The Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) has commissioned a new history of the organisation – and the individuals who made it. Peter Scott-Presland, the gay playwright and journalist, will write it.
CHE at its peak in the 1970s and 80s boasted over 100 local branches and 5,000 members. The counselling organisation Friend and the International Lesbian and Gay Association both came directly from it.
Members were key figures in the formation of the pioneering theatre group Gay Sweatshop, Gay News and London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard. They took on the British Government in the European Court, they made movies, and they helped literally thousands of people to ‘Come Out’ and embrace their sexuality.
“The time has come to correct the received history that the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) made all the running in the development of a gay identity and gay rights in the UK,” says Mr. Scott-Presland,.
GLF were in London, they were colourful, dramatic and admirably stroppy, and the media loved them because they were always good copy. GLF was a rainbow, CHE was beige.
“However, the truth is, as always, more complex.
“There were many overlaps and many people went along to both CHE and GLF,” he pointed out. “Many of the immediate demands were identical. It was the means which were different.
“CHE, which started in Manchester, always had a much more national identity, and because of the numbers of people involved, it had to be a much broader coalition. The publicity that GLF got then and now really reflects the London bias of the media.
“The local groups were really the heart of the organisation, and where the bravery lay,” Mr. Scott-Presland continued.
“In the early 1970s, trying to set up a gay club in Bolton, or selling fairy cakes on a stall at a local church fete as an openly gay man or lesbian, took just as much courage as taking part in a kiss-in in Trafalgar Square. It’s time all those modest heroes and heroines were acknowledged. Attention should be paid.
“This book could be just a rather arid record of meetings and manifestos, but I hope it will be much more than that – a complete social history of the gay life of the times, told through the voices of those who made that history.
“I’m anxious to hear from anyone who had contact with CHE, locally or nationally, at any time. Every CHE member and former member had and has a story to tell, and my job is to help them to tell it.”
Griffith Vaughan Williams, Secretary of CHE, said: “It’s good to have established this project, which has been in the air for quite some time, to tell readers about the ongoing campaign to give gay and lesbian people their rightful place in society. The book will no doubt surprise readers as to how much has been achieved, from CHE’s launch into the 21st Century.”
Ross Burgess, who will be acting as CHE’s copy editor, said that CHE has a fascinating story to tell at the heart of the struggle for gay rights in Britain.
“I am confident that Peter Scott-Presland is absolutely the right person to tell this story.”
The book is due to be delivered in the middle of 2012. Anyone who wants to be part of the book can contact Peter at homopromos(at)yahoo.co.uk, or by phoning 07404 617185.