Gay Cultures/ Gay Rights


Modern Homosexualities

The Making of the Modern Homosexual
Sexual Stigma 1975


Much of my earliest writing was on gay and queer issues – starting with the unpublished ‘Rent Boys and Bent Boys in 1970. My first published paper was ‘Awareness of Homosexuality’ in Roy Bailey and Jock Young Contemporary Social Problems (1973) and my first book was Sexual Stigma (1975). This led to an Open University (with Jeffrey Weeks) and a module on homosexuality – which led to The Making of the Modern Homosexual (1981).

I have watched significant progress in this field over the years, but in recent times have become relatively  disengaged from gay politics. I have little interest in assimilationist arguments about gay marriage and gays in the army (though ‘right on’ to those who do want to pursue this)! I believe that the major problems now are world ones – the fact that some 80 countries across the world still face legal barriers and a few face the death penalty. Real world wide changes are needed.

Some of my most recent papers on gay matters can be found below- but they are not that recent.

Gay Cultures/ Straight Borders  (2000)

The Lesbian and Gay Movement in England 1965-1995  (1996)

see also: Right  / Queer Theory and Humanism elsewhere.


 Ken Plummer


Draft copy published in

David Morley & Kevin Robbins eds


Dated 23rd March 2000

…an understanding of virtually any aspect of modern Western culture must be, not merely incomplete, but damaged in its central substance to the degree that it does not incorporate a critical analysis of modern homo/heterosexual  definition…….Sedgwick, 1991: p206

Being gay[1] in Britain (as in most of the Western world) has been potentially to live life on culture borders: of gender, sexuality, life style, and identity. And until roughly thirty years ago, the borders of gayness were strongly drawn : they were a major (if tacit) organising feature of British culture. Indeed, I came of age – and ‘came out’ – in a world where male homosexuality was a crime, a sickness, and a pathology and where the norms regulating gender and sexuality were clearly drawn. What it was to be a man or a woman; what it was to ‘have sex’ ; and who it was permissible to marry were unambiguously clear and sharply defined.  Sexual cultures were minimal and hermetically sealed into heterosexuality and familism. What little gay culture that might have existed was strictly taboo and pushed to the extreme borders of society. Homosexuals had absolutely no place and no existence in a cultural world (see Westwood, 1952; Weeks, 1990).

And yet, by the start of the twenty first century, ‘gayness’ had come out from this underground and blossomed into a cornucopia of new life styles and cultures. It had crossed borders and come to permeate wider cultures: cabinet ministers became openly gay, television mainstreamed gay programmes (from Queer as Folk to Graham Norton), and Elton John, superstar, could arrive openly at Princess Diane’s funeral with his boy friend. For those who would wish to look, gay culture is now everywhere to be seen. From being ‘the love that dared not speak its name’ it has now become a veritable Tower of Babel! It is part of British culture!

Crossing the Borders :  The Making of Modern Gay Cultures

How did this come about? Although a much longer history of gay cultures in Britain could be written, I sense four formative, ‘symbolic moments’ in the post war period. The Wolfenden Report of 1957. (the result of a Commission set up in 1954 after several ‘homosexual scandals’), established a framework for moral discourse in Britain, arguing for a public space controlled by law and a private space which was not the law’s business. Stuart Hall has identified this as “Wolfenden’s double taxonomy: toward stricter penalty and control, towards greater freedom and leniency: together the two elements in a single strategy”. (Hall, 1980 : p14). Ultimately, Wolfenden’s proposals came to be enshrined in the Sexual Offences Act, 1967 which started decriminalising homosexuality in England and Wales (but later in Scotland, 1980, and Northern Ireland,1982) .What Wolfenden so clearly reinforced was the culture of the closet.  For whilst homosexual acts between consenting adults were no longer illegal, this was only so in private places between two consenting adults. The division of a public and private space was central to this, leaving the stigma of the past still hanging over homosexuality and keeping it a crime in many situations. For most gay men and indeed lesbians (who were not directly touched by the law), this still meant that their lives would be conducted in the closet. Gay cultures have been deeply shaped by this: unable or unwilling – in the main – to tell friends, families or workmates, the culture of homosexuality has remained one of passing and hiding (Wolfenden, 1957; Hall, 1980; Jeffery-Poulter, 1991).

The first ‘chink’ in this closet appears with the foundation of the Gay Liberation Front, established in October 1970 at the London School of Economics (LSE).  Riddled with internal conflicts, it had a short life – effectively dead by 1973. Yet it achieved much: a manifesto; the first large, visible and public demonstrations by gays; the first large non commercial dances (initially at the LSE In December 1970); a proliferation of pamphlets (With Downcast Gays, The Anti-Psychiatry Group), and a broadsheet (Come Together). With slogans, badges and marches, it raised public awareness of homosexuality in a way that simply had not happened before.  It made ‘coming out’ a major political process at the forefront of gay politics. The tightly policed margins of the past were starting to be punctured. ‘Gay was good’, and a new visible culture was in the making (Walters, 1980; Weeks, 1990; Power, 1995)

A third defining moment occurs between 1981 and 1986 with the gradual recognition of HIV/AIDS. This catastrophic pandemic was another calamity for British gay life (as throughout the world) and it brought  chronic illness, early death and tragic bereavement for many disproportionately young men.  But, in an  ironic twist, it also brought a major revitalisation to a slumbering gay movement and it brought ‘gayness’ sharply into mainstream focus. Initially through the establishing of The Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) in 1982 (by friends of the first British gay man to die with AIDS), it got its first government grant of £35,000 in 1985  (King : 1993 p208-216). As it became a leading campaign body, it brought a different and more mainstream style of gay politics, one which had to be more professional, more informed, angry but  responsible, and capable of working with government and other professionals as part of the AIDS Industry. It was a cunning moment of assimilation : the margins being further weakened. And from the THT came Crusaid, Body Positive, Positively Women, Blackliners, Mainliners, Frontliners, London Lighthouse. In a most curious paradox, AIDS brought benefits to the gay community in making it more visible and making its ‘leaders’ more professional: they were now actually sitting down and talking to government officials. The borders were moving again (Davies et al, 1993).

A fourth moment came when Section 28 of the Local Government Act became law on 24th May 1988. This controversial bill stipulated that a Local Authority should not intentionally promote homosexuality or teach the acceptability of homosexuality as a ‘pretended family relationship’ (Colvin and Hawksely, 1989; Wilson, 1995).  It instantly became a rallying cry for the gay movement, symbolising the disaffection from ‘Thatcherism’, which had increasingly been marking out not just an economic conservatism, but a moralistic pro family agenda.  Harking back to the ‘permissive ‘era of Roy Jenkins and 1960’s Labour,  the Tories had  been looking for a return to  ‘basic , family, traditional values’. Whilst they did not have an explicit policy of sexual regulation , Thatcher’s ‘familism’ pervaded all ; the initiatives on sexual politics had during the 1980’s largely passed   to the political right (cf. Dunham, 1990). Thatcher herself critically remarked that: ‘children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay’  (Jeffery-Poulter, 1991 : 218)   So whilst section 28 was the immediate cause of the new protest, it was generated by a strong sense of bad times for gays. More: it could also be seen as linked to the arrival of a new generation – a post GLF grouping who had come of age in the twenty years since the passing of the Sexual Offences Act : young radicals (and professionals)  with not much concern for history and the past, just wanting change and wanting it straightaway. This new revitalised movement is generally seen as a ‘watershed in the struggle for gay equality’ ((Jeffery-Poulter, 1991: p234), and  as ‘the coming of age of the gay and lesbian movement’ (Capital Gay, 18.3.88). This is another irony : at the very moment when lesbians and gays were seemingly most under attack,  a new revitalised community appears. The borders by now were becoming weaker and weaker: as gays and lesbians moved into many public spaces, and claimed cultures of their own.

Shaping the Cultures: Taboo, Gender, Desire and Identity

Even as gay culture has become more and more mainstream, it remains deeply shaped by four boundaries which it has to cross over. In the past, these boundaries were almost uncrossable : today, they have shifted. But they are still there and they give an elementary shape to the way gay cultures work. They help organized the ways of life that can be identified as gay.

The first border highlights taboo. Homophobia, heterosexism, stigmatised difference, marginality – all lead many gay lives to evolve strategies of passing and hiding – a splitting strategy of being ‘in’ or ‘out’. It  leads to gay cultures being -to varying degrees- cultures of the closet. British culture could be approached though this metaphor of the closet – with most people hiding their identities through the development of a repertoire of concealment and passing strategies. It is a theme which haunts gay life: from  ‘bunburying’ (inventing fictional friends to ease a deception) in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, to the first major British film about gays – Victim (1962) , where blackmail is a major concern. But its mirror image – ‘coming out’ – becomes more and more significant through the last decades of the century. It is the key to GLF in 1970, where ‘coming out’ may be seen as its most crucial political dimension; and it turns into a major political debate during the 1990’s when the issue of ‘outing’ famous but closeted gays becomes an increasing concern. Yet even though, at the turn of the century, a very substantial numbers of gays and lesbians are ‘out’, it is still the case that the culture is heavily closeted. Many are only ‘out’ within the organised ‘scene’  or to a few friends : remaining  closeted at school and from family, workplace and strangers. Taboo and the closet remain major features of gay life (cf. Sedgwick 1991; Seidman, 1999).

Secondly, homosexuality sits on the borders of gender, rendering it as cultures of campness, drag and gender irony.  Clear gender roles, presumed heterosexuality, the centrality of ‘familism’ lead many gay lives to evolve an ironic code for living on what may be seen as the gender borders. It is to be found everywhere in gay culture. In  the popularity of ‘drag’ within gay circles. In the role playing of (some) lesbians into ‘butch and femme’( O’Sullivan, 1999). In the effeminacy of many gay men during the 1950’s which turns by the 1970’s into a ‘masculinist, macho clone’ -exemplified by the Village People- and in the 1990’s, the emergence of a rough-trade skinhead look as a popular style (Healy, 1996). In the championing of bisexual culture (Bi-Academic Intervention, 1997).  It is also seen in the strong strain of campness running through it. In early days, for instance, it was present in the Carry On films, radio programmes like Round the Horn, TV comedies like Are You Being Served ; and in stars like the late Kenneth Williams and  Frankie Howard, continued through Julian Clary and Graham Norton (Howe, 1993; Simson, 1994). It was present at early GLF meetings with the  ‘radical faeries’; and it continues today in the ‘politics of queer’: where bisexuality, transgender politics and gender bending are prominent.

Third, homosexuality contrasts with the dominant heterosexual order, rendering it also as cultures of dissident desire. Whereas the dominant culture presumes a heterosexual coitus, everything about gay life does not. Gay desire speaks of masturbation, anal sex, oral sex, fetishes, pronography, cybersex, sado-masochism – of a world full of sexual possibilities outside the so-called conventional. Some of this helps organise key features of the gay world – bars, magazines and literature, dress and dress codes; and much of it seeps out, so to speak , into the wider culture through safer sex campaigns, advertising and fashion. Certain spaces of gay culture create a heightened sexual sensibilty – in dress, in looks, in cruising. And there are dense areas of ‘hot sex’ and ‘raunch’: telephone sex lines, porn, hustling, clothing fetishes, back rooms, leather, fisting, rimming, dyke balling. Thus, for instance, one ‘hot topic’ within lesbian and gay life over the past twenty years has been S/M : it has become well organised in the male gay world; it has split the women’s movement in many directions. It led to stormy debates when the London Lesbian and Gay Centre was established; and it hit the public headlines in 1992 when ‘Operation Spanner’ involved the police arresting a group of gay sadomasochists who were subsequently found guilty and sent to prison (although an appeal was made to the European Court of Human Rights). Ironically, again, this certainly increased its visibility- and possibly its practice. And it should be clear that this is not just a male world: though lesbians remain sharply divided over this, many celebrate the rise of the ‘new dildocracy’, with explicit sex magazines such as  Quim, radical -often SM – lesbian photographers such as Della Grace and Tessa Boffin;  and sex radical groups such as PUSSY (Perverts Undermining State Scrutiny) (cf. Healey,1996). And again some of it is taken over into heterosexual worlds, making such concerns more visible. Indeed, in part we may see the homosexualization of heterosexual culture (cf Altman, 1982).

Despite these heightened cultures of eroticism within gay cultures, these should not be overstated. In one of the major studies of gay men’s sexual behaviour in Britain, the authors conclude  that ‘among very many respondents there is a clear preference for a small number of fairly unremarkable acts’ (Davies, 1993: p105 ). Masturbation is the most common by far (but of least interest to health professionals) whilst anal intercourse turns out to be not that common  at all (though of greatest interest to health professionals!).  Nevertheless, it is the extremes that attract attention and it is these which render parts of gay cultures as sexual outlaws, transgressors and radicals.

A fourth shaping feature of gay culture is the issue of identity, creating cultures of gay identification. Indeed, gay identity has been at the core of gay culture in the recent past, though there are some signs this is changing. Identities structure borders – of who is in and who is out – and help provide a history of one’s past, a sense of being different from others in the present, along with a possible guide to the future. And the process of telling the story of a gay identity is one of the key organising narratives of modern gay life. (Plummer, 1995).  Three main issues surround this. One highlights the ways gay identities are built up – looking at the various stages a man or woman  may pass through in ‘going gay’. Often this is a move from a simple confusion and shame to a full blown and positive sense of self. A second concern is  the politics of identity – the ways in which the very category of ‘being gay or lesbian’ may be linked to the lesbian and gay movement and turned into a challenging political category around which mobilisation may take place. In a key way, this is exactly what took place in the UK between the emergence of the radical GLF in 1970, and the huge rallies protesting against Section 28 in 1987. A sexual identity became a political one. But most recently a third issue no longer sees the importance of the gay identity and attempts to deconstruct it. This is the day of the’ pomo homo’ or the postmodern ‘queer’ – who rejects strong identities as being built on a binary system of gay/straight; and seeks instead to challenge such ‘essentialist’ categoriations through a transgressive sexual politics. Once again , we are in the land of the ‘bisexual imagination’ and  the transgender queer.

Moving the Borders: Diversification in Modern Gay Cultures

The march from Wolfenden through GLF and HIV to Section 28 may be seen as a gay culture assembling itself around various borders, creating in effect the most visible forms of gay life in Britain. This is evidenced by those hugely symbolic rallying events of gay culture Gay Pride Marches.  When they started in 1972 in London, they attracted only 2,000 people: by the 1990’s a quarter of a million took to the streets. From small beginnings, large cultures have grown.

But they are cultures and not a culture. Like all lived cultures, they are never coherent, stable and fixed but always in shifting process, inchoate ambiguity and full of dialectical tension and contradiction. They are composed of a multiplicity of social worlds which interpenetrate each other (often, these days, globally); and they are deeply embedded in  the dynamics of inequality and social division, profoundly patterned by class, ethnicity, gender, age, disablement and the like. Just as social exclusion works its way through dominant worlds, so too gay cultures consistently get depicted as white, middle class, young and beautiful ( as a glance at any of the main UK British gay magazines would reveal and as the popular television series Queer as Folk strongly suggests). Yet gay cultures themselves generate their own borders and margins!

Thus class, age, and ethic borders structures divides within gay cultures. The life worlds of the Elton John super-rich are at extreme odds with those of a gay underclass of unemployed and homeless. The situation of an ageing wealthy closeted Cambridge ‘Don’ can hardly be compared with the situation of a young, black, lesbian care assistant raising her child and working long hours for little pay in a nursing home. In many ways, working class gays and lesbians have been consistently marginalised in gay communities: patterns of wealth – and patterns of consumption- differ sharply across gay lives and the life cycle. Yet somehow gay culture itself is most frequently represented as white, male, middle class. In this it reflects a dominant class strategy: to reproduce the existing order as if it was middle class. The relation of gay cultures to class cultures has been seriously underexplored, and it is a dynamic tension within gay culture.

There is, then, no one gay culture but a multiplicity of such cultures. And a danger is that many commentators, journalists, gay people and gay politicos speak only for small fragments of it. Only some voices are ever heard. There is, I believe, a vast network of gay and lesbian experiences involving several million people, and largely hidden from sight, which involves friendship networks, partnerships, isolates and ‘casual experimenters’. It constitutes a huge underbelly of gay life in Britain today. It is little discussed.

But what could be called the ‘gay scene’ is very different: it is this which gets the attention. It is much more visible, usually youthful, predominantly white and middle class, relatively ‘out’ and heavily male though women are more prominent now than in the past. It includes such institutions as gay media, bars and clubs, health clubs, tourism, political activism, cruising grounds, community support services, and most recently cyberspaces. A look through the pages of Gay Times will soon provide a sense of the range of cultures on offer.[2] The gay media itself has moved from its humble but radical origins in Gay News (in 1972)  through the creation of a ‘free press’ distributed through bars and meeting places during the 1980’s  (Capital Gay, The Pink Paper, Boyz) and on to the mass circulation in the 1990’s of  Shebang, Diva, Attitude, Phase: glossy, glitzy and nowhere near so directly political as their predecessors ( cf. Burston & Richardson, 1995; Hutton, 1996) . The quintessential institutions of gay life are the bars, and they come in many forms: dyke bars, dance bars, coffee bars, tea dance bars, pick up bars, drag bars, strip bars, piano bars, sleaze bars, back room bars, s-m bars, fetish bars, ‘rent’ bars, hotel bars. Alongside these are gay and lesbian groups for all: Jewish, Irish, Welsh, Cypriots, Turkish, Black, and Asian; for swimming, cricket, running, scuba diving, sailing, walking, badminton, cycling, squash, mountaineering, volleyball and football;  for the deaf, the blind, the disabled; for the young, the student, the old, the parent; for the Christian, the Catholic, the Christian scientist, the pagan, the humanist, the spiritualist; for barristers, fireman, librarians and accountants; for choirs and the arts; for bridge, classic cars and real ale drinkers! And along with all these come the cultures of self help social worlds: from a vast network of HIV/AIDS care, switchboards, drop-ins, counselling, befriending,’pink counselling’  and specialist groups like those for homeless teenagers, bisexuals, family and friends, legal worries, bereavement, parenting. There are also academic worlds – a growing range of books and courses which establish Lesbian and Gay Studies as an academic discipline (cf. Plummer, 1992; Wilton, 1995; Medhurst & Munt, 1997; Radford, 1996); along with a string of political groupings : from radical queers in Outrage to the assimilationist and professional lobby in Stonewall ( See Plummer, 1999 where I discuss these splits).  And in the midst of all this are the newly emerging cyberqueers (such as Digital Diversity (  where the ‘web’ becomes an increasingly important way of communicating across global gay communities (cf. Wakeford, 1997).

With so much going on, the diversity of gay cultures may be seen as expressing a mirror image of the wider and dominant cultures. There is no space here to analyse all this, except to note two key recent trends : the push towards growing urbanisation – the creation of queer spaces such as ‘the Village ‘ in Manchester and ‘Soho’ in London (Quilley, 1997; Whittle, 1994) ;  and the trend towards a gay consumerism  and a massive commercialisation ( Field, 1995 : Ch 4). Many of the radical ideals of the earlier gay movement  (which was often ‘left based’ and produced magazines like Gay Left) now get swamped in a world of  ‘Gay Lifestyle Events (the Ideal Homo)’, Gay Business Organisations, ‘Boyz culture’ and ‘Lipstick Lesbians’. To look at the 150 page glossy full colour  catalogue of Gay Pride 96  is to enter an apolitical world of clubbing, Calvin Kleins, Mr Gay UK,  designer beers, body piercing, kitchens styles, dream houses, gay holidays, gay marriages, themed parties, suntan products, gyms for the body beautiful, antiques, flash cars, internets, financial services, dance, video and media of all forms; and all this sandwiched between ads for Beneton, Eyeworks, Virgin Vodka, Mercury , Buffalo Boots and  American Express! With this, gay cultures have come a long way from the margins! As Chris Woods remarks in an analysis of all this: ‘The politically active in the community have been marginalised in the interest of profit’ (Woods, 1995: p45), and it has led to the ‘Anti-Gay’ Movement within gay culture itself, which decries the visible shallowness of much contemporary gay culture! (Simpson, 1996; cf Sinfield, 1998).

Conclusion: The Old Borders Remain and the New Ones Appear


In May 1999, right in the heart of the Gay Village in Soho and right in the heart of a gay pub a bomb went off killing three and seriously injuring many. Part of a wider series of bomb attacks, almost certainly by someone who was seriously mentally disturbed. It immediately showed both the support that became available for the gay community from the ‘straight’ community whilst indicating that ‘gays’ were indeed targets for bombing. The tragic incident highlighted the continuing double bind that gay cultures within British cultures find themselves.  Gay cultures have travelled  a long way in the past century; but although they have shifted borders in this process, they still remain firmly on them.


Bristow, Joseph & Aneglia R Wilson eds  (1993) Activating Theory: Lesbians, Gay, Bisexual Politics, London: Lawrence and Wisehart

Burston, Paul & Richardson, Colin 1995 A Queer Romance: Lesbians, Gay Men and Popular Culture London: Routledge

Colvin, Madeleine & Jane Hawskley (1989) Section 28: A Practical guide to the Law and its implications, London: National Council for Civil Liberties

Cooper, Davina 1994 Sexing the City. London : Rivers Oram Press

Davies, Peter , Ford Hickson, Peter Weatherburn and Andrew Hunt 1993 Sex, Gay Men and AIDS London :Falmer Press

Durham, Martin (1991) Sex and Politics : The Family and Morality in the Thatcher Years, London : MacMillan

Edge, Simon (1995) With Friends Like These : Marxism and Gay Politics , London; Cassell

Epstein, Debbie & R.Johnson & D.Steinberg ‘ Twice Told Tales: Transformation, Recuperation and Emergence in the Age of Consent Debates’ Sexualties Vol 3 , No 1 p5-30

Evans, David (1993) Sexual Citizenhsip, London: Routledge

Field, Nicola (1995) Over the Rainbow : Money, Class and Homophobia  London Pluto Press

Hall, Stuart (1980) ‘Reformism and the Legislation of Consent’, in National Deviancy Conference, eds Permissiveness and Control : The Fate of the Sixties Legislation, London, MacMillan

Healy, Murray (1996) Gay Skins : Class, Masculinity and Queer Appropriation. London: Cassell

Howes, Keith (1993) Broadcasting It.  London : Cassell

Jeffery-Poulter, Stephen 1992 Peers, Queers & Commons: The struggle for Gay Law reform from 1950 to the Present  London : Routledge

Jeffreys, Sheila  1990 Anticlimax : A Feminist Perspective on Sexual Liberation. London: The Women’s Press

King, Edward 1993 Safety in Numbers. London: Cassell

McIntosh, Mary (1997) ‘Class’ in Medhurst and Munt op cit Ch 16

Medhurst, Andy & Sally R.Munt eds (1997) Lesbian and Gay Studies : A Critical Introduction. London: Cassell

O’Sullivan, Sue (1999) ‘I don’t want you anymore :  Butch/Femme disappointments’  Sexualities Vol 2, No4  p465-73

Plummer, Ken (1999) ‘The Lesbian and Gay Movement in the UK 1965-1995: Schisms, solidarties and social worlds’, in  Barry Adam, Jan Willem Duyvendak & André Krouwel (eds)  Gay and Lesbian Movements Since the 1960’s.  Temple University Press

Plummer, Ken (1995) Telling Sexual Stories: Power, Change and Social Worlds. London: Routledge

Plummer , Ken ed (1992) ‘Speaking its name : Inveting a Lesbian and Gay Studies’ in K. Plummer, ed Modern Homosexualities : Fragments of Lesbian and Gay Experience, London: Routledge

Power, Lisa (1995) No Bath But Plenty of Bubbles. London : Cassell

Quilley, Stephen (1997) ‘Constructing Manchester’s ‘New Urban Village’: Gay Space in the Entrepreneurial City’.  p275-94, in G. Ingram, A Bouthillette, & Y.Rettered , Queers in Space: Communities/Public Places/Sites of Resistance  Seattle: Washington Bay Press p275-92

Sedgwick, Eve Kasofsky (1990) Epistemology of the Closet: London: Harvester Wheatsheaf

Seidman, Steven  & C.Meeks and F.Traschen (1999) ‘Beyond the Closet?’  Sexualities Vol 2 No1 p9-34

Simpson, Mark 1994 Male Impersonators.  London:  Cassell

Simpson, Mark  ed 1996 Anti-Gay .  London : Cassell

Sinfield, Alan 1998 Gay and After, London: Serpent’s Tail

Smith, Anna Marie 1994  New right Discourse on Race and Sexuality, Britain 1968-1990 Camvridfge: Cambridge University Press

Wakeford, Nina (1997)  ‘Cyberqueer  in Medhurst and Munt, 1997: op cit Chapter 2.

Walters, Aubrey ed (1980) Come Together : The Years of Gay Liberation (1970-1973) London: GMP

Weeks, Jeffrey (2nd ed 1990) Coming Out : Homosexual Politics in Britain from the Nineteenth Cnetury to the Present, London : Quartet Books

Westwood, Gordon (1952) Society and the Homosexual. London. Gollancz.

Whittle, Stephen ed (1994) The Margins of the City: Gay Men’s Urban Lives, Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing

Wilkinson, Sue 1996 ‘Bisexuality as Backlash’, in Harne & Miller, 1996 op cit p75-89

Wilson, Angelia R. ed (1995)  A Simple Matter of Justice: Theorising Lesbian and Gay Politics  London: Cassell

Wilton, Tamsin 1995 Lesbian Studies : Setting An Agenda, London: Routledge

Wolfenden (1957) Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prositution London: HMSO Cmnd 247.

Woods, Chris (1995) State of the Queer Nation : A Critique of Gay and Lesbian Politics in 1990’s Britain, London: Cassell

Author Note:

Ken Plummer is Professor of Sociology at the University of Essex. He is the author and editor of numerous articles and books including Sexual Stigma (1975), The Making of the Modern Homosexual (1981), Modern Homosexualities (1992) and Telling Sexual Stories (1995). He is the editor of the journal Sexualities.

[1] Which term to use poses formidable problems. I use ‘gay’ here to mean to include lesbian, bisexual, queer , homosexual and the like. I am fully aware that they are indeed different, and to use a different word would provide a different story. I use ‘gay’ because of my generation and history : all words have their problems.

[2] What follows is a selection of items listed in the Gay Times Guide section, Match 2000 1998 p119-121.




Ken Plummer


(included in  Barry Adam. Jan Willem Duyvendak and Andre Krouwel (eds)

Gay and Lesbian Movements Since the 1960’s)

Social Movements may be viewed as collective enterprises to establish new orders of life      Herbert Blumer (1939:p255)

Whenever some group of people have a bit of common life with a modicum of isolation form other people, a common corner in society, common problems, and perhaps a couple of common enemies, there culture grows. Everett Hughes (1961:p28)

A short history of Lesbian and Gay Life in Britain in the post World War II period can be depicted as six sedimented layers. Each emerges anew but leaves its continuing traces. The foundation- the 1950’s and the 1960’s – involved some scandals (Wildeblood, Montagu),  a major government commission recommending (limited) decriminalisation of male homosexuality (in The Wolfenden Report), a campaigning pressure group (The Homosexual Law Reform Society set up in 1958) , a law to enact the propsed changes ( the 1967 Sexual Offences Act) , and a proliferation of gay bars along with a few lesbian ones- by the mid 1960’s, in London alone, there were at least forty (cf Grey, 1992).  1970 marks the arrival of the next layer: the much more radical Gay Liberation Front – increasing visibility as many people  came out of their closets, and shifting political debates from liberal and often apologetic arguments, to radical and critical ones. But the GLF was short lived. It is paralleled by the emergence of  second wave feminism, and by 1973 most of the lesbians had left the (male) Gay Movement for a Radical Lebianism Movement.  A third layer thus appears around this time :  the growth of a lesbian feminist movement, and the quiet expansion of a host of new gay and lesbian institutions – self help groups like Friend and Switchboard, media forms like Gay News, larger and more extravagant clubs like Heaven and Bang’s, and campaigning organisations like CHE. It also marks the emergence of a more masculinist look amongst gay men – the clone zone. This coincides with a period generallty sensed to mark a decline in the fortunes of the L&GM (cf Palmer, 1995: p34).  A fourth layer is ushered in with AIDS around 1983 . Less concerned with hay politics per se, it heralds  a proliferation of new and more professional groupings often with government backing – – The Terrence Higgins Trust to the forefront. For a short while other matters of Gay and Lesbian life settle into the background. But in 1987 a fifth layer appears: with the Conservative government’s  internationally notorious Section (later Clause) 28 being introuced to outlaw the ‘promotion of  homosexuality’in local government,  a renewed activism returns. Seen by some as the British equivalent of Stonewall in a period commonly sensed to be a ‘backlash’, men and women start to work together, and for a short while there is a very clear re-politicalisation of the Movement (but cf Annetts and Thompson, 1992). A sixth  sediment appears in the late 1980’s : the simulatanous queering of the younger gay and lesbian world along with a significant commercialisation of the ‘scene’. This, more or less corresponding to a new generation of gays and lesbians, continues today.

Such a description of layers is clearly oversimplified. What will follow therefore will be an attempt to highlight some of the critical developments in more detail. My aim in this paper is to chart  the workings of a Lesbian and Gay Movement (hereafter either L&GM or Movement) in the UK during this period. Centrally, I have two images to help me see this Movement : social worlds and schisms [1] The L&GM must be seen as a highly fluid, emergent series of overlapping social worlds[2] which make competing claims for change and employ diverse dramatic strategies to accomplish their goals. These worlds have differing styles, agendas, political rationales, goals, and organisational forms They are characterised centrally by schism, change, fluidity, weak hierarchical structures, little formal organisation, minimal resources, ambiguous frames and claims making activities [3].

In this brief account I plan to describe some features of the L&G Movement in the UK, locate its history, and discuss the ways in which it is propelled and animated by conflict. I will conclude by considering in what ways it may be considered a prototypical New Social Movement. To start with, though, I need to say something about the backdrop of UK society.

WOLFENDEN AND THAtCHERISM: The Context of the Movement

Lesbian and gay  social movements ebb, flow and mesh with the ongoing political, religious, economic and cultural  institutions. To  trace the ongoing emergence of the L&GM in the UK within the socio-cultual history of modern Britain would take several books  and some have already started this task (cf Jeffery-Poulter, 1991; Dunham, 1991). But two key themes need clarifying: The Wolfenden Report of 1957 whicb proceeds throughout the latter twentieth century to redefine the relation between public and private moralities; and ‘Thatcherism’  the defining ideology of the UK in the late twentieth century  providing simultaneously a laissez faire approach to economics and fostering consumerism, whilst creating a moral climate of traditional family values against which all was to be judged.

The Wolfenden Report  was set up by the Conservative Party in the aftermath of several ‘homosexual scandals’ , and is linked to the ‘Butler Reforms’ of the 1950’s which addressed (liberally) the death penalty, prostitution, obscenity, gambling, suicide  ( NDC, 1980; Hall, 1988). It  is the key to understanding the creation of moral discourse in the post war UK., the backdrop to both early legal changes and later social activism. For the Wolfenden Report laid out a framework of  regulation yet tolerance ; a public space controlled by the law and a private space which is not the law’s business. Hence it was to permit a private world of consensual homosexual acts permitted by Parliament (though its arguments were largely based on an essentialising ‘condition’ model of homosexuality, which has continued to dominate all debates – even those from within the L&GM), whilst condemning any public flaunting of the law. Wolfenden was concerned to define the role of the law in relation to sexuality : “to preserve public order and decency, to protect the citizen from what is offensive and injurious, and to provide safeguards against the exploitation and corruption of others”, whilst recognising that “it is not the function of the law to interfere in the private lives of citizens, or to seek to enforce any particular patterns of behaviour”. (Mort,1994:  39).  Turing Wolfenden into law was a porject for much of the 1960’s, culminating in legismation during labour Home Secretary Roy Jenkins period of office. A renowned liberal democrat, Jenkins wanted  a clear limit to the state’s intervention in the personal life and sought to ‘create a climate of opinion which is favourable to gaiety, tolerance and beauty and unfavourable to puritan ….., to petty minded disapproval, to hypocrisy and to a dreary ugly pattern of life” (from his The Labour Case and cited in Hall, 1980).  In a strategy, formulated by Wolfenden and largely carried through by Jenkins, homosexuality became decriminalised in major respects in 1967. It was a process which Hall has called the legislation of morality or “Wolfenden’s double taxonomy’: “toward stricter penalty and control, towards greater freedom and leniency: together the two elements in a single strategy”. (Hall, 1980 : p14) In many respects it might be seen as one precondition for the emergence of a more widespread L&GM.

From the late 1970’s onwards, the Thatcher government serves as a major right wing government to dominate the background of the gay movement. It is marked out primarily by an economic conservatism, but it also bythe rise of a Religious Moralism and a very strong pro family agenda (cfAbbott & Wallace, 1992) The government of this period harks back to a so called ‘permissive ‘period of legislation linked to Jenkins and the Labour  government of 1967, and seeks a return to ‘basic , family, traditional values’. Whilst it did not have an explicit policy of sexual regulation (cf. Dunhman, 1990)  this ‘familism’ pervaded all. The initiatives on sexual politics passed, largely,  to the political right. Thatcherism led an assault on the ‘valueless values of the pertmissive society’ (Tebbit) with Thatcher herself famously remarking that: ‘children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay’  (Jeffery-Poulter, 1991 : 218)  As Stuart Hall (1988)  – the foremost sociological analyst of this period- remarked:

Thatchersim .. has used its moral agenda as one of the principal areas where … identities are defined – the respectable normal folk who people the fantasies of the new right in relation to current debates around abortion, child abuse, sex education, gay rights and AIDS. It is above all through this moral agenda that the new right has become a cultural force..” (Hall, 1988: p282)…

This agenda continued with the subsequent Prime Minister John Major’s (now infamous [4] ) launching of a ‘Back to Basics’ campaign in 1993.

Several other features of this period are worth noting. First, the late sixties was a time of countercultural movements and  student activism in the UK , as elswhere in the Western world. The Gay Liberation Front, along with the Women’s Movement, must be seen as dirctly linked to that time. Many of its actvistis were to be found linked with University life – it is not without sigficance that the first GLF meeting was organised by two sociolgy students at the LSE, and that its first meetings were also held there.

Secondly, it was a time when the Conservative party sought to roll back the State – and especially the Local State. In fact, the central state grows but local authorities are under threat. Much of the activist work of L&G takes place against  an assault on Local Authority government – and the ‘loony left’ associated with it. With this background, the politics of the gay movement started to change direction in the 1980’s. In her important study of these ‘local state changes’. Davina Cooper summarises a key aspect of this shift:

By the early 1980’s, the L&GM had undergone a substantial shift in emphasis. While the 1970’s witnessed an emphasis on ‘revolutionary strategies : separatism, political lesbianism and sexual deconstruction, the 1980’s saw a renewed interest in affirming gay identity, developing political alliances, particularly between men and women and working within the state.( Cooper, 1995 :23)

Throughout the 1980’s, activisms switched largely to urban , Labour controlled councils across Britain. Against a national backdrop of increasing conservatism and the ideology of the family, successful campaigns were launched at the level of the local state – or local councils. Inspired largely by Equal Opportunity Policies (EOP’s), the L&GM  worked largely in setting up initiatives for change in local government . (Most especially in the Greater London Council (GLC), Manchester, Nottingham, and Southampton City councils, and the London Boroughs Camden, Haringey, Islington and Lambeth. Lampooned as the ‘Loony Left’, the achievements of these groupings were many: setting up Centres (as in the London Lesbian and Gay Centre), establishing equal opportunity posts, supporting  campaigns around ‘positive images’. Davina Cooper stresses that although there is an outside ‘coherence’ it is in fact the outcome of much fragmentation and conflict from within. It has been at the Local government level where more successes have been possible: eighteen years of a conservative government have left a stronger gay movement but one where more radical approaches were largely  ‘organised out’.

Third, the later period – from the mid 1980’s onwards- was a time of consumerist growth – the power of the market which Thatcher advocated led, perhaps ironically, to a network of new economic institutions developing around L&G – the Pink Pound. Criticised as they are by  some wings of the movement (eg Simon Edge’s With Friends Like These, and Nicolas Field’s Over the Rainbow) these new economic forms give a cohesion and unity to much of the L&G world. They foster a life style rather than a life style politics, which I discuss further below.


Having set the scene, just what is the Lesbian and Gay Movement in the UK? Rather than seeing it narrowly as a specific named, political movement, it is more helpful to see it as a broadly based overlapping cluster of arenas of collective activity lodged in social worlds in which change is accomplished: some of it is overtly political, some of it is economic(the pink economy), but much of it is cultural. Not working together and sometimes deeply schismatic, the modern L&GM is composed of  explictly political groups alongside broader self help organisations, subcultures and ‘scenes’, media networks, rallies, and intellectual workers. Increasingly, it is also becoming connected to the internet. While the main focus of this article will be with the political groupings, it will help to situate this discussion in a wider framework of social worlds.

A first world is the explicitly political, which may be roughly divided into the liberal and assimliationist  voluntary pressure groups  – often formally structured, usually middle class, male and even elitist, and primarily concerned with claims over rights and legal change (the Homosexual Law Reform Society, the Albany Trust, the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and Stonewall; as well as groups affilated to the three major political parties and organised religions, like the Gay Christian Movement)  and the less formal, grass roots based and challenging radical activist colllectives (the Gay Liberation Front, Radical Feminism, Outrage, Act Up). This is the classic divide of all gay movements – between those who seek legal change through lobbying and those who believe in a much more radical stance. (cf Marotta, 1981) But the radicalism comes in many forms , and these groupings will be a prime focus later.

A second world, much more amorphous,  is that of communities and  secnes. Unlike many social movements which cannot be said to constitute communities, the L&GM cannot really be comprehended without beeing seen as a cultural form, a social world in which members sense an affinity with each other through sexuality, language, values, and common  institutions like bars and media. Whilst there was certainly quite a widespread bar scene in England throughout the 1960’s and even earlier (cf. Hauser1962 / Westwood, 1961), a growth of alternatives to the bar scene started to happen during the 1970’s, along with a rapid commercialisation from the 1980’s onwards. Whilst it may seem odd to see the development of mass discos such as Bangs in the 1970’s and Heaven in the 1980’s, or the 1990’s street life in Soho around Compton Street, or in Manchester’s ‘village’, as a social movement, they are certainly large scale collective behaviours which have constituted social change in quite dramatic ways(cf Whittle, 1994). Initially, they were largely male centred: latterly, there has been a growth in both the lesbian and bisexual scenes. Some might even argue that the ‘scene’ has done more to liberate lesbian and gay lives than any of the more overt political movements! Alongside an elaborate bar scene,there also exists a network of organisations:  in 1996  in London, for instance, you could find groups for the Welsh, Cypriots, Blacks, Orientals, Asians and Jewish People (‘Kosher Gays’); and gay groups for  badminton, squash, Lycra Cycling, windsurfing, football, bridge, swimming  and sailing ;  alongside arts groups, gay accountants and gay businessmen, chamber choirs, pagans and occultists, gay teenage Groups, groups for those ‘under 25’ (Forbidden fruits) as well as ‘over 40’s’ and ‘over 50’s’. And in the midst of all this were the cyberqueers !(Digital diversity).[5]

Closely allied is the spread of gay and lesbian media.  From the invisibility of  existence in the 1960’s in all media save a few sensational and negative tabloid presentations (Pearce 1974) and a small array of early , largely unsuccessful magazines (the staid Man and Society of the Albany Trust, the CHE news magazine Lunch and the glossy but short lived bisexual Jeremy), came a period of experimentation (Gay News started publishing as a radical collective in June 1972, but became increasingly ‘professional’ with a circulation of 20,000 by 1976 ; Gay Scotland started in 1973 and had a circulation of 2,000 in 1983 Him No 63). By the 1980’s, there was a well established market for gay readers ( Gay News merged with Gay Times in 1983 (when it had a readership of around 50,000?),  and a ‘free press’ distributed through bars and meeting places started to become available in most large cities (initially Capital Gay, followed by The Pink Paper, and Boyz) By the 1990’s, a very confident journalistic world existed  : glossy, glitzy and nowhere near so directly political as its predecessors: Diva, Attitude, Phase became mouthpieces of a new style L&GM.[6]  And closely allied was the development of a broader L&G media culture.There is now significant greater presence in other media including TV :  perhaps uniquely Channel 4 started the first gay film series In the Pink for eight weeks in September 1986 ;  Out on Tuesday  started in  1989 and gained an audience of over a million. GayTimes is the current TV journal for Lesbian and Gays and found on BBC2 (cf Burston & Richardson, 1995). Likewise, the popular culture and film industries have become more and more visibly gay. Many people get involved in the production of these media events – and a lot more ‘consume’ them. There are large celebratory gatherings such as the Annual Stonewall Equality Pride (the third was in 1995) held in the large Albert Hall and attracting upwards of 6,000 people – along with celebrities, political support and ‘stars’. (The 1995 show gathered &100, 000). All this media work is crucial to the public life of the L&GM – it gives it a visibility, a liveliness and a mode of communication that many less successful movements simply do not have.And it has changed out of all recognition in the past twenty years ( cf Howes, 1993).

Next, there are the self help social worlds. From small counselling agencies such as the Albany Trust- staffed by one professional counsellor – which were formed in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, a web of support systems have grown : Friend (CHE’s counselling arm- ‘Fellowship for the Relief of the Isolated and Emotionally in Need and Distress’!)  was formed in  1971;  Icebreakers ( a more radical support group which rejected professional counsellors) was formed in 1973 ;  the London Gay Switchboard was founded in 1974 (receiving some 20,000 calls in its first year;  and over a million calls in the next ten), and led to the setting up of a nation wide  service of help lines. By the 1990’s there were over a hundred such lines, many sponsored by local authorities and employing professional support.  Since the advent of AIDS there has also been a proliferation of HIV supports  and scores of specialist support groups- some 25 HIV groups in London alone in 1996.  This voluntary sector has become increasingly professionalised. (cf. Babuscio, 1976; Macourt, 19887), and has – for instance – estbalished police liasison committees: something which the early Gay Liberation Movement would scarecly have believed (or wished to be!) possible.

Then there is the more academic wing of the movement – The Ivory Closet of Lesbian and Gay Studies, a social world which has gathered its own momentum through books and conferences. (cf. Plummer, 1992; Wilton, 1995). From the earliest days of the Albany Trust, leaflets and books have been produced which put forward an analysis of the lesbian and gay experience , alongside analyses of the homophobia and hetersexism which challenge the movement. Such intellectuakl work os crucial to the ‘claims making’ activities of any social movement. And although there were relatively few people doing this work in the 1970’s (and often in caucuses such as those which produced With Downcast Gays, the Gay Left journal, and Homosexuality and Anti-Psychiatry), by the 1980’s a steady band of gay and lesbian academics started to appear- holding their own conferences, writing their own library of books, starting their own courses (See Plummer, 1992).

Yet another crucial world in the L&GM is that of the Gay Pride Marches. These are the huge symbolic rallying events of the movement: although generally only happening once a year, they play an enormously significant and powerful symbolic role.  When they commenced in London in 1972, they attracted only a small devoted political crowd: about 2,000 people. Throughout the 1980’s, they grew significantly ( The 1988 Section 28 march is regarded as a landmark in size and political  involvement). By the 1990’s the size has become enormous – combined with a Festival, and estimates of around a quarter of a million are not uncommon. But the nature of the rally has also changed: from being largely political and campaigning, it has now become largely expressive of a life style commitment and much more commercialised. But such rallies also perform a global function – uniting cultures, as in the 1992 EuroPride. There are many allied symbolic events like the Brighton Pride, Pride West, Pride Scotland, Pride Arts Festivals, the L&G Film Festivals, SM Pride,  ‘It’s Queer Up North’ and Candlelight Memorials (Terrence Higgins 28th May 1990)[7]

Finally, a new social movement world has to be that which is emerging around the Internet. There are signs, and especially amongst the young, that the ‘web’ is becoming an increasingly important way of communicating, and that some of this communicating is based around political issues. A 1995  Gay Times listed a wide variety of sites – many linked to the scene,. but quite a few linked to political activity. (Digital Diversity; Europride 96; Gay men fighting AIDS; L & G Lawyers; Pride; Stonewall; the Pink Practice – and many others- had web sites).[8]




All successful social movements are moved on through contestation, schism and conflict : without these they become static, wither and often die. The strength of the L&GM can be seen through the eyes of these schisms. One cluster of schisms are external : there has to be a powerful sense of something being wrong, of change that is needed, and of enemies. There is a public drama in which certain marker events become symbolic of potential (and actual) change. In general, the past thirty years has seen an increasing mainstreaming of the issues here.  But other schisms (and this is sometimes too neglected) are internal to the movement : they establish contrasting arenas of action, mark out boundaries, give the movement an inner dynamic for change, and perpetually remind the participants that the Lesbian and Gay Movement is far from a homogenous or consensual movement.




                        The Enemy Out There : Outer Schisms

The UL L&GM may be depicted as engaging with a ceasless stream of  small episodic conflicts, organised campaigns which generally focus upon rights and civil liberties, and much longer term ‘struggles’ whereby heterosexuality and heterosexism, the gender roles they endorse,  and the families they sustain become the major symbolic enemy. I will deal with the first two briefly here.

Episodic conflicts includes such things as  the Law Lords finding International Times guilty of ‘conpiracy to corrupt public morals’ for publishing contact ads for gay men (1972) and the  Gay News Blasphemy Trial which led to the Gay News Defence Fund(1977). But these  are short lived: they galvanise, are important  symbolically – epsecially in ‘quiet times’; but fade. Campaigns mobilise for longer periods of time. They include the long running campaigns to correct the many weaknesses of the Wolfenden legislation : changing the law in Scotland and Norther Ireland (The 1976 UK Sexual Offences Act is extended to Scotland in 1980 and  to Northern Ireland in 1982)  ; changing the age of consent (in 1981, the Criminal Law Revision Committee recommended reduction to 18; in 1994 it was ammended- though by then the favoured age for camaigners was 16 and not 18: Stonewall played a key role, and there were mass demonstrations); the positive images campaigns; sex education, Operation Spanner, and the like. The list is long.

There were however two galvanising campaigns during the 1980’s that require special attention. The first dominated the earlier years of this period and centred around AIDS. The second was the unexpcted resurgence of activism that happened as a result of Section 28. The campigns around HIV and AIDS rescued a slumbering gay movement from the late 1970’s and – in the midst of great tragedy- served to reviatlsie and reactivate the movement. Significantlym this happend initially through the Terrence Higgins Trust, established in 1982 (by friends of the first British gay man to die with AIDS), getting its first government grant of £35,000 in 1985 ( A brief account is to be found in  King : 1993 p208-216). It became a leading campaign body but it also signposted a different style of gay politics, one which had to be more professional, more informed, angry but  responsible, and capable of working with government and other professionals as part of the AIDS Industry. (See Patton). Although it was to became the leading movements, many others were spawned : Scottish AIDS Monitor, National AIDS Trust. Crusaid, Body Positive, Positively Women, Blacklines, Mainlinesr, Frontliners,  Mainliners,  Project Sigma, London Lighthouse.

All of this mirrors the development of AIDS generally. A leading historian of HIV , Virginia Berridge,  suggests that AIDS policy in the UK has moved through 4 main phases.  Between 1981-6 there was a policy from below, heavily shaped by the gay community’s own response. 1986-7 brought a period  of ‘wartime emergency’ when very considerable activity (not least the £5 million leaflet blitz on all households in the UK and  the notorious iceberg imagery of Don’t Die of Ignorance). 1987-9 was a stage of ‘normalisation’ and ‘professionalisation’  leading to the current period where ‘AIDS is potentially at one and the same time being mainstreamed and marginalised’ (Berridge, 1996: p8)  Progressively, AIDS work has moved out into the statutory bodies and the voluntary bodies: sometimes this meant an active support for ‘local lesbian and gay organisations., switchboards and the like (often it did not). Gay marginalization is a central concern – epsecially in the degaying and regaying of AIDS debates.

A second key campaigning issue was against Section 28 of The Local Government Act, 1988. Initially proposed by Dame Jill Knight and Lord Hawsbury,  and lost because of a general election, Clause 28  was finally introduced by David Witlshire and Clause  28 became Section 28 of the Local Government Act on 24th May 1988.[9]  Its key provisions stipulated that aLocal authority shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or teach the acceptablity of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship. But it recognised the need for education which might prevent the speread of disease. It is generally seen as a very poor law – the language is highly ambiguous,  it is directed at local authorities only; the third clause which is linked to HIV and sex education leaves many possiblities open. To date has it not been put into effect (although it has encouraged self sensorship and fear). Yet at the same time , it had a remarkable symbolic value  signposting a ‘moral civil war’ (Weeks, 1995: p9). Not just an attack on homosexuals, it provided a rallying cry over many issues, uniting the liberal humaniost lobby in opposition. As David Evans notes,  it links to

local authority power; the teaching profession ; sex education ; childhood innocenece and suggestibilty; the sanctity of the family and illness of plague dimensions; all galvanised under the banner threat of permissiveness’ ( Evans p125)

But it was also a rallying cry for the gay movement- and movements needs symbolic markers events or they lose their momentum.  Apart from a several major public demonstrations against the Bill (in Manchester a crowd of 13 -20,000 ; in London, some 30,000 protested on 30th April) there were also some significant shifts in tactcial style. Most notably, there were angry abseiling Lesbian on ropes in the House of Lords shouting ‘Lesdbians are angry’ ;  and the invasion fo the Six O clock news (cf Carter, 1992) . The battle over Clause 28 is yet to be fully documented (but see Colvin and Hawksley, 1989; Thomas & Costigan, 1990; Carabine, 1995). It is generally seen as a ‘watershed in the struggle for gay equality’ ((Jeffery-Poulter, 1991: p234), and  as ‘the coming of age of the gay and lesbian movement’ (Capital Gay, 18.3.88). It must surely be one of the ironies of Lesbian and Gay Politics in the UK that the very moment when lesbians and gays were seemingly most under attack , a revitalised and strengthened movement emerges. Section 28 was simultanously one of the most severe attacks on gay rights since the founding of GLF in 1970, and the precipitator of the next activist generation.

                                    The Enemy Within : Internal Schisms

A feature of social movement analysis that is often ignored, but which at least in the Lesbian and gay case in the UK, seems crucially important is that of  internal schisms.  Maybe because in actuality there is little to hold lesbians and gays together – it is an ‘invented category’ mobilised through a collective identity politics –  differences have, do and will always abound. These diffferences generate consoderbale interanl conflict, but they keep the movement alive and give it the dynamism for it to sustain, grown and change. Schisms may lead to solidarity. Below, I try to capture a few of these.

‘We’re just like you’ / ‘Fuck you in the face!’[10] : Assimliationists and Transgressors

The classic split is between liberal and radicals.  The liberal wing of the movement has a clear focus on ‘rights’ and ‘respectability’. There have been changes in these groups – the first ones were small and closeted, the more recent ones like Stonewall are much more visible, ‘out’ and bigger. But their central strategies have been that of pressure groups, campaigning for change. Usually small, always middle class and ‘respectable’, they have worked within a framework of minority rights, their central claim being ‘equality before the law’.

The old law reform movement (HLRS) embodied this position initially. It continued throughout the 1970’s as the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. Formed in 1969 as the surviving group from the law changes in the North of England, changing its name in 1971, it maintained a central committment to law reform (launcing a new draft bill in 1975). In 1970, there were 500 members in 15 local groups; by 1972, 2,800 members in 60 groups (Weeks : 1990: p210).  For much of the 1970’s , its Annual conference was a major symbolic rally. By 1980 it had over 4,000 individual members and over a hundred groups (Marshall, John ‘The Politics of Tea and Sympathy’ p77).(which in 1980 split into two groups -one for campaigning (CHE) and Grass Roots change  (see Grass Roots: A Campaign Manual for Gay People) and one for social needs and counselling GCO).  became more bureacucartic, cumbersome than most… in 1978. GAA (The gay activists Alliance was formed) to deal with(see Stephe Gee: Gay Activism, Ch 16..) which aimed to ‘co-ordinate at a national level the fight afgainst the increasing number of attacks against homosexual and homsoexuality. we see our struggle as part of other oppressed people…” p200

Another lobbying group Stonewall appears in the mid 1980’s and becomes the major organisation for the 1990’s. After the campaigns around the notorious Clause 28, this position resurfaced as the slick, well organised and much more professional campaign group of Stonewall (and the associated Iris Trust Charity), set up in May 1989. It is characterised by  assimilation, a focus on law, the use of star celebrities (Ian McKellen, Michael Cashman), professional lobbying, drafting equality bills and the like. Its aims are stated by Ian McKellen:

Our aim will be to identify in what ways the law  should be changed.. and to provide people who can function well in the media, people who can argue for the  changes that need to happen. We are keen to get people who are gay and lesbian in the mainstream of society, who are not out, to come out. If they know there’s an organisation like this that is well respected.. they are far  more likely to come out and help in raising money and offering expertise….(Jeffery-Poulter , 1991 p246)

Stonewall produced a draft Homosexual Equality Bill in 1990[11]. And they played a major role in the campaigns around lowering the age of consent. Stonewall played a amjore role. Its leaflet ‘The Case for Change: Arguments for an Equal Age of Consent’ (Stonewall, 1993) helped estbalish the terms of this debate : equality before the law, equal rights, , the right to privacy, and gayness assmed to be a condition estblished by the early years and hence no threat. Reformist movements have inevitably taken the essentialist side of the constructionist/essentialist debate. [12] Along with them were a string of important pressure groups were working for change: The Lesbian and Gay Police Association, The Lesbian and Gay Lawyer’s Association,  the Lesbian and Gay Christian movement; and Rank Outsiders (the gays in the military group). Even the Conservative Party developed a more active campainging group – TORCHE.[13]

By contrast the radical -revolutionary  wing of the movement has little concern for ‘respectability’and assimilation. Its foundation in the UK was the (relatively) short lived Gay Liberation Front, which Simon Watney has called ‘the most important movement for homosexuals that Britain has known’ (see his ‘The ideology of GLF’ p 65 of GLCollective 1991)  and more recently it has seen groups like ACT UP, Outrage and various Queer Groups develop. The radical wing has little interest in being respectable or professional, or even prioritising legal changes. Instead it adopts a much more militantly confrontational approach – seeking widespread revolutionary social change – a restructuring of gender, family and the whole society, not simply an acceptance or equality before the law.

The GLF was the first radical group in England. From a meeting in the basement of the LSE on 13th October 1970 where nineteen people attended – one woman, the rest gay men, it led rapidly to larger and larger meetings, marches and protests. In these earliest days it was a movement largely about personal liberation, consciousness raising. It had no formal leadership – and indeed any attempt to impose structure or leadership on its growing amorphous mass was swiftly rejected. Perhaps because of this, along with the proliferation of schisms and conflicts, it was to be very short lived. But it was nevertheless overwhelmingly important : it was the founding of the Movement in Britain, and it was significant in making gayness ‘come out’ . It was never to go back in again. GLF was the first and most triumphal of the radical wings of the social movements. It achieved many things : a manifesto (summer 1971), original critiques , the first demonstration (against the film Boys in the Band, and a torchlight demonstration in Highbury Fields) the first non commercial dances (initially at the LSE In December 1970 and then at KensingtonTown Hall), a proliferation of pamphlets (With Downcast Gays, the Anti-Psychiatry Group), a film (John Shane’s Come Together) and a broadsheet (Come Together). Slogans and badges were everywhere (8,000 badges were sold by GLF in the first year).  But above all it raised public awareness of homosexuality in a way that simply had not happened before, and it brought ‘coming out’ as a major political process to the forefront. It was largely middle class and overwhelmingly male ( Weeks suggests a ratio of 5 men to each woman: Weeks, 1990: p191) Despite its many successes, it was to be short lived. As  the scale of the meetings grew and grew so did the scale of the conflicts from within. There were many : reformers versus radicals, women versus men, socialists versus libertarians. In Watney’s account (p67), possibly the major early split to occur was between what Watney describes as ‘actionists’ (the organised Leninist members) and the “life stylers” linked to the alternative society of the time ; it was not long before this blossomed into the other full scale conflict of the history of the gay movement – a split between radical drag and ‘straights’. As Watney, again,  says: ‘The situation was extremely confusing. Half the leadership of GLF appeared to be Maoists at one meeting and Radical Drag Queens at the next” (p70).

Since the arrival of the Gay Liberation Front in 1970, there have always been small groupings making radically  transgressive claims through dramatic performances. Their agendas seeks total societal change and the movement uses slogans, street marches, street theatre as its central tools. It is directly confrontational – in your face. These worlds have never been especially large (even in the early meetings of GLF in London, numbers probably never topped 500) and its existence has often been precarious : because it is always anti hierarchical and rejects organisation it lacks the resources to moblise consitsnetly and for long periods. It has to keep rediscovering itself.[14]  By the late 1980’s, however, radical gay politcs was back on the agenda in a big way. Shepherd and Wallis  writing at the time comment:

Whereas GLF politics adopted the stance of a romantic Big Refusal, the new generation is marked by an angry and radical/revoluitionary desire for change. GLF burst forth in a peiod of relative economy stablity and social and political liberalism : present struggles grapple within a period of intense political reaction” (Shepherd and Wallis, 1989 p19)

This was written seconds away from the arrival of Queer Politics. Queer Politics enters around 1988 – almosty the same time as in the USA. A leaflet circulating in 1991 put it bluntly:

“Queer means to fuck with gender. There are straight queers, bi queers, tranny queers, lez queers, SM queers, fisiting queers in every single street in this apathetic country of ours… Each time the word ‘queer’ is used it defines a strategy, an attitude, a reference to other identities and a new self understanding. (And queer can be qualified as ‘more queer’, ‘queer’, or ‘queerest’ as the naming devlops into a more commplex process of identification )”. (Smyth, 1992 :p17; p20)

ACT-UP  was to hold its first meetings in January 1989 (modelled on the US, two US activists, Rae Bos and Rob Archer ,came to speak of their experiences) ; Outrage would have its first public meeting at the London L& G Centre in May 1990; and a range of smaller, often short lived,  groups appeared with names like PUSSY (Perverts undermining state scruitiny) , Subversive,  Street Queers,  Queer Power Now, and Homocult , an anoymous group of dykes and faggots who produced their own manifesto and ran a club called Scum, There were new clubs like Queer Nation in London and Flesh in Manchester; and new magazines (and zines) like the Brighton based A Queer Tribe. Queer internetworks appeared. And with all this came Queer Theory too : a Lesbian and Gay Studies Conference at Essex University in December 1990 gave prominence to it, whilst a full blown conference was held at York University in 1992. A Manchester based ‘cell’ capurtues the new imagery:

Our language is perversion
Corruption Reclaiming Ascting
Chnaging Surviving subverting
Evolving Life
Their language is concerving
Stagnating Lingering Death
Love Yourself (Cited in MortP210  & From Sinfield What’s in a name?)

Gender Wars : Radical Lesbian  Feminists and their enemies.

Absolutely crucial to any understanding tof the L&G Movement in the UK, is the schism over gender: from the very outset the relationships between the women’s movement, the lesbian movement and the gay male movement has been a hotly contested zone. In 1972, for instance, lesbians split away from the GLF, uncomfortable about their ‘gender fucking’ and angry about their mysognistic gay ghetto sexuality. But throughout its short history there has been an ongoing series of rifts. At a conference on the Women’s  Liberation Movement and Men in London in 1980, one lesbian remarked:

I will no longer work with gay men. There is no way, absolutely no way, in which our interest can be said to be the same. Gay men, perhaps more than any other men, ally themselves with the activities and products of sexism. More than any other men they choose to act and construe themselves , and each other, in ways dominated by phallocentric ideologies and activities…

(Stanley, 1981 p211-2)

Her arguments highlight how gay men are are deeply misogynist. Women’s issues are ignored, erased, and marginalsed by gay men. The most prominent spokesperson in the UK for this position was (although she is now in Australia)  Sheila Jeffreys – advocating a very distinctive separatist lesbian -feminist  identity based upon radical feminist lesbianism and both angry and despairing of the male patriarchal preoccupation with sex, fucking, sm, pornography, and  cruising.[15]   The splits are a recurrent feature of the politics of the UK L&GM. In 1985,  a symbolic marker event was the attempt by Lesbians Against Sado-Masochism (LASM) to ban sm supporters from the newly established London Lesbian and Gay Centre. A vitriolic battle ensued – and LASM lost. One lesbian feminist describes the vote :

The Centre was packed with several hundred people, 40 per cent of whom were women. The s-m dykes sat in the front row of the hall, completely surrounded by gay men, whilst the feminists clustered in the middle. The s-m contingent said nothing. They didn’t have to given that at every opportunity liberal apologists and gay men sprang to their defence, to roars of approval. Whenever a lesbian feminist managed to get a word in she was met with jeers and verbal abuse. After the vote was taken, the men and s-m dykes had won, even though the majority of the women present voted against the motion. It was devastating. The Centre ended up a men’s club, to which women were admitted if they toed the line. (Reeves & Wingfield, 1996:p62-3)

Like the other schisms, such feminist splits regularly repeat themselves. This is not suprising since their very analysis of the nature of lesbianism and Women’s oppression from radical lesbians is at odds with that of most gay men,other shades of feminism, and many lesbians.  Most recently, in a telling collectioon, radical lesbian feminists have suggested that virtually every recent development in the UK – from pro sex groups such as Women Against Censorhsip and  Lesbian -s-m groups, trhrough bisexualities, lipstick lesbians, most ‘Lesbianandgay Studies’, news and Televsiion representaion,  as well as all the Queer stuff, have been part of a backlash against lebsian feminist analyses. (Harne & Miller, 1996). But for still other lesbians these very developments may be seen as progressive and liberating!

Class Wars : The Ideal (Pomo) Homo and the Working Class

Many of the movement founders had a strong connection to a Marxist style politics that have been aborent to many others. As in many other countries, the radical wing of gay politics was clearly left inspired – just as much feminist politics was. Gay Marxist discussion groups were common in the early days of the GLF, often Leninist with a strong base in class politics. By 1974 Gay Left had been formed as a consciousness raising group of left issues, and by Autumn 1975 it was producing its own journal : Gay Left. It sought to “contribute towards a Marxist analysis of homosexual oppression..; to encourage .. and understanding of the links between the struggle against sexual oppression and the struggle for socialism”. [16] Its success was relatively shorte lived, but other groups continued in its wake. Most noteable, there has been a strong presence of the Socialist Worker’s Party  [17] at most rallies and campaigns throughout the entire period under discussion. But all of this has been decidedly on the fringe. For, in distinct contrast, a muich stronger trend has been pushing in the opposite direction: a trend towards the celebration of capitalism, a procupoation with gay consumerism  and a massive commericalization of the entire gay and lesbian scene. Left critics remain ; but they are swamped in a world of  ‘Gay Lifestyle Events (the Ideal Homo)’, Gay Business Organsiations, ‘Boyz culture’ and ‘Lipstick Lesbians’. To look at the 150 page glossy full colour  catalogue of Gay Pride 96  is to enter an apolitical world of clubbing, Calvin Kleins, Mr Gay UK,  designer beers, body piercing, kitchens styles, dream houses, gay holidays, gay marriages, themed parties, suntan products, gyms for the body beautiful, antiques, flash cars, internets, financial services, dance, video and media of all forms; and all this sandwiched between ads for Beneton, Eyeworks, Virgin Vodka, Mercury , Buffalo Boots and  American Express. Later in the year, the mega store Virgin produced its own 50 page designer catalogue for gays : Crash, Bang Wallop! The Social Movement that was once the Gay Liberation Front has indeed changed. But the critical voices still shout out in codemnation, and not just the ‘left’ but also lesbian feminists.  As Chris Woods remarks in an analysis of all this: ‘The politically active in the community have been margainsliaed in the interst of profit’ (Woods, 1995: p45) (see Field, 1995). It has led – currently as I write this – to the ‘Anti-Gay’ Movement within the L&G Movement (Simpson, 1996). A schismatic paradox indeed!

 The March of Differences

There were many other splits and schisms. For instance, in 1972 the radical faeries helped foster a split putting transgender conflict firmly on the agenda. In 1975, paedophiles were roundly condemned in CHE and Gay News, leading them to create their own controvesrial and excluded organsiations – PAL (Paedophile Action for Liberation and PIE The Paedophile Information Exchange). A shrewd move because these groups subsequently became a major target of public attack. kicked out of the organisation. Likewise, differences centered on sm were commonly discussed,like the one (raised above) at the London L&G Centre in 1985. ‘Operation Spanner’ in 1992 invloved police arresting a group of gay sadomasochists who were subsequnetly found guilty and sent to prison (although an appeal was made to the European Court of Human Rights). Ironically increasing its visisbility, possibly its practice, and deepened a further schism (cf Thompson, 1993 ; Healy, 1996) . And then there has been the pornography schism – a constant symbol of dispute (the London Lesbian and Gay Book Store – Gay’s the Word – has always refused to stock gay pornography); Most recently, bisexuality has become a challneging issue (Eadie, 1993, Wilkinson, 1996). The L& G Movement in the UK – as elsewhere- is the umbrella movement for a myriad of  ‘sex wars’.

There were many other splits. For example, from the early 1980’s , race became an increasingly recognised issue. Starting notably within the lesbian and women’s movement, the gay movement slowly started to take these issues seriously. Yet  although a black gay group first appeared in London in 1981 (Weeks, 1990 : p236), gay photographer Sunil Gupta  could write in 1987, that you could walk into Gay’s the Word books store and not find a general Black section, never mind a specific awareness of cultural and ethnic  He complained : ‘There is no specifically Black/Brown gay space’ ( Gupta, 1989 p164).L ikewiseHelen (Charles) worries about Queer Niggers….Shakti (The South Asian Lesbian and Gay network) was set up in 1988  (to be worked on!!!!)  Closely allied were generational splits: even in the eraly days of GLF, there was always a noticeable tendncy for the younger and older to not get on well. But taking root  from the late 1980’s onwards, several issues served to clarify generational boundaries. Despised largely by older gay men and women, the word ‘queer’ from 1988 onwards became a marker for ‘transgressive youth’. It captured a new generation’s energy and provided a stragegy for radically transcending categories. It was a key symbolic marker event. As Frank Mort says:

Gay politics has been cast as flabby and reformist; the period of comfortable, middle aged men holding to a tired 1970’s sexual agenda which has now lost its way. It is queer which now signifies youth, style and vibrancy and expresses the strongest dissatisfactions with an equal rights politics of inclusion, obsessed with piecemeal gains (Mort, 1994 : p204).

But it was more than just ‘queer’. The changing nature of the scene was quite pronounced: more comeercialism for sure, but also a youtful world that appeared more at ease with itself. Noticeably some lesbians and gays seemed to be coming toegether  more :

Sex between gay men and lesbians is also coming out of the closet…Now people talk openly of their opposite-sex-same-sexuality lovers and at the party after the s-m Pride March a gay man and a lesbian had sex on the dance floor, but it wasn’t heterosexuality. You can tell… (McKerrow, cited in Eadie, 1992 :p150).

Such were the emerging internal schismatic tendencies in the middle of the 1990’s.


The UK G&LM has all the features that identify modern  social movements and can be fruitfully approached : it wages war on symbolic grounds – it is part of  what Hunter has called the ‘Culture wars’, engaged in the project of mapping out the moral boundaries of society. The very movement itself is self conscious of the symbolism and signs that it uses. The movement also stretches far into every day life- it is not simply that the movement can be analysed as an organisation separate from other spheres of activity: gay and lesbian activists ‘live the life’ and it permeates everyday experience.  Finally, the movement is global and planetary : it stretches out into all corners of the globe and although it may take on radically different forms , it is  everywhere. (CF Alberto Melucci : Nomads of the Present, 1989)…. to be finished?


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Table 1 : Brief Chronology of some major events in the development of the politics of  L&GM in the UK

1951 – 4 Prosecutions of homosexuals including John Gielgud, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, Peter Wildeblood, and Michael Pitt-River
1954        Home Secretary establishes Wolfenden Committee
1957        Wolfenden Report published and recommends decriminalisation for male homosexuality for adults over 21
1958        (May 12th) Homosexual Law reform Society established. Albany Trust is its charitable wing.
1962        Labour MP Leo Abse tries to introduce Bill to change law: defeated
1963        The Minorities Research Group (Counselling for Lesbians ) is established
1965        Kenric (Social group for Lesbians is founded
1965-6    further attempts at Law reform
1967        Sexual Offences Act receives Royal Assent on July 27th
1969        North western Branch of HLRS .
1970        (October ) GLF established
1971        Friend founded ;  Women’s Liberation split
1972        CHE renamed and transformed; Gay News starts publishing ; July : First Pride March with 2,000
1973        Icebreakers set up
1974        final demise of GLF; London Gay switchboard established
1975:       Gay Marxists
1975 -9   the struggle over paedophilia
1980        Law reform in Scotland
1982        Law reform in Northern Ireland
1982/3   Terrence Higgins Trust established
1983        London Lesbian and Gay Centre – 3/4 million 1983 from GLC
1985        s-m dykes and London Lesbian and gay centre conflict
1987/8   Section  28, later Clause 28 (Local Government Act); major campaigning
1988        Education Act (family values)
1989        Stonewall established ; ACT UP and start of Queer Politics
1990        OutRage
1993        (another) Education Act ( sex education and family values)
1994        Vote on Age of Consent : reduced to 18 ; 150,000 attend Pride


[1]  I am employing throughout my analysis Blumer’s very broad defintion of a social movement (cited at the start) in which many sectors – pressure groups, self help groups, community and social weorlds, media – may all be seen as part of the Lesbian and Gay Social Movement. For others, a more narrow political focus may be central but to me this just does not do justice to the workings of the movement.

I have also found the idea that “social movements can be described as dramas in which protagonists and antagonists compete to affect audience’s different interpretations of power in a variety of domains, including those pertaining to religious, piolitical, economic or lofe style arrangements” ( Benford and Scott, 1991992 p86)  a useful one.  In general, I write – as usual- within a symbolic interactionist frame of social movement analysis. This has recently been clearly discussed as harbouring five themes : emergence,  symbolization, cognitive and affective transformation, interactive determination, and fluidity. (Snow and Davis, 1995))- a neo symbolic interactionism emerged. The symbolic interactionist account of social movements and collective behaviour has a long history back to Park, through Blumer and onto Turner, Killian ,  Shibutani, Gusfield , Snow  and recent  allied theories of ‘constructionism’,  ‘frame’ and ‘identity’.

[2]On social world theory see especially Strauss (1979). I discuss it more fully in Plummer (1995:Ch9)

[3] Each of these terms is carefully chosen because they reflect large bodies of writing that deal with social movements. Thus resource mobilzation theory is suggested by  Zald, Tilly and Gamson;  claims making is suggasted by Spector and Kitsuse,  frame  is suggested by Snow. I am not follwoing any one of these theories but find merit in each!

[4] Infamous, because it back-fired. Many of Major’s givernment were subsequnetly exposed as living morally dubious private lives, and the accusation of a ‘sleaze’ government were then made. But as I am writing this – November 1996 – yet another ‘family values’ campaign is being waged along with the report of a commision on the teaching of moral values in shcools (one which incidentally does not give a clear priority to the family)

[5]  See the listings in any issue of Gay Times, from which these were culled.

[6]  For a brief discussion of the histoirty of the eraly gay magazines see Weeks 1990 218-223

[7]Table 1: Estimates of Gay Pride size

1972        2,000 first L&G March in London ?

1984        1,000       (Gay Times  – p18 No 72, Aug 1994)

1985        7, 500      (Capital Gay , July 11th 1986 p12)

1988        4,000 –     Lesbian Strength March (Gay Times, p22 July 19880

1988        29,000 –  p12 GT Aug 1988 (119)

1989        20,000  – p10 GT Aug 1989 131

1990        38,000 – p8 GT Aug 1990 p143

1991        10,000 –  Manchester Liberation’91  (Gt May 1991  152  p 17)

1991        45,00  –    GT Aug 91 p 13  no 155

1992        100,000 – GT  Aug 92   issue 167  p12  EuroPride 92

1995        200,000                    GT Feb 96 p22

[8] See The Internet Gay Times 1995 December No 207 p12-18. In the same issues a Gay Time CyberQueer Directory is announced.

[9] Its key provisions stipulated:

28-1 A Local auhtority shall not

(a) intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intenetion of promoting homosexuality

(b) promote the teaching in a maintained school of ther acceptablity of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship

(3) Nothing in subsection (1) above shall be taken to prohibit the doing of anything for the purpose of treating or preventing the speread of disease. (Local governemnet Act 1988)

[10]     important early US studies are worth a careful rveiew because they are very sentive to these eraly schisms and conflicts: Toby Marotta’s the Politics of Homosexuality, and Alice Echols, Daring to Be Bad..

[11] see Gay Times , July 90 for a summary p18-19 by Peter Ashman

[12] As the Sunday Times remarked: ‘The remarkable aspect of the debate is that no senior fugure has some forward to rally these dissident views’ 29 /1/94 p7). The Telegraph, Express, Mail, Star and Sun all opposed quality biut favoured 18 (The Telgraph went for 21!!). A NOP poll of 751 electors showed that 44% favoured 21, 35% favoured 18, and only 13% favoured 16 (Sunday times, 20.2.94 p1). See Wilson (1995) for some accounts of all this; and there is an imoportant analysis of essentialism /constructionism in this debate to be found in Waites, 1995

[13]Formally, the UK political system is dominated by three major political parties and a cluster of alterantive political groupings. The Liberal party , always a distinct minority, has for the entire thirty years period been the least problematic grouping : always at each stage in support of lesbian and gay rights and consistently voted for pro gay legislation. It has had its own scandles ( not least surrounding Jeremy Thorpe, its leader in1976), but it has consistently provided a backdrop of support for the gay movement. By contrast, the Conservative Party – which has been the ruling party from 1970-4, and from 1979 till the current day – has overwhelmingly been the anti-gay party : it has generally fostered a climate throughout the entire period of homonegativity, discrimination and heterosexulism. It has been the prime framer of  the context in which the L&GM has worked and often estblished the very struggles to which the movement has had to respond. It is the party which championed Section 28 : it is the party which resisted changes in the Age of consent; it was the party of law and order; and it was the party of the family, of a concern with ‘back to basics’. But that said, there have been interesting exceptions : conservatives who have come out as gay and left the party (Matthew Parrissh), conservatives who have overtly chaampioned gay causes ( Edwina Currie who was a leadfing figurte in the 1994 age of consent debate, favouring 16)  gay conservatives who have developed of a Conservative Campign for Homosexual Equality); and many conservatives  who have voted for gay rights in Parliament. It is quite wrong to posit therefore as some writers do a Conservative Party conspiracy against gays, althogh their general hostlltuy certain serves as a major mover of actvism. (cf Woods, 1995; Smith, 1994).

The Labour Party is possibly the most mixed response.  It was the party which faciliated the passge of the Sexual Ofences Act in 1967 – with Roy Jenkin as Home Secretary in a period of  rapid and massive liberalsing leglisation’ and it is the party which came to deveklop a quite radical approach to same sex relations during the 1980’s – notably in a number of Local Authroities which set up Gay Units, education programmes, equal oprtunities and non discrimiantiuon policies. The most famous of these was the campaing by the London Gretare London  Council (Run down and clsoed by the Tory party in 1986) which donated aroound 3/4 million in 1983, to set up a London Lesbian and Gay centre produced a m,ajor document in 1985 (just before its demise) on’Changing the World : A London Chartyer for Gay and Lesbian Rights’. Here is a far reachinfg document  which goes though many issues – media images, queer bashing,youth problems, education, religion, work and discrimination, lesiure, domestic relations, health, sdisability, agein, adotption and foestering, law, immigartion,. It produiced in the end no lkess that 142 reciomendations for change. And then it went out ofbusines….But aslthoughh the labourt paryty looks like it si the party of gays, it has had a number of setback…… voting, early days, traditionlaists etc….

And yet the national Labour party often acted hostileynto gays. At the start of the 1980’s, it had no positive piolicy. Only in 1981, throuygh the work of Lesbain and gays insider the Labour Party, did ithe NEC (National Executive Committee) endorse a policy docuement on The Rights of Gay Men and Women. On many bills the voting patterns of Labour members have been decidedly anti gay; and the

[14]   On the framing of  issues in social movements , see

[15] This conflict in general has a long history, and not just bvetween gay men and the women’s movement but within the women’s movement itself. For discussions of this see Vance, 1981; Echols, 198x; Leidholdt and raymond, 1990. The former is  the classic statement of the ‘sex feminists’ whilst the latter is the case made by the ‘anti-sex’ feminists.

[16] This culminated in a book in 1980 : Homosexuality: Power and Politics – after this the group drifted apart.

[17] See Noel Halifax (1988) for the SWP position.

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