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Veterans hold vigil to mark 50 years of them fighting for LGBT+ rights

Veterans hold vigil to mark 50 years of them fighting for LGBT+ rights

  • The Gay Liberation Front first met at the London School of Economics in October 1970 and started a social ‘big bang’.
Candlelit vigil for 50 years of the Gay Liberation Front.

Veterans of the UK’s groundbreaking Gay Liberation Front have celebrated 50 years since they came together to fight for LGBT+ rights.

The group first came together on 13 October 1970 at the London School of Economics. Last night they returned to the university for a COVID-safe candlelit vigil to mark the anniversary.

Two students – Bob Mellors and Aubrey Walter – organized the first meeting and 19 people attended.

However, it grew into weekly meetings with 200 to 300 people attending.

The Gay Liberation Front members eventually went their separate ways. However, many continued to fight for LGBT+ rights. They got involved in organizations as diverse as direct action group Outrage, the gay male nuns of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and lobbying organization Stonewall.

Peter Tatchell, now 68, was a GLF activist from 1971 to 1974 and has dedicated his life to LGBT+ campaigning. He said:

‘The formation of GLF was a watershed moment in British LGBT+ history. For the first time, thousands of LGBT+ people came out and protested against our persecutors.

‘GLF’s slogan “Gay is Good’ challenged the centuries-old view that gay was bad – and mad and sad.’

Like the separate GLF group in the US, it played a big part in helping the community move from feeling shame to expressing pride and defiance.

Indeed, it started London’s first Pride in 1972. It also founded the UK’s first LGBT+ switchboard, its first community newspaper – Gay News, now closed – and its first counselling service.

Tatchell added: ‘GLF’s key demands set the agenda for the LGBT+ movement for the following five decades.’

‘Gay is Good, accept yourself, come out’

The Gay Liberation Front protesting in London's Trafalgar Square.
The Gay Liberation Front protesting in London’s Trafalgar Square. Peter Tatchell Foundation

Other GLF veterans have also shared their memories of the organization and what it taught them.

Nettie Pollard, 70, said: ‘50 years ago, the Gay Liberation Front said come out, change ourselves and revolutionise the world. Joining with other oppressed groups is the only way to work towards real change.’

Meanwhile Ted Brown, also aged 70, said: ‘GLF stemmed out of Stonewall 1969, which was a riot that took place after centuries of oppression against LGBT+ people. We proved that the authorities will not listen unless we fight back, make a noise and cause a disturbance.’

Likewise Andrew Lumsden, 78, said society had told LGBT+ people to be ‘invisible’ for 2,000 years. Now he reflects on those still struggling to live open lives:

‘We think of LGBTs in Hong Kong, Poland, Chechnya, Brazil and Indonesia, who seek the dignities that ought not be denied to anyone.’

That desire to work with others around the world was part of the GLF from the start, said John Lloyd. The 67-year-old added:

‘From the outset, GLF had an internationalist perspective. Our interventions for the first time put LGBT+ rights on the agenda of the left, social democratic, liberal and trade union movements in the UK and other countries.’

Moreover Geoff Hardy, 70, highlighted the link between being LGBT+ and other groups that suffer discrimination:

‘The central message of GLF was Gay is Good, accept yourself, come out! We challenged ourselves and others around racism, gender roles, sexism and class. We demanded the freedom to be ourselves, without apology.’

And Stuart Feather, 80, said:

‘Gay liberation was the cosmic big bang beneath heterosexual and gay society with its call to come out – be visible – break the taboo.’