Early Gay and Lesbian Youth Groups in England

Clifford Williams

Fifty years ago, in 1972, the first recognised U.K. Gay Pride event was held in London

Fifty years ago, in 1972, the first recognised U.K. Gay Pride event was held in London. It was organised and attended by two movements: The Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE). About 700 people attended the march, at the time it was considered daring and risky to be open about being gay. Gay in the 1970s meant being lesbian or homosexual. Bisexual and trans people also joined the gay movements. Trans people at that time were either cross dressers (transvestites) or transexuals (people who had undergone a sex change). The word transgender did not exist, and the word queer was a term of insult and abuse. That is why many people dislike that term. In 1972 gay sex between two men, where both or either person was under 21, was illegal. Even cuddling and kissing in public by two men could lead to a court case and many gay men were arrested and taken to court for meeting other men in a public place for sex. Growing up as a gay teenager in the 1970s was usually a very lonely existence. There was no internet, no mobile phones, and there was very little published material that was gay friendly. One of the few publications which catered for gay people was Gay News, a fortnightly newspaper. This was first published in June 1972. At its peak, it had a circulation of about 17,500 copies. Gay News contained listings of public houses where gays and lesbians were welcome, as well as local groups (mainly CHE) that met. There was also an advert section where individuals could seek to make contact with others. Those in rural areas and small towns were unlikely to ever see a copy of Gay News and even in the larger towns and cities very few places sold copies. WH Smith even banned its sale.
Early Gay and Lesbian Youth Groups in England
Gay teenagers at Manor Gardens 1985 (photo courtesy Gregg Blachford)

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CHE ran a campaign to lower the age of consent for gay sex to 16

CHE ran a campaign to lower the age of consent for gay sex to 16 (there were no laws prohibiting lesbian sex in private). Alongside that campaign, CHE also set up the first groups for under 21 gay youth. But many in CHE were nervous about that work as there was a threat of prosecution for ‘corrupting public morals’. With the reluctance of CHE to commit support to gay youth groups, Phillip Cox (1956-1992) and Paul Welch broke away from CHE and ran a group in London called the Gay Teenage Group. This unique and groundbreaking unofficial youth group was run by its members. It started meeting in premises in Holloway Road, London in 1976. Although some young women attended the LGTG, the need for a separate lesbian group was recognised and this was set up in 1979. In 1979 the London Gay Teenage Group (LGTG) moved to premises in Manor Gardens, N 7. Today there is a pink plaque at the entrance to the Manor Gardens Centre (put up by Islington Pride). Gay News listed the LGTG and a few other gay youth groups that had started to emerge in cities like Liverpool, Manchester and Leicester. In recognition of the need for more gay youth groups, people like Micky Burbidge, a civil servant, established the Joint Council for Gay Teenagers (JCGT). The JCGT helped people to set up other gay youth groups around the country. After a couple of years, they handed over their role to a new voluntary organisation called the Gay Youth Movement (GYM). GYM catered for a wider age range and accepted young people up to the age of 26. Around the country some gay youth groups were set up for young people up to the age of 26 and in other areas, they were restricted, like the LGTG, to 16- under 21-year-olds. The LGTG was officially recognised by the Inner London Education Authority in 1979. This enabled the group to apply for funding and in 1983 they appointed a part-time paid youth worker. However, the group was always led by the members. You can read much more about this topic in a new book: ‘Courage to Be: Organised Gay Youth in England 1967-1990’ by Clifford Williams. The Book Guild ISBN 9781913913632.
Ancestry UK
Early Gay and Lesbian Youth Groups in England

Clifford Williams

Clifford Willams wrote for Edition 6: LGBTQ+ History Month
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