Among the estimated 1,5 million who thronged the streets of central London last Saturday was Andrew Lumsden, 80, who, as a member of the Gay Liberation Front, helped organise the capital's first Pride march in 1972. Seeing the sprightly octogenarian being interviewed in a YouTube video 48 years after I first met him brought a lump to my throat ... and almost half-a-century of memories came flooding back.
When I first learned from Lumsden, above, in 1974 that the Gay Liberation Front had disrupted a large Nationwide Festival of Light rally held at the Central Hall, Westminster, three years earlier by dressing as nuns and letting white mice loose among the evangelical Christians present, I exclaimed “fuck, I should have been there!”
But I wasn’t. In 1971, aged 24, I was precisely 8,240 miles from London, working as a reporter for the Star newspaper in Johannesburg by day, and, by night, plotting with members of the banned African National Congress to overthrow the apartheid regime and get Nelson Mandela off of Robben Island, where he was a serving life sentence for sabotage.
Not surprisingly, my anti-apartheid activism, and my friendship with Mandela’s then wife Winnie, first got me labeled by the Bureau for State Security (Boss) as an “undesirable”, and later “a threat to national security.”
In 1973, the editor of the Star, John Jordi, received a tip-off that I was about to be arrested. He called me at home one night and said I had two hours to get to city airport and board a Swissair flight to London, where I would be “parked” for a year at the paper’s bureau in Fleet Street. After that I was to travel to Australia, where he arranged for me to be given a job on the prestigious Sydney Morning Herald.
Within weeks of my arrival I learned two things about Britain that shocked me to the core: racism and homophobia was rampant. In fact, the latter was worse in the UK than it was in South Africa. The country’s christofascist Nationalist regime was so intent on keeping blacks, whites and “coloureds” apart that homosexuality was of little concern to it—except if manifested itself among members of the armed forced who, if exposed, were subjected to brutal gay “cure” treatments.
I realised then that, in addition to carrying on my anti-apartheid activism, I needed to get involved with the Gay Liberation Front, which organised London first Pride march, and in 1974 took part in the third Pride march.
It was at that event that I met Lumsden, who told me of how he and other members of the GLF, helped by Graham Chapman, of Monty Python fame, had disrupted the meeting of fundamentalist Christians, led by the vile Mary Whitehouse, who co-founded the Nationwide Festival of Light.
Chapman, who died in 1989, had paid for the nuns costumes.
Lumsden helped add a third prong to my activism. By drawing my attention to the intolerance and hatred generated against LGBT+ people by Whitehouse, above, and her homophobic Christian cohorts I became actively involved in efforts to the stem the poison being spread by British evangelicals.
After Gay News, launched by Lumsden in the summer of 1972, was successfully prosecuted in 1977 for “blasphemy” by Whitehouse after it published James Kirkup’s “The Love that Dares to Speak It’s Name,” the “nation’s nanny” as she was called, faced a backlash, and became the target of vociferous protest, not least from the National Secular Society which had been campaigning for years for the repeal of the blasphemy laws.
She began declaring in public that “everything good and true” that “every decent person believes in” was being undermined by “the humanist gay lobby”. This was enough to set myself and a few other homosexuals in the Humanist movement thinking.
Of course, no such lobby existed except in the deranged woman’s fevered brain, but in 1979 George Broadhead, then a member of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE), said “let make it real for Whitehouse” and he organised an ad hoc committee of six, myself included, to discuss the possibility of creating the world’s first gay Humanist group.
And so, in that year, the Gay Humanist Group came into being. We published numerous leaflets, and even a card, pictured above, that lampooned Whitehouse.
Watching clips of London’s 50th Pride, and seeing people holding placards declaring “I was there in 1972” filled me with both joy and sadness: joy at seeing faces I recognised, and sadness over the absence of those who helped play a vital role in making life better for LGBT+ people in the UK, but have since passed on.
Among them was George Broadhead, 87, who died in May of last year, and last month the author of the highly influential How to be a Happy Homosexual and The Reluctant Gay Activist—Terry Sanderson, who also served as President of the National Secular Society—was 75 when he died at his home in London.
Many reading this will no doubt wonder how I never made it to Australia. Six months into my stint in Fleet Street, John Jordi died of a heart attack. No-one knew of his plans for me, and and I was left stranded in the UK. As I could not return to South Africa, I was granted asylum in Britain, and remained there until moving to Spain in 2010.
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