Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Summer 2002

The Gay News blasphemy trial of 25 years ago has given rise over the years to the headline “Born of Mary” when stories have been written about the founding of GALHA two years later, in 1979. For that trial was the catalyst, the spark. Jim Herrick was a member of the original gang of six whose efforts led to the launch of what was to become GALHA, and here he looks back at those early days.


by Jim Herrick

Before GALHA (then the Gay Humanist Group) was founded 23 years ago, I remember an attempt by a group of gays to establish a group within the British Humanist Association. Many humanists said there was no need for a separate group, as homosexuality was fully accepted within the BHA.

The early meetings of this largely gay group were pathetic. There was the need to explain to straights elementary facts from scratch at each meeting, where there were new people airing their colossal ignorance. Then came the gentleman who had the answer to it all. He proffered his own experience as of use to us all: since he had had heart trouble his wife had regularly “pleasured” him to give him relief.

We were amused by this euphemism for “wanking”, but were not so amused when he went on to suggest that if only gay men could find a good woman to “pleasure” them then all would be solved. We didn’t know whether to laugh or scream, but it was the end of that little group and the beginning by six of us gays who were keen humanists to make plans to start an independent group.

The rest is history – especially the boost given to the group by the Gay News trial. I sat through the entire trial and frequently saw Mary Whitehouse, sometimes praying in the corridors of the Old Bailey – she was good at praying when she had time off from preying on the oppressed! What was alarming about her was not that she was a terrible old bat, but that she was formidable and personable like an editor of a woman’s magazine.

Once under way, GHG, as it then was, had a regular presence at the CHE conferences (do you remember the Campaign for Homosexual Equality?). We set up our stall and offered fringe meetings. I remember putting together an entertainment based on readings from gay and humanist sources. (A mini-dramatisation of a scene from E. M. Forster’s Maurice went down well.) Another memorable moment, though not a specifically GALHA one, was at the CHE Sheffield conference (1975), where one of the first civic receptions was given to a gay and lesbian group. A woman grabbed a microphone and pointed out that the women who handed out snacks were being paid less than the men serving. Quite right, too, to protest; but the mayor was not amused and walked out in a huff. Angus Wilson, a guest of honour, at the height of his powers as a novelist, was later insulted by the Daily Express. ‘Twas ever thus.

There was doubt when GALHA started as to whether it was needed. But it has certainly shown its value. There is no doubt that the humanist movement is now more aware of gay issues and the gay movement is more aware of humanism. There have been enormous changes in these 25 years, mostly positive: equal age of consent, gays and lesbians in the military, gay adoption and partnership recognition in the offing, openly gay MPs who get re-elected. GALHA cannot claim responsibility for all this – but it is part of the changing climate of opinion, a climate that consists of the sum total of individuals and groups.

What lies in the future? Well, we must be ever vigilant to retain what we have gained. I have two suggestions for GALHA in the future. First, we must attempt to activate the “L” in our title and persuade lesbians to be more active in GALHA. Perhaps a women’s subgroup might help with this.

Second, while certainly continuing to bring in younger members, we must remember the greying of gays. (In the 23 years since GALHA was founded I have, perforce, moved in that direction.) I think GALHA might campaign on issues relating to older homosexuals: pension rights, the rights of gays in the health service, the recognition of gays in residential homes and so on.

Above all during this 23 years we’ve had a lot of fun – may that continue in the next 23 years.


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Created : Sunday, 2002-09-01 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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