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.