AT the weekend a lunch gathering in London gave LGBT Humanists the opportunity to celebrate and reflect upon the work done by what Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of Humanists UK, called ‘our brilliant and tireless movement.’

image via YouTube

In a message published in the event’s programme, Copson, above, said:

“Together. we have played a major role in shaping society’s increasingly tolerant attitude to LGBT people. We have been instrumental in bringing about significant changes such as civil partnerships and same-sex marriage. which we will finally succeed in extending to Northern Ireland next year.

“Without the hard work, dedication and courage of those who came together forty years ago, and who have campaigned throughout the intervening decades. we would likely not have reached the point at which we stand today.

“In the face of overt bigotry from religious figureheads such as Mary Whitehouse, the founding members of the Gay Humanist Group made a stand for reason, compassion and dignity. It is on the shoulders of these founders and campaigners that we stand.

Members of LGBT Humanists pictured in 2017. Image via Facebook

“This fortieth year has seen a number of challenges. We have seen homophobic protests outside schools by religious factions furious at the inclusion of LGBT characters in story books; the number of homophobic hate crimes have more than doubled since 2014; and the rate of transphobic hate crimes has trebled, coinciding with the increasingly hostile tenor of public debate around transgender issues.

“Yet despite this we have also proudly achieved successes: same-sex marriage will finally be extended to Northern Ireland next year; our second Trans Day of Remembrance ceremony was our biggest; and we also saw the return of the LGBT Humanists Conference. which was sold out.

“Thank you to everyone in this room for your support so far.and in advance for your donations tonight. By continuing to stand up for Enlightenment values like rationality, kindness.and equality. we aim to make our next 40 years as significant and transformative as our last. Here’s to LGBT Humanists.”

Stuart McCaighy

In the programme, Stuart McCaighy, Chair of LGBT Humanists, wrote:

“When Mary Whitehouse brought her prosecution for blasphemous libel against Gay News in 1976 it was the first charge of its kind for over half a century. Whitehouse was reacting to the publication of James Kirkup’s poem entitled ‘The Love That Dares to Speak Its Name‘ depicting a Roman Centurion’s love for a crucified Jesus. The backlash led Whitehouse to suggest that an ‘homosexual, humanist lobby’ was to blame.

“‘That there was no such lobby, and the obvious fear that such an idea provoked, provided the spark which convinced us that the opportunity offered to a gay humanist group was too good to miss,’ wrote founding member George Broadhead of the group’s nucleus.

In 1981 the Gay Humanist Group created a festive card portraying Whitehouse as Enemy No 1 of freethought in the UK

“The group launched officially at the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) Brighton Conference in August 1979. Later, fellow founders Barry Duke and Brian Parry would explain what seemed to be a logical pairing of the humanist and gay causes, writing that ‘(b]y fighting ignorance, superstition, dogma and bigotry the Gay Humanist Group [hoped] to encourage more gays and humanists to come out and declare themselves and their convictions with pride.’

“Maureen Duffy, the group’s honorary president, defined the ‘ethics of compassion’ that marked the group in a 1980 address as ‘a fluid morality, based on a perception of fellowness, fellow feeling, fellow suffering.’ But this compassionate attitude would support a deep desire for change and a willingness to fight for it: ‘One very important aim for this association is to speak up wherever necessary from the rationalist stance’.

This Gay News cartoon featured in the programme. It depicts Mary Whitehouse, Iran’s hardline Muslim cleric Ayatollah Khomeini, and devout former Chief Constable of Manchester, James Anderton, a Baptist who orchestrated a vicious crackdown on gay activity and ‘immorality’ in general in the city. It has been claimed that Anderton said he had ‘a direct line to God’, and he became known as ‘God’s Copper’ due to his fanatical religious views.

“Over the following years the Gay Humanist Group (which became the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association in 1987) worked for change, inclusivity and celebration. The archives testify to interactions with numerous other active groups. also working for a more tolerant society. A glance through GALHA’s collected press releases and calls to action offers just a flavour of their work.

“Over the years. members called for the abolition of the blasphemy law, campaigned for equal age of consent, protested Christian ‘cure’ ministries, and slammed prejudice and bigotry everywhere from school boards to the armed forces.

GALHA were also pioneering in their offer of secular ceremonies of all kinds. In the face of ‘the backlash against lesbians and gays from reactionary forces capitalising on the AIDS crisis’, GALHA organised, promoted and performed affirmation ceremonies for gay couples.

“Particularly notable was the 1987 live broadcast of such a ceremony (with a script provided by GALHA) on Network 7, featuring, as described by George Broadhead ‘the first close-up gay smootcher on TV’. This script was used again for a mass gay wedding held at London’s Hippodrome nightclub, and in many more across the UK.

“GALHA has long provided a space for its members to find community and to have fun. Members have gathered socially in locations across the country. Today. as LGBT Humanists, the group continues its trail-blazing work – including on an international scale – to challenge homophobia and fight for human rights.

The programme also featured a photo of an early GHG march

Looking to the Future

“I can only speak for myself but it feels to me that we are living in a time of rapid change. Old values and ways of doing things are being discarded. conventions ripped away and politics seems increasingly polarised and unstable. In the LGBT community. we are acutely conscious of how precious and hard won our rights are. and how they can be all too easily taken away.

As humanists we recognise that we are the silent majority. We have fought to get our voices heard against a backdrop of entrenched religious influence in our society. We also recognise the greater discrimination and ignorance faced by our members of different sexes, races and gender identities as well as those with differing physical and mental abilities.

“In the face of these challenges. we must strengthen our resolve to recognise what unites us and to work together towards our common goals. When we know that the only certainty of the future is change. it gives us an opportunity to ask ourselves what change we wish to see. In these unstable. and often scary times. we must remind ourselves, as LGBT Humanists, what our values are and how we can act upon them. Taking action always make me feel a little better, regardless of the circumstances.

“As we look to the year ahead LGBT Humanists wishes to develop our presence across the country. We recognise that there is much more to our wonderful nation than our capital city and will work towards better geographical representation.

“We already have a lead for Northern Ireland and we plan to host more of our events outside of London by building our regional volunteer networks. We already plan to attend more Prides than ever before. and wave the flag for our LGBT members nationwide. We also want our committee to be as vibrant. diverse and reflective of our wider membership as possible. In the longer term we aim to identify gaps in services and provisions for non-religious LGBT people. and continue to advance humanism as a rational. positive.and fulfilling approach to life.

There is still much work to be done. and that work can only continue through the generous donations we receive from our members and supporters. Thank you for your continued support.”

Editor’s note: The original founders of the Gay Humanist Group were George Broadhead, Roy Saich, Chris Findlay, Jim Herrick, Brian Parry and myself.