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Father of UK gay rights, Allan Horsfall, dies

LGBT rights pioneer, Allan Horsfall, described as inventor of the British gay rights movement by friends and activists
Allan Horsfall protesting during the Bolton Seven case.

One of the UK’s most important LGBT rights pioneers, Allan Horsfall has died at the age of 84.

Current campaigners and activists have paid tribute to Horsfall who helped set up the first grassroots, gay-led rights organization, the Homosexual Law Reform Committee in 1964.

This became the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, which is still in operation but is widely seen as a forerunner of modern gay rights groups like Stonewall.

Horsfall was also a Labour party politician.

Peter Tatchell, one of the UK’s most famous gay rights campaigners, said: ‘Allan was arguably the grandfather of the modern gay rights movement in Britain.

‘We all walk in Allan's shadow. He was active in LGBT campaigning until a few months before his death. Allan deserves a Queer State Funeral.’

George Broadhead, a veteran LGBT campaigner and humanist, said: ‘Like another prominent gay Humanist Anthony Grey who died in 2010, Alan made an invaluable contribution to the campaign for LGBT rights.

‘Very few people nowadays have heard of him. But in those days to put your head above the parapet was very brave. He got into a great deal of trouble with the Labour Party for getting involved in gay rights but somebody has got to start these things.’

While Ray Gosling, who campaigned alongside Horsfall, said: ‘Allan’s contribution to gay rights is he invented it. Allan was the founder of it all and a great inspiration to me and a lovely, lovely friend. He had a wonderful life until really his last few days.’

Horsfall became a local councilor in Nelson, north-west England, in the 1950s but started to discover inconsistencies in the way the law against homosexuality in Britain was applied.

One public lavatory used by men meeting to have sex was well known to police and magistrates but there hadn’t been a conviction there in 30 years.

But at other times, police would arrest a suspected gay or bisexual person, go through their address book and round up many of their contacts. They would then appear in court accused of being a ‘homosexual ring’, even though many of them didn’t know each other.

This inspired Horsfall to set up the Homosexual Law Reform Society. It’s first offices were donated by the Bishop of Middleton in Salford, Manchester in north-west England.

This later became the Campaign for Homosexual Equality which at one point had thousands of members across the UK.

Even after homosexuality was decriminalized in Britain in 1967, with an age of consent set at 21 for gay men in private, Horsfall continued his campaigning work which spanned 50 years.

In 1998 he worked on the case of the Bolton Seven – a group of men who had sex with each other and got prosecuted because, although homosexuality was legal, group sex between men was not.

It was the last major case to come to court before British sexual offences laws were completely reviewed and equalized for gay and straight people – with the exception of sex in public toilets which remains criminal and is mainly targeted at men who have sex with men.

Horsfall worked for the National Coal Board from 1959 to 1971 and then later for the Salford Education Committee. He was also a local chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

A tribute to Alan’s life and work will be given at a Humanist funeral ceremony to be held at Overdale Crematorium, Bolton, England at 2.45pm on 6 September 2012.

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