CHE Talks To Liverpool

From the Convenor of the Liverpool Group

On September 20th, the Liverpool Group of CHE held a “teach-in” on homosexuality at Liverpool Cathedral. Intended for professional workers, the meeting attracted some 3S people representing schools, youth clubs, the probation service, voluntary and local authority social services, Anglican and Roman Catholic clergy, Samaritans and magistrates.

The speakers were the convenors of the Liverpool and Wirral Groups of CHE and Michael Butler, Deputy Director of the Samaritans in London. They covered various aspects of homosexuality, including the myths and misconceptions surrounding the subject, the legal position of homosexuals and the need for CHE and Friend. Afterwards, a panel including the speakers, Antony Grey of the Albany Trust and Dennis Nadin of the London CHE Churches Working Party, answered questions and engaged in a discussion with the audience.

The discussion was well worthwhile, especially where it probed the ways in which the Group and the various agencies represented could co-operate to help homosexuals. These discussions will now be extended through a number of discussion groups being arranged at the request of many of those present. Many of the contacts which the group has made, particularly with the probation service and Samaritans, were cemented and new links forged. The help which the group is now getting from various sources is very gratifying.

The meeting was also interesting as it was the first occasion for which the group had solicited press coverage. A small announcement in the “Liverpool Echo” a couple of days before started complaints against the use of a place of worship for a meeting on such a disgusting subject. The protests were spearheaded by the Secretary General of the Christian Political Union, whatever that is; we’re still trying to find out – and hit the front page of the Liverpool “Daily Post” on the day of the teach-in and was given prominent coverage in one of the suburban weeklies. There were demands that the meeting be called off. The group is very grateful to the Dean of the Cathedral for allowing us the use of a room and to him and his staff for dealing with the complaints. Because of the protests, interviews with the convenors of the two Merseyside groups and the Christian Political Union were broadcast on Radio Merseyside the next day and a short report appeared in the “Liverpool Echo”. We thought the press coverage reasonably fair to us.

On the whole, a very fruitful evening. Expensive and time-consuming to arrange, but it paid off in all sorts of ways.

Speak-not-so-Easy. Or how Jimmy Saville almost went Gay

01-197205XX 2We knew the programme was going to be about homosexuals again, but, like everyone else except Michael Butler of the Samaritans, who was, it seems, doing the inviting, we didn’t know when or where. I rang Rev. Roy Trevivian’s secretary, who made apologetic noises about the smallness of the room, and the ‘specially invited audience’, so I politely solicited such an invitation for four of us from the paper. She promised to check with the producer himself to are if there was room, and to phone us back the following day. Neither she nor anyone else at the B.B.C. had the courtesy to bother. The day after that I phoned again, only to get the same blurb from the same girl, but this time she added that they’d made up their audience list yesterday and we’d been left out as we weren’t really suitable, and she was terribly sorry. At no time was Roy Trevivian available in person, so we were told. They had come across us “in our researches”. So much for Gay News.

The next stage in the saga took place whilst we were having a collective meeting, and it came to light that one of the C.H.E. members of the collective had been invited to be part of that audience. He had first been telephoned and asked to keep Thursday evening free for “something rather secret”. Later that same week he had been phoned again and told it was another edition of Speakeasy on Homosexuality. Someone else had told him where and when it was to be recorded, but he was “officially” told, by phone, whilst we were sitting in our meeting on the very day it was to be recorded! It was becoming clear that only nice, safe, respectable homosexuals who would conform to the B.B.C.’s idea of the programme and of Gayness were going to get in. As to who decided the criteria for this we weren’t, and still aren’t, quite sure, but since the invitations we knew of had come from Rev. Michael Butler and all his angels, and since it also seemed that both he and the B.B.C. had assumed Gay News was a synonym for Gay Lib., he was the obvious man to contact.

The reasons for all the secrecy and exclusion about a programme supposedly concerned with free speech and letting the unedited words of ‘ordinary people’ out over the air waves was then made clear. I was told that every effort was being made to exclude GLF because the B.B.C. did not want them there, and had threatened to scrap the show if they did get on. I was told that GLF had “ruined” the last edition of Speakeasy on this subject, (all this meant was that one GLF member actually took 5 minutes to finish what he was saying, which the producer didn’t like anyway) forcing the B.B.C. to re-record part of the programme in order to cut out what they had said (!) and that in any case another organisation would be “represented in a roundabout way”. When asked if I was in GLF I replied that I was, but that I wished to be present on the programme as Gay News. The reply was to the effect that what was really wanted was people as people, not as organisations, (though on the programme itself it was clear that everyone there was from some organisation, and, like me, determined to plug it. That’s all very well. but without GLF or Gay News it would have been a depressingly one-sided picture). But Michael Butler did at last relent, bless his heart, and said it was O.K., I could come along, he was sorry to be so cagey about it, and I could bring one other person if I could “guarantee them”, whatever that meant. So the three of us who went from Gay News were placed in the unfortunate position of trying to make the distinction between GLF and Gay News clear, whilst all being members of both. Though GLF did come to know of when and when it was, no-one could be bothered to come although several apparently promised to, largely because no-one at the B.B.C. bothered to correct their impression that it was being recorded, as it usually is, on Friday, when it was,i n fact, done on Thursday.

So, who an we to believe in this welter of secrecy and intrigue from the public broadcasting body and its ‘friends’? Roy Trevivian, along with his secretary, his researcher, and Jimmy Saville, who all, when asked, spread their thin little story about limited space (and why not in the Paris Studio on Friday? Oh, because Jimmy’s going away on Friday. So why not do it another week?) and invited audience amongst whom there was ample space for twenty more at least; or are we to believe the man they seem to have put in charge of the inviting? The whole setup was an open invitation to GLF to disrupt, and they would have been more than justified in doing so. And who told them Gay News was GLF? Why didn’t they bother to do their research properly? Who else did they miss out, and why?

It seemed very ironic to be asked in the course of the programme if we felt that gay people got a fair deal from the media. The point is that we very largely get no deal whatsoever, unless it is either patronising, derogatory, or just plain ignorant, and this bunch, apart from taking comfort from the unctuous phrases of the Albany Trust and the Samaritans, went all three. Their hypocrisy as regards their public image of the programme is self evident. Like most other broadcasts, the people they invite are not there to show how they feel to the general public, and thus present the truth, but to conform to what the producer wants them to look and sound like so as to enhance what he is going to say. Why else is almost everything on radio or television pre-recorded – to render it safe. So why do they wish to exclude the most open and vocal sections of the gay community from the media, when they open to the gay community at all? Because they are not going to be manipulated, as gay people always are, to suit somebody else’s concept of us, and thus be party to even the most liberal and well-meaning lie, such as Speakeasy is.

“Over there Mr. Roving Mike”

01-197205XX 3Over the airwaves came this sane, rational, slightly wary programme, busy with being reasonable, a little tinged with nervousness and heavily colourwashed with a genteel shade of apologia. But the programme as she is spoke was a little different.

You couldn’t see the paraphenalia of speakers and microphones, the small group of hard chairs in a room fit to hold at least twenty more. And a good many chairs were empty. You didn’t have to sit through the build-up from the producer and Jimmy… about how they hated to edit the programme, so no cussin’ and so on. About the number of listeners, to remind us of our responsibility. About who we were, anywhere we came from and again the confusion of Gay News with Gay Lib came up. And then some wise child asked the producer if he was gay and was told, “In inverted commas, ‘no’, otherwise yes.”

Radio suffers from being non-visual, as well as deriving certain advantages from it. When someone began talking about bleached hair, we all laughed because Jimmy Saville has bleached hair. When Jimmy talked about the number of people there, he was able to imply the existence of a fair sized gathering, when in fact there were fewer than a hundred, probably as low as fifty. When he said we all looked sober and businesslike, you couldn’t see me in the front row with me blue velvet jacket and bright silver boots (among other things, I hasten to add).

But more important than the little white lies radio allows you to tell is the greater one – that this was a free programme of people being given a fair chance to have their say. Let me explain the set-up. Jimmy was on a little stage with the group. On the floor of the room they were using as a studio, one at each side, were rather sober and not-unheavy gentlemen, each carrying a microphone attached to many yards of wire. You got your chance to speak when Jimmy allowed it – and since he obviously thought we were going to be troublesom, and the running order to which he frequently referred did not include any discussion of radical gayness, it took him a long while to send it our way. Often I found that the discussion had taken a sidetrack and by the time he waved a mike to me, my point was irrelevant. Other times the subject was changed altogether. How far this was influenced by the voice of the producers in Jimmy’s earpiece, I cannot say. Yet when the programme began to change character, and started to pursue any topic in depth, it seemed to be the exact moment for another piece of music. In short, it was in no sense of the word a discussion programme.

Actually talking into the mike was intimidating, too. Since I was sitting right in Front of Jimmy, the man holding the mike stood between us (then was room to one side). Consequently I had to either talk to the mike itself, or try to see how Jimmy was reacting via this large gentleman’s armpit – but it didn’t seem to matter most of the time, as Jimmy was usually looking at the other roving mike, and positioning it so he could cut in swiftly when I or anyone else paused for breath. The major occasion when we actually talked to one another was in arguing about drag, transvestites, and so-called effeminate behaviour, which he and everyone else had bundled up into one package labelled bad. It is not easy, in a few sentences, and in these surroundings, to separate the three and defend them, also separately. Especially as Jimmy was more interested in making the point written down on his order sheet (which presumably said ‘homosexuals are not like that’, where it ought to have said ‘not all… etc.’). And so he tried to steer me up the garden path and strand me, because I wasn’t in drag. I could have been a mite less honest than I was, and said that there was no point when the audience were listeners, not watchers – but in an already rather dishonest programme I did not wish to compound the felony.

As far as I could tell, both from the way the talk was steered and the reception of some of the statements, the plan of the programme was to present gays as nice, safe, normal, unremarkable people just like everyone else, valiantly fitting in where they are plainly meant not to go (since the law still treats us as perverts and a danger, and so do most people). It said nothing about gay people who believe, as I do, that we are different and in some respects better, and that we are capable of evolving a lifestyle of our own which would be perfectly compatible with every other possible sexual and ethnic group (something which predominantly heterosexual societies have never managed to do). Of course, taken as a whole we are no better or worse than anyone else, but we will not become anything like compete as individuals whilst we play pretend marriage and domesticity, which are plainly not, and never will be, the ways in which two or more men can build a life together. Only legal and financial lies, coupled with societal pressure of belief, make sure that heterosexual marriages continue at all. And this is what is meant, at basis, by being acceptable – it means behaving like a certain group of people who are plainly different in a fundamental respect from ourselves, and in a way which they themselves find near impossible.

But what the programme did do was to reach a number of people who have never met another gay person in their lives before, who have lived in loneliness and fear, and now find that they are not alone. In the couple of weeks following the programme the Albany Test alone had over a hundred letters of this kind. And it must have given courage to many others. It will have helped to case the tensions in a home such as mine, in which I live with my parents and only recently faced them with the fact that I am gay. It will have helped the painful process of dispelling all the history of prejudice and censure that we have faced and still do. Above all, it slated loud and clear the one fact that must be said again and again – that gayness is about love, that it is no different in any way from heterosexuality, that both are as good, as fulfilling, and as human as each other. The only perversion is their persecution of our freedom as though we were less than human.

As with so many other things, the control of the producer is the crucial factor, deciding as it does the image of a particular person or group of people which is communicated to the audience. When the audience is as large as 5 or 6 million, as it is with Speakeasy, then the producer of that programme has an enormous responsibility to the group he is portraying – in this case, gay people. Yet there was little preparation for the programme and it only lasted one hour, and so time was precious, an attempt was made to exclude certain sections of the gay community, who do have something to say, whether or not you agree with it. Those organisations which were represented did not cover anything like a wide range, being for the most part composed of people who seemed not a million miles from the self-pitying legions of the unfortunate living out their twisted lives – ‘but it wasn’t our fault’. So much more consultation should have taken place, so much more time spent before and during the programme. The only way we can be at all sure that a fair image of us goes out to those who don’t know is to do the job ourselves. It will be, I am sure, a very interesting exercise for both the producer and the participants.


 

c/o The Albany Trust
32 Shaftsbury Avenue
London W.C.1.
22nd May 1972

“Gay News”
19 London Street
London W.2

Dear Peter and David,

Anthony Grey tells me that I am in the dog house as far as Gay News is concerned. I also seem to be pig-in-the-middle over the BBC Speakeasy programme. I am sorry that it has been construed that I was indulging in jiggery pokery. It’ll teach me in future not to be lumbered with other people’s chores. The BBC rang and asked me to find thirty gay people as representatives of as many organisations and groups as I know, excepting Gay Lib. They also talked about something called “Challenge”, which I assumed was a Gay Liberation Front venture. There seems to be have been some misunderstanding and a right cock-up in the arrangements for the programme. I am sorry if I have hurt anybody’s feelings or made them feel that there was dirty work afoot I am glad everybody represented in the programme seemed to take a full park in the discussion and the Gay Liberation Front more than held its own.

May I wish Gay News every success. If at any time you feel I could contribute anything useful, let me know.

Yours sincerely,
Michael Butler

No Bread but Good Vibes for Gay News

01-197205XX 4The National Federation of Homophile Organisations was born on 30th October 1971. The insemination took place 15 months previously at York University during July 1970. This slow gestation period reflects the changes in attitude and heart of its founder members (SMG, CHE, St. Catherines, womens’ groups) as much as the turtle’s pace which NFHO has tended to move since October, 1971. The Meeting in Catford on Saturday 1O June, 1972 – thanks Tony Cross of INTEGROUP – was to formulate planning and financial policies for the year ahead. 2O people representing most of the structured homosexual organisations in the U.K. attended.

Sadly we began too formally. This imposed a deadness on the proceedings which proved hard to lift, though one or two tried. Quite a few of us were strangers and didn’t really know who was representing what. The rest, (the old guard), were glad of the rare chance to socialise and exchange gossip. We needed no introductions having been active in structured homosexual society since its beginnings in the 1960’s. Wise old cheshire cats we are, delighted and yet bewildered at the great growth and diversification in the gay world since GLF shattered the silence late in 1970.

There was agreement on limited non-controversial topics. Michael Butler’s suggestion of a residential weekend conference 2-3 September at St. Catherine’s on the subject of “Befriending”, was enthusiastically received. We also decided, though less cheerfully, to seek NFHO offices (rented) in principle, which would also house a CHE office, Albany Trust, Albany Society Limited, and A’3. Group meetings would also take place there. “GAY NEWS” was also discussed at some length. The idea of the newspaper as an “official organ” of the National Federation was rejected, but a strong plea was made that individuals should write in to the paper because the quality of the paper depends on the strength of the articles it receives.

NFHO’s best function will be as an organisation for information collation and exchange. It will be best equipped to talk directly with the large Foundations and organisations such as the National Council of Social Service, Marriage Guidance Council, Home Office, D.E.S. However, overshadowing everything is the nagging realisation that NFHO is an extra financial committment for its member organisations.

Anthony Grey urged everyone to think big in cash terms, otherwise the gay movement would never finance itself.