Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Autumn 1992

Quest for Justice: Towards Homosexual Emancipation, by Antony Grey

reviewed by Jim Herrick

Antony Grey is a part of twentieth-century gay history. He played an important role in bringing about a law decriminalising homosexual acts in 1967 and in the work of the Albany Trust which spread enlightenment on the question of sexual minorities.

It is easy to forget in these days of Lesbian and Gay Pride Festivals, gay characters in TV plays, and humanist weddings for gay and lesbian couples, how in the 1950s “homosexuality” was an unmentionable word and people were being regularly imprisoned for consenting homosexual acts in private.

Antony Grey’s lucid, witty and incisive account of his work in bringing about such a change is required reading for those interested in homosexual law reform.

Antony Grey was a quiet, inhibited young man, but he determined at a young age that “I would do my best to remove this unjust stigma from the way I wished to be affectionate”. And he did. An English lecturer, Tony Dyson – another unsung hero of early reform, organised a letter to The Times calling for reform, the signatures including those of well-known humanists such as Barbara Wootton, Angus Wilson, AJP. Taylor, and Julian Huxley. EM. Forster, who was later excoriated by the Gay Liberation Front for failing to come out, gave a four-figure sum of money to help the Homosexual Law Reform Society (HLRS).

Antony Grey makes it clear he thinks that the creation of guilt about sexuality is used by the churches as a means of social control. Although he is right to emphasise the importance of bishops to his campaign, he might have emphasised a little more how important was the humanist support.

The Wolfenden Committee was appointed in 1954 and reported in 1957. This was a key point in the shift in public opinion, although Wolfenden made it clear – as did many supporters of legal change – that they did not want to express approval of homosexuality, merely to remove a law (often known as the Blackmailer’s Charter) which caused so much suffering. The HLRS began marshalling forces and establishing contacts. The parallel Albany Trust concerned itself with public education and counselling.

The Conservative Home Secretary Butler, though he made sympathetic noises, gave “every assistance short of help”. Today when we look for further reform, it is important to remember that a considerable number of Conservatives supported reform – even Nicholas Ridley was enthusiastic, though he somewhat changed his tune over the discussion of Clause 28.

The first kite was flown when Lord Longford (yes, he of the anti-porn campaigns) initiated a debate in the House of Lords. In 1965, with a changed climate under the Labour Government, the Earl of Arran put forward a Bill with great persistence. Some of the reaction of members of the House of Lords is hilarious – perhaps the comic high point coming from Lord Montgomery (Monty), who declared that “One may just as well condone the Devil and all his works.”

In the Commons, first Humphrey Berkeley and then Leo Abse took charge of the Bill. Roy Jenkins’ support was crucial. The HLRS and Antony Grey were very dissatisfied with compromises that were made to get the Bill through – especially over the age of consent and the definition of privacy. The successful passage of the Bill was to bring in an utterly changed atmosphere for gays and lesbians. Slowly a commercial scene developed, the GLF and the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) sprang up. (You need a good head for acronyms in this book.) Antony Grey recounts his relationship with these groups (he was seen as too “establishment” by some people).

He relates the saga of the Albany Trust’s difficulty in raising money and continuing its work. The Trust took the Dutch Speijer report seriously. The report emphasised that young people have sexual feelings, to the discomfort of many – including Mary Whitehouse and the Moral Majority types that surround her. Her campaigns against the Albany Trust damaged it irreparably and shortly after the Thatcher administration took over funding was withdrawn and the Trust came to an end.

Antony Grey reflects upon current campaigning and emphasises a preference for sober persuasion versus colourful confrontation. He would much prefer the tactics of the Stonewall Group to those of OutRage: “Street theatre, however spectacular, is no substitute for the prosaic, colourless daily grind of political persuasion which in the end depends upon knowledge, competence, integrity and good repute.” It was campaigning of this kind that brought about the 1967 reform and we must all be grateful for those, such as Antony Grey, whose persistence and courage were essential to the campaign.

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Created : Sunday, 2003-01-12 / Last updated : Monday, 2009-07-20
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