Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Autumn 1994

With the exception of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association is the longest-established national, secular organisation for lesbians and gays in the UK. George Broadhead, a founder member, looks back at the first ten years of its existence.

Born of Mary: GALHA’s First Ten Years

by George Broadhead

The Beginnings

In the aftermath of the notorious Gay News blasphemy trial in 1977, a few gay Humanists, including myself, who are involved in gay rights campaigning, discuss informally the possibility of setting up a gay Humanist group (there are already groups for religious gays).

The feeling is that the aims of such a group could be threefold:


In the summer of this year, a Humanist stall is set up and a fringe meeting held at the CHE conference in Coventry to explore further the need for an organised group and assess the possible interest. The idea is deemed worth pursuing and a little later further impetus is provided by a certain Mary Whitehouse who successfully brought the prosecution against Gay News.

This self-appointed guardian of the nation’s morals, and its best known Christian busybody, begins declaring in public that just about everything “good and true” that “every decent person believes in” is being undermined by “the humanist gay lobby”. Of course the lobby is non-existent at this time, but her words precipitate its formation.

Also, in November of 1978, Terry Sanderson, now well-known as a gay journalist and author, has a thought-provoking article published in Gay News on the personal advantages and feeling of liberation provided by the Humanist outlook.


An ad hoc committee meets in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, in May. It decides to use the name Gay Humanist Group (GHG) and get a leaflet printed and circulated among interested individuals as well as many gay and humanist groups and publications. Several thousand of these leaflets are distributed at the Gay Pride march in June which is exceptionally well supported (for that time) by 8,000 people.

In August the group is formally launched at a fringe meeting held at the CHE conference in Brighton. Though less than in previous years, there are still about 600 delegates at this conference, and the Humanist meeting is addressed by the editor of The Freethinker, Bill McIlroy.

We are in the vanguard of protest which greets the anti-gay statement filling half a page of a Brighton newspaper and signed by 22 of the town’s church leaders.

As the membership begins to grow and as many live in the London area, it is decided to hold regular monthly meetings at Conway Hall Humanist Centre, Holborn. As a kindred organisation, we can hire the library for these meetings at a very favourable rate.

Members on the first elected committee include Trevor Thomas, already a charismatic figure in CHE, Julian Meldrum, later to launch the gay archive project and make a reputation for himself in the field of AIDS, and Jim Herrick, well-known in the Humanist movement and later to become editor of New Humanist magazine.


A public meeting is held in Birmingham in conjunction with Birmingham Humanist Group with sexologist Dr Martin Cole as speaker.

The author Maureen Duffy agrees to be our President and gives her first address at the March meeting at Conway Hall. Other speakers during the year include Antony Grey, former secretary of the Homosexual Law Reform Society and the gay American journalist Vitto Russo, author of The Celluloid Closet.

We make a submission to the Home Office committee of enquiry concerning the age of consent and one to CHE about the direction the gay movement should take in the coming decade.

We start publishing a newsletter and get requests to provide speakers for other gay and Humanist groups.

We take part in the Gay Pride march with newly-made banner, and set up a stall at the ULU building afterwards. We have a stall and fringe meeting at CHE’s conference in York.


Four Irish newspapers publish a GHG letter reacting to Rev Ian Paisley’s homophobia.

We send a submission to the Government’s Criminal Law Revision Committee on Sexual Offences.

We make contact with the Gay Atheist League of America (GALA).

We hand out GHG leaflets at the British Humanist Association’s conference in Leicester at which keynote speaker Lord Fenner Brockway stresses the importance of lesbian and gay rights.

Our Gay Pride meeting is addressed by out lesbian and former Labour MP Maureen Colquhoun who says that Britain’s gay population "must begin showing signs of political muscle if it is to survive in a society which looks like becoming more and more hostile". We take part in the GayFest held at Durham University with stall, public meeting and AGM. Our badges with slogans like Lead Me Into Temptation – Please! and I’m a Born-Again Atheist are best-sellers.

We make a submission to the Blasphemy Law Revision Committee.


In anticipation of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Britain, we launch POPE: People Protesting at Papal Edicts, and provoke an outburst from arch-homophobe Sir John Junor, editor of the Sunday Express.

We make contact with our Dutch equivalent, the Homowerkgroep in the Dutch Humanist League.

One of our most successful meetings is a ‘Political Forum’ at which representatives of the four main gay political groups are invited to put their point of view and answer questions from the audience.

Our President, Maureen Duffy, addresses our Pride meeting and calls on GHG and the gay movement as a whole to campaign for the removal of the discriminatory age of consent law affecting gay men.

We take part in the Sheffield GayFest.


Following the proposed evangelism of the Metropolitan Community Church in London gay bars, we challenge this American-based church to a debate.

We write to all members of Coventry City Council about the ban they have imposed on this year’s GayFest being held in the city.

Our newsletter has become a magazine with news, features and reviews and includes a regular TV/film column by Jonathan Sanders, later to become TV critic for Gay Times.

We publish a booklet Secular Humanism by Kit Mouat.


We send a letter of complaint to Cardinal Basil Hume following a statement from the Vatican describing homosexuality as “a moral disorder”.

We acquire a panel of vice-presidents including jazz singer George Melly.

We hold a joint meeting with the Gay Black Group and launch a series of lectures entitled ‘Notable Gay Humanists’ with Stephen Coote (editor of the Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse) talking on John Addington Symonds.

We celebrate our fifth anniversary with a party at Conway Hall.


We send letters to councillors, MPs, and the national and local press in protest at Rugby Borough Council’s ban on employing lesbians and gays. We take part with our banner in the protest rally in the town.

We make a submission to the working party drafting the Greater London Council’s Charter for Gay and Lesbian Rights, and thwart attempts by gay Christians (notably the Metropolitan Community Church) to water down the section on ‘Organised Religion’.

We enlist the help of our kindred Humanist organisations in the UK and the International Humanist Ombudsman over the prosecution of Gay’s The Word Bookshop by HM Customs and Excise.

Nine GHG members attend a gay Humanist weekend conference in the Netherlands.

We hold our first Winter Solstice party.


We react to an outburst from a West Midlands councillor that God has sent AIDS to get rid of "poofs and queers", and manage to get a homophobic recorded phone message advertised by Birmingham Christadelphians withdrawn.

We protest to Central Television and the British Association for Counselling about the publicity given in a CT programme to the homophobic Christian ‘counselling’ service True Freedom Trust.

We are one of the few groups to respond to an appeal from New Zealand gays to combat the homophobic activity of the Salvation Army which is leading opposition to homosexual law reform in that country.

A bus-load of GHG members descend on Nottingham with banner to take part in a rally protesting at the Labour Council’s veto on lesbian and gay equal opportunities.

Dutch gay Humanist Kees Waaldijk speaks on ‘A Humanist Contribution to the Gay Fight’ at a Burns night meeting hosted in Edinburgh by the editor of Gay Scotland, Ian Dunn.


A Vatican document describes "the particular inclination of the homosexual person" as "a more or less strong tendency towards an intrinsically moral evil". In a press release GHG comments: "The sophistry which allows the Roman Catholic Church to condemn homosexuality as evil, while calling on its priests to provide pastoral care, is utterly contemptible."

Maureen Duffy is one of the speakers at the Terrence Higgins Trust candlelight gathering in London’s Jubilee Gardens.

We take part with banner in the demonstration held in Wombourn, Staffordshire, to protest at a local councillor’s recommendation that gays be gassed.

Along with other Humanist organisations, including the BHA, we strongly condemn the anti-gay “cesspit” speech of James Anderton, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester.

Together with the BHA, NSS and a number of prominent Humanists, we lend our support to the recently established Legislation for Lesbian and Gay Rights Campaign.

We devise a Humanist “affirmation” ceremony for lesbian and gay couples as an alternative to the Christian “blessing” performed by some clergy. Part of our ceremony is used by Channel 4’s Network 7 programme, which features the first close-up gay smoocher on TV and provokes outrage from Mary Whitehouse and her supporters in Parliament.

We hold a Special General Meeting to change our name from Gay Humanist Group (GHG) to Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA).


National Humanist organisations publicly declare their opposition to the anti-gay Clause 28 in the Conservative Government’s Local Government Act, and GALHA takes part with banner in the large demonstration held against this clause in Manchester.

We protest when a Birmingham councillor announces that openly gay teachers should be banned from the city’s schools once Clause 28 becomes law and says he shares the view of the Archbishop of Canterbury that gays should not indulge in "acts which are condemned in the Bible".

Our President Maureen Duffy successfully proposes a motion at the TUC deploring the passing of Section 28 as an infringement of the basic right to free speech and expression.

A sample of the certificate issued to couples after our affirmation ceremony is on display at a major wedding exhibition touring museums and art galleries in the north of England and Scotland.

For the third successive year, we co-sponsor with CHE the London Lesbian and Gay Winter Fayre, which is held at the GLC’s County Hall.


We take action against the distribution of a leaflet in Birmingham stressing the role of the family and “religious values” in combating AIDS.

We issue a statement defending author Salman Rushdie against death threats from Islamic fundamentalists, and another supporting the Campaign Against Blasphemy Law in its opposition to any extension of this law.

We protest about the activities of a Christian “counselling” service called U-Turn Anglia which seeks to change gays from their “wicked ways”.

We hold a reception at Conway Hall to mark our tenth anniversary.

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Created : Sunday, 1997-12-21 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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