gay liberation

   To those born after the legalization of homosexuality in 1967 and still subject to harassment, it may seem ridiculous to claim that progress has been made. Deep-seated prejudices continue to block acceptance of homosexuals. Reasons advanced include the nature of homosexual sex, disapproval of making sexuality one’s identity, and the false connection with paedophilia, all partially irrational. Gay liberation emerged to address issues arising from such prejudices, particularly anti-gay violence, police hostility and AIDS, as well as attempting to expunge any feelings of public shame attached to being gay. Public ignorance is a problem, arising partly because discussion or dramatic representation of homosexuality before 1967 was virtually taboo. Filed under ‘filth’ in the eyes of the establishment, homosexuality was censored out of sight by the BBC, the Lord Chamberlain’s department (theatre) and the British Board of Film Censors. Illustrations of their attitudes survive in Joe Orton’s playscripts which list the Lord Chamberlain’s cuts, and satires on radio’s Round the Home and television’s Monty Python.
   Gay liberation did not spring up immediately in 1967. Clubs opened and certain London pubs like the Colherne and the Salisbury were more or less taken over as gay culture began to establish itself openly. Occasional late discussions appeared on television and relevant books were reviewed in the Sunday broadsheets, but real activism only began in the early 1970s after many incidents of violence and police discrimination. The 1972 police attack on a Gay Liberation Front parade in New York mourning Judy Garland provided another spark. In 1974 Gay News appeared, catering mainly for male homosexuals and continued until prosecution for blasphemy over a poem about Christ on the cross closed it, whereupon it re-emerged as Gay Times. This bizarre prosecution prompted a determined response. Stonewall arose from the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE), with an intellectual membership base including many who campaigned for the Wolfenden Report that resulted in the 1967 Act. The movement was also galvanized by the fight against AIDS, news of which began to emerge in about 1978, police indifference to ‘queerbashing’, the age of consent, job discrimination and public behaviour issues. Further impetus was given by Clause 28 of the Local Government Act (1988) which sought to prevent ‘promoting’ homosexuality in schools or public places. Outrage! was formed in 1990 with a more confrontational programme, including the ‘outing’ of bishops and MPs who conceal their sexuality and informed by ideas evolving from ‘queer theory’ in the USA.
   Further reading
    Poulter, S.J. (1991) Peers, Queers and Commons, London: Routledge (telling account of how the gay liberation movement emerged).
   STEPHEN KERENSKY

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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