A 40th anniversary celebration of GLF (the Gay Liberation Front) was held in the Electric Cinema, Notting Hill on the Saturday before London’s Gay Pride parade (June 2010). (It is an odd venue, having less than a hundred seats, which though fitted to the floor, feel like armchairs rather than cinema seats. A young man in the front row was eating a meal – from the rather posh (i. e. expensive) restaurant attached to the Cinema – it looked a bit messy, in all honesty.)
The event was billed Come Together (the title of the GLF’s ‘travelling’ publication. It ‘expired’ in Lancaster in 1973, in my presence, but it wasn’t my fault — honest. It was organised by young Tom Barber, and presided over by the DJ Stewart Who? All went swimmingly — at first — we saw film of (contemporary (1972)) interviews with early London GLF figures. It was difficult for non-London GLF survivors to tell who was who. The two main interviewees were a bearded Canadian, and a very pretty English chap. (I decided the latter was Aubrey Walters – ‘Aubrey Walters’ suggests ‘pretty’.) The man in question was, I should say, very intelligent. He, and the Canadian guy, mentioned evangelising ‘the provinces’. Richard McCance (Nottingham GLF, né Lisburn) made an amused intervention at the end of this, being doubly from ‘the provinces’, Ulster being the genuine article..
(This was a very interesting and absorbing part of the event. I’m not sneering at ‘the past’. There was film of early GLF demonstrations — but not ‘Zaps’.) Even in the (very) early 1970s ‘the provinces’ sounded somewhat patronising. I shudder to think what Aubrey and the bearded Canuck thought of Belfast GLF (technically still in existence). GLF in London supported ‘troops out and a united Ireland’. I was a committed Republican in 1972 / 73, but even then I thought the slogan was internally contradictory. One pointed question, from Julian Pettifer (Panorama, BBC) on what was the difference between GLF and other Left groups, was rather fumbled by the interviewees. (The ‘Left’ generally was quite horrified by ‘Gay Lib’. The ‘Stalinist’ B&ICO (British & Irish Communist Organisation) met with London GLF in 1972). It was a strength, and a weakness, of GLF that the ‘membership’ (a nebulous notion anyway) ranged from Irish Republican through every degree of Communist, Socialist and Labourite to people like Luke Kennedy, a Tory. He wore his GLF badge representing Lancaster on University Challenge, on all-UK television in 1973 – 74. GLF was a state of mind, and not a political programme.
After this (comparatively cosy) section, we got on to a ‘panel discussion’. It included Alan Wakeman (London GLF veteran standing-in for Peter Tatchell, in Moscow that weekend) and Sami Chakrabarti (General Secretary of Liberty (formerly NCCL – the National Council for Civil Liberties)). Alan read out “a three sentence e-mail” from Tatchell. It asked why Liberty had unilaterally expelled CHE (the Campaign for Homosexual Equality) from membership. Even in the early 1970s, many in GLF were in CHE. It had ‘National Membership’, for people who found joining a local group inappropriate. Most current members of CHE are of GLF origin.
Ms. Chakrabarti stonewalled on the matter. Michael Brown (ex-London GLF / CHE) walked towards the panel wagging a ferocious finger. He was physically prevented from getting at them by Stewart Who?. Nettie Pollard (London GLF / CHE) suggested a walkout. I dumped all of my bits of paper into my bag. We decided that sitting it out was the better policy. Chrakabarti still stonewalled, eventually saying she was not prepared to deal with the matter. Stewart Who? claimed Peter Tatchell was a ‘one-man band’ who represented nobody. He (‘Mr. Who?’ – as Quentin Crisp might have put it) seemed to think that it was his duty to police, rather than preside over, the event. He’d been standing near me as I was preparing for the walkout. I tottered towards the toilet at the end of all the excitement. He seemed prepared to push me away from the panel. Discos are not places where things are really allowed to be spontaneous.
Young Tom (Barber) expressed “disappointment” at the course of events. Why? He witnessed a genuine, spontaneous, GLF ‘Zap’ — a classic of the genre. I am glad he did. We old dears were there to be patronised. We showed we are geriatric delinquents who still have fire in our bellies. (Even if our joints are not quite up to legging it across even the relatively small space of the Electric Cinema anymore).
The Dispute Between CHE And Liberty
Early in 2010 CHE sent a resolution to Liberty for discussion at its AGM. It was to the effect that a statute of limitation should be put on certain categories of ‘sex crime’. Specifically ‘crimes’ to do with sex between (male) ‘adults’ and people under the age of consent. The resolution may have been badly drafted and CHE’s office-holders should maybe have been easier to contact (by Liberty) but the latter was too quick off the mark finding fault with CHE.
CHE is not an unknown quantity, and certainly not to Liberty / NCCL, (which CHE helped keep afloat financially in the 1970s), CHE was well-off and the Council was skint. At that time the Council had no problems with PIE (the Pædophile Information Exchange) and NF (the fascistic National Front) being members — and having their civil liberties strenuously defended. Liberty (it appears to me) is attempting to become a Blairite organisation that only deals with the squeaky clean.
CHE’s resolution came about as a result of the activities of its Court Monitor. Allan Horsfall and Ray Gosling have attended proceedings against ageing men accused of ‘underage’ sex. Quite often the people they are accused of having sex with were not much younger than they were at the time. Until comparatively recently the Gay (male) ‘age of consent’ was a ridiculous 21 years old. These retrospective prosecutions – most ‘offences’ took place 30 (and more) years ago – must amount to ‘oppression’ under any rational interpretation of the Judges Rules? Many, probably most, of the men brought to Court are not Gay, are closeted, and thereby isolated from any sort of Gay help. They don’t know about the various Gay groups, or even very much about the burgeoning social ‘scene’. Quite often, they don’t want to know about such matters.
They may well have been told the old lies about the police being able to keep their names out of the papers. (The police are well able to keep prosecutions quiet — especially if they involve colleagues, — or they’ve made a balls-up of the case). Quite often with malice aforethought they inform the journalists who inhabit the lower Courts, about upcoming cases. And what journo could resist the temptation to destroy the life of a harmless neighbour?
These personal tragedies are not large in number. That does not mean they are not unjust. They are probably also ‘unsafe’. But there will be a long wait before one of these men is found prepared to put up a fight against the whole concept of retrospective ‘justice’.
CHE seems to have come to terms with its expulsion by Liberty. The latter will, clearly, not experience a bad conscience about giving a member of over 40 years standing the shove. Sami Chakrabarti claimed (before she clammed-up) that Anthony Grey (of the Albany Trust) had withdrawn his own resolution attacking the expulsion. As he had just recently died, nobody was in a position to challenge her assertion.