GEORGE BROADHEAD, Secretary of the UK LGBT charity the Pink Triangle Trust – publisher of The Pink Humanist – reports on the National Secular Society’s award in March 2017 to the magazine’s editor
FOLLOWING his invitation to travel to London in March to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Secular Society (NSS) at a function at which Yasmin Rehman was named Secularist of the Year, Barry Duke was asked by NSS President Terry Sanderson to provide him with some information he could use to introduce him.
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, left, at the award ceremony. Photo: Sven Klinge
Duke said: “It was only at that point I realised how far back my activism stretched. As a stroppy 15-year-old, I began challenging teachers and my peers over racism, homophobia and censorship and it took me a while to jot down all the work I did over more than half a century to promote secularism and fight censorship, sexism, racism and homophobia”
In presenting Duke with his award, Sanderson, said: “Barry Duke, who many of you will know as the present editor of the Freethinker, has a long and colourful back story that may not be so familiar.
“From his earliest days in journalism in apartheid South Africa, Barry has aggressively fought censorship. He wrote numerous articles in magazines and newspapers highlighting the irrational and racist decisions made by what was then South Africa’s Publications and Entertainments Control Board – a strict censorship enforcer. It had a list of over 60,000 items that were banned – including the children’s book Black Beauty and a poster with the slogan ‘Black is Beautiful’. Eventually a law was brought in making it illegal to even criticise the censors.
“Barry fled the country when he was tipped off that he was in imminent danger of being detained for a violation of the Suppression of Communism Act.
“After he was granted asylum in the UK in 1973, he immediately made contact with Bill McIlroy, then editor of the Freethinker, which, unsurprisingly, was also on the list of banned items in South Africa. He then began writing articles for the magazine about his experiences of censorship and apartheid and their links to the Calvinist Christianity upon which many of the laws in the country were based.
“He had no inkling at the time that he would one day become the magazine’s editor, a job he has done for just over 20 years. Having settled in the UK, he became actively involved in humanism, atheism and gay rights. In 1979, he was a founding member of the Gay Humanist Group, (now called LGBT Humanists, part of the British Humanist Association) after Mary Whitehouse began a private prosecution for blasphemous libel against Gay News.
“He and his late partner Brian Parry then launched a magazine for the group. He also served on the NSS council as treasurer for a while. Around five years ago, he was asked by the UK gay humanist charity, The Pink Triangle Trust, to launch an on-line magazine – The Pink Humanist – on its behalf, and also create a separate website for the charity.
“He moved to Spain in 2010, and became involved in the creation of the first Gay Pride event in Benidorm, working alongside Spanish, British and Dutch activists, and attending meetings with the city’s mayor and other elected officials.
“He is now active writing for the press on the Costa Blanca as well as keeping up a constant flow of news and opinion on the Freethinker and Pink Humanist websites.
“His passion for social justice, equality and free speech burns as brightly today as it did when he first began challenging racists and bigots in his earliest days as a journalist. I think you’ll agree that Barry deserves the recognition of this lifetime achievement award and the encouragement to keep on keeping on. I’m very pleased to say that he’s come from his home in Spain to be with us today.”
Among the many guests at the Secularist of the Year event was human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell who also began his activism at an early age in Australia. In 1967 Tatchell launched campaigns in support of Australia’s Aboriginal people.
He was elected secretary of his school’s Student Representative Council. In his final year in 1968, as school captain, he took the lead in setting up a scholarship scheme for Aborigines and led a campaign for Aboriginal land rights. These activities led the headmaster to claim he had been manipulated by communists.