encouraged to publish the answers so that we may know who are our friends.

A fringe meeting was held at the Conference of the National Union of Students at Margate. It was a constructive and stimulating occasion. It seems likely that one outcome will be a closer association of all University Homosexual Groups and that is all to the good as it will increase their influence. After all the ultimate future is in the hands of youth and that means our future.

In 1973 it is important that all homosexual organisations should increase their activities and their membership and that they should work as closely as possible together. We all have the same object in view: the achievement of our rightful place in society. It is essential that more people should be willing to take part in these activities. In the past too much has had to be done by too few at too great a cost both mentally, physically and financially. The time has come for all homosexuals to stand up and be counted. The only thing to fear is fear itself. Our campaign is on the march. In 1973 we must aim to go farther and faster and there must be more of us.

1973: MAKE OR BREAK YEAR

When the National Federation of Homophile Organisations held its first annual general meeting on 9 December, one fact stood out very clearly: that unless the homophile movement speedily gets much more realistic about relating resources to objectives — and in particular about money — it might as well pack up shop in 1973.

The present situation is only too lamentably plain. Too many self-consciously overlapping groups are trying to do far too much with far too little. Unless this unreasonable competitiveness stops, and a greater willingness to pool scarce assets and work together for the common good emerges, we shall all get nowhere fast.

Much of the homophile movement, to my mind, is far too reminiscent of those children’s games of wish-think, where the more grandiose and fantastic your dreams of self-importance are and the more euphoric you become the more it is all a case of “if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”

Want a great big gay social club? An instant nationwide legal aid and counselling service? More law reforms? Bigger and better issues of ‘Gay News’ and other gay mags? Of course.

So you join CHE, GLF, Sappho, SMG, Challenge or one of the other homophile groups, and feel jolly virtuous and recklessly generous if you give them even a nominal quid above their slender subscription rate.

And then you grumble when the great big club and the bigger, better newspaper don’t materialise. Come off it. A collection of paupers in a workhouse planning to gut and refurnish Buckingham Palace would be as sensible.

But most gay people aren’t paupers. On the (not excessive) assumption that a high proportion of them earn average incomes of at least £1000 a year, the 18 member organisations of NFHO represent individuals worth £5 million. And if one considers that there are probably between 4 and 5 million British gays (and bis), the whole gay community – charitably assuming that there is such a thing – commands a formidable spending power. It would certainly seem so when one surveys the cash changing hands over the bars and counters of their favoured pubs and clubs every weekend!

So why is the homophile movement in danger of fading out for lack of cash? Maybe it’s because not enough people know the facts. Here are some of them.

To start with what you’re reading, ‘Gay News’ own economic problems are compounded by the refusal of the big monopolistic distributors to handle our only community paper – although despite this it has built up a circulation of several thousands in thirteen issues: a most creditable achievement. £1000 at least is urgently needed NOW to ensure ‘Gay News’s’ survival through 1973. Practical suggestion to everyone who reads this article: put £1 in an envelope and post it to ‘Gay News’ immediately!

No single homophile group is looking forward to a 1973 budgeting surplus on present membership levels and current subscription rates, and most have only enough cash in hand to look ahead on a month-by-month basis. This makes long-term development planning virtually impossible, and the sheer nitty-gritty of keeping the organisation going is a chronic worry for those responsible. (I know – I’ve talked to most of them).

The need tor centralised information services to deal with the ceaseless flow of personal enquiries and requests for help reaching all gay organisations and publications cannot be met without the necessary money to set it up and maintain it. NFHO and the Albany Trust have agreed in principle to do this – but the funds must first be found.

The Albany Trust, whose staff currently consists of myself, one secretary and a clerical assistant who gets only out-of-pocket expenses, is short of £5000 a year to ensure its survival even on this slender basis. Its recent appeal for new Deeds of Covenant has so far brought in only £300 instead of the £4000 £5000 hoped for, and we cannot go on living on “windfalls” in the shape of legacies for much longer. Unless more support is forthcoming from the gay world pretty quickly, the Trust – which was responsible for most of the positive work done for gay people between 1960 and 1970, and still has many valuable contacts in the political and social-work worlds – could have to close down during 1973. That would mean that NFHO’s plans for collective counselling and information services, and the Sexual Law Reform Society’s work on further law reform, will all be jeopardised.

As Chairman of NFHO, I have told all the member organisations that this movement is at a critical point where it must either go sharply uphill in terms of committed support and finance, or it will go down the drain. If the gay community of this country really wanted to, it would raise £50,000 a year for its own organisations and services with little difficulty. It all boils i down to this: do most gay people want a vigorous and effective homophile movement, and are they willing to support organisations and publications which work actively on their behalf – or are they contented with the present situation of lamentable public ignorance about, and discrimination against, homosexuality?

If the latter is the case, an increasing number of people will begin to wonder whether the gay minority is a minority worth working and fighting for. I hope it is, because I have spent the last ten years of my life doing just that.

1973: AGE OF CONSENT – A VITAL ISSUE

In your No 11 editorial, you commented that very little seemed to be happening on reform of the age of consent. While agreeing that nothing very tangible has been achieved as yet, I would like to take the opportunity of sketching CHE’s position, and level of activity on this vital issue.

CHE’s objective is simply to remove from the statute book discrimination between homosexual and heterosexual relationships. On the age of consent, this currently means a reduction of the age for consenting males from 21 to 16; the position for females also needs clarification to ensure their rights are as extensive, the current situation being somewhat confused (at least in my mind).

But of course by the time this topic receives serious parliamentary consideration we may be talking in the context of a lower heterosexual age of consent anyway. The Sexual Law Reform Society, sponsored by the Albany Trust and due to report shortly on the whole spectrum of sexual law reform, will probably recommend an overall reduction, with no distinction between straight and gay. One of its members, Dr. John Robinson (a CHE Vice President) has suggested a case could be made for a homosexual age of consent lower than the heterosexual one, since the former cannot give rise to unwanted pregnancies; a mischievous idea perhaps, but one that helps to redress the perspective.

Then there’s the question of tactics. Some might say that the objective should be no age of consent at all, and the tactic a compromise of 14, or whatever. There is much to be said for this view, but it seems to me to be an ideal so far from the realms of reality that to make it our declared objective would provoke derision and get us no nearer solving the dilemma of the under 21’s. The more difficult tactical question, which will become progressively more controversial as we get nearer to parliamentary reform, is the compromise of 18. I hope CHE will remain absolutely opposed to this line; the relevant criterion is the age of heterosexual consent, not the age of majority, etc. But I can see that 18 has more attraction to SMG, who are of course arguing from the position of there being no homosexual age of consent at all in Scotland.

So what is CHE doing about it? The issue is only one aspect, albeit an important one, of our overall parliamentary reform platform. Our objective in 1972 has been to overcome the profound lack of interest, compounded by political fear and emotional claptrap, which our first parliamentary ovetures encountered. To do this we must be seen to be more than a few isolated voices crying in the wilderness. We have recently:

(a) Held fringe meetings at each of the three political party conferences, including the Tory one, where we had the backing of the London YCs

(b) Canvassed MPs from their constituencies via local CHE groups.

(c) Solicited the support of prospective MPs at by-elections, both as to law reform and the activities of CHE groups in their constituencies.

(d) Explained our cause to tomorrow’s political leaders (Young Liberals etc) who are rather more open minded than today’s and enlisted their support.

(e) Submitted evidence to a House of Lords Select Committee considering the bill outlawing discrimination on the grounds of sex, arguing that the scope should be widened to include sexual preference.

The first breakthrough will be the creation of a committed parliamentary lobby; we now have a number of members of both Houses whom we hope will form the nucleus of such a lobby. But we are convinced that further reform requires much more than a self-appointed pressure group; the impetus must come from a massive civil rights movement, active in all constituencies. The expansion of CHE as a national organisation based on local groups thus has a political purpose as well as the not to be denigrated social one. And the need for close contact and co-operation with other gay groups is clear. After all we are not working for a reduction in the age of consent for CHE members only!