Liberation Landslide In Debate

Saturday November 11th saw a house packed to the gallery at Newcastle University for what was billed as the “Gay Liberation Debate”, with a local Methodist minister, The Rev. J. M. Furness, proposing that “This House deplores the Emergence of Homosexual Self-Confession and Self-Justification”. Mr Furness who assures us that most of his knowledge of the subject was gained from books borrowed from the library that morning, spent quite a lot of time trying to define who these homosexuals were. And by the time he had excluded you-know-what in public schools, in the armed services and in prison cells, his case that homosexuality was an aberration the flaunting of which struck at the very roots of society began to look a little thin. By the time he reached the responsibilities of older men with families to fight against the corruption of the young, it began to feel a little thin. And when he got to the bit about homosexuals deserving sympathy not condemnation, but that we should, presumably like the people with only one arm to whom he had compared us, be neither seen nor heard, it was clear that his seconder was not going to have an easy task.

After this it seemed a bit unfair on him that Michael Barnes opposing on behalf of Newcastle GLF should start off in a clarion-call voice and style resembling Henry V on the field of Agincourt. He was certainly going to be heard and he made it clear that sympathy was the last thing he had in mind, unless it was sympathy with any homosexual who should be unlucky enough to turn to Mr Furness for advice. Not a beer-glass rattled through his rousing speech and he made sure every member of the audience knew that there was still discrimination against us in law, socially and in our jobs, discrimination which would continue unless gays did come out and fight for the right to live in a way which others regarded as their birthright, fight against inhumanity like that of the Newcastle employer who recently announced that he’d not rest while a “fucking poof’ continued working in his office.

Richard Webster, secretary of Tyneside CHE, seconding for Michael under the Gay Lib banner (who said Brighton is the only place where there’s co-operation?) would have a hard job to knock down Dr A. S. Wigfield, Consultant Venereologist at Newcastle General Hospital, who seconded for the proposition. This wasn’t one of those venereological ogres but someone, evidently nearly as unhappy with the motion as he was with the VD figures, who in a witty speech delighted the audience with some of the best bad puns of a long time and condemned the commercial exploitation of sex in terms with which many gays would be happy to agree.

But it was a pity that his peroration against permissiveness was rather spoilt by a cheerful inability to resist a dig at the idea of gay marriage with the comment that we seemed to be wanting “our bride bartered on both sides”.

Richard was against “permissiveness” as well, but on rather different grounds. What right, he wanted to know, had Society to take upon itself to “permit” fellow human beings to be themselves? If (as he pinned a GLF badge on one side of his nice new suit, and a CHE one on the other) by confessing himself in public he had done something to help just one other gay person to feel proud of himself as a fellow human being, he’d have done something worthwhile. But as for self-justification, that term came from those who believed we had something — the plague? – we needed to justify. He knew he had not.

After which we sat back with bated breath waiting for what the Floor would say. One brave girl made a brief speech in defence of married life, and then… silence. Throughout the evening scarcely anyone had nipped out for a pee, hardly a whisper of disinterest had reached the platform (except while Mr Furness was consulting his borrowed books), yet no one else would speak. Had we all been so brilliant that there was nothing left to say? Had everyone a raging thirst? Could it be that all these liberated students weren’t liberated enough to speak on such a delicate topic? We don’t know. We don’t know either what the voting figures were: there was no point in counting all those hands when they were raised so overwhelmingly against the motion and in our favour.

Tyneside CHE

05-197208xx-323 members and guests came to the first meeting of Tyneside CHF which was held in Jesmond on Tuesday, July 25th, among them members of the North Yorkshire/South Durham and Nottingham groups, and of GLF, as well as others of us whose first experience it was of a gathering of this kind. Our Convenor, David, at once demonstrated his talent for creating a relaxed, informal atmosphere by faultlessly introducing every one of us by name to the last arrivals, and Derek, who had very kindly given us his hospitality, helped to make us feel very much at home by producing coffee at just the right moment before the talking started.

David, introducing the meeting, kept up the informality by suggesting that we first get to know each other and our thoughts about the Group before getting down to the business of constitutions, committees and subscriptions at a later date. Any fears that we might turn out to be a tongue-tied lot were quickly dispelled, and some pretty lively discussion took, place on the balance we should keep between carrying out the campaigning and educational objects of CHE and the fulfilling of social needs. Most of us seemed to agree that there need be no clash between the two, and that as well as furthering in every way we could the aims of the Campaign, we should also make our Group a socially attractive one (which it looks like being anyway), with special emphasis on helping those who have been victims of social isolation. David undertook to discover our “hidden talents“in the form of a questionaire.

On the subject of meeting-places, most people thought Newcastle would generally be the most convenient centre, but that we should aim to vary our surroundings at the homes of members who were able to offer hospitality. For the more organised monthly occasion, the possibility of our being able to use a private room at the Percy Arms would be investigated, also the Quakers’ Hall, and David mentioned that there was a chance of his being able to negotiate the use of other licensed premises where we could meet in privacy. Inevitably no one evening in the week would be equally convenient for us all and, though on Tuesday the Tuesdayites were in the majority, we would see how the evening could best be varied. Meetings with guest speakers from a distance might need to be on Fridays, and we resolved to invite as our first guest to speak National Executive member Ike Cowen, legal adviser to CHF, whose recent talk in Durham had been enjoyed enough for those who had heard him there to want to hear him speak again. We hope he will be able to come up towards the end of September.

Michael suggested the very valuable possibility of our being able to make eventual use of office facilities which GLF are hoping to acquire in Newcastle, and our thanks are due to Ken who is giving up his time and facilities for the duplication of material like this, and also to Alan who has offered the same essential service.

There was such a generous response to David’s request for offers of transport that there will be no difficulty over arranging a ferry service from Newcastle for anyone who needs it to our next meeting at David’s at North Shields on August 8th. An equally generous response to the plate which was passed around to cover immediate expenses raised £2.54 and since Derek absolutely refused to allow us to reimburse him we actually start with something in the kitty.

I think we all found it was a most encouraging beginning. Tyneside may have been the last major region to form a Group, but from Tuesday’s experience it looks as if our late starter may well surprise some of its elders.