It’s time to recognize these trolling tactics for what they are.
The LGBTQ+ community has long been maliciously associated with pedophiles by people who wish to further stigmatize us. Internet trolls are aware of this violent tradition, and are taking advantage by spreading propaganda that, on first glance, resembles an embrace of pedophiles by LGBTQ+ people. It’s an effective tactic if we accept the false premise: that there is a link between sexual predators and queer people. But there isn’t, and it’s time we stopped meeting that propaganda on the trolls’ terms.
Last month, Central Oregon Pride organizers were targeted by an insidious campaign that distributed fake posters claiming NAMBLA was sponsoring the event along with the Human Dignity Coalition, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group in Bend, Oregon. Jamie Bowman, president of the organization, says, “Several people sent me photos asking if it was the real thing.” The posters prominently featured a photo of 10-year-old Desmond Napoles, known as Desmond is Amazing in drag, who was the subject of debate thanks to professor and YouTuber Jordan Peterson saying on Twitter that Desmond’s drag was child exploitation.
Desmond’s mother, who runs Desmond’s social media, took to Instagram where Desmond has over 75,000 followers to disavow the poster. “THIS IS DISGUSTING!” the caption reads. “I am offended, angry, and yes, hurt. If you see these signs, please tear them down immediately.” Bowman says she did just that, walking around and pulling the posters down.
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Since debunked by internet sleuths at Snopes, “clovergender” is an invented identity meant to mock nonbinary people by claiming that some adults have not mentally matured past the age of 13 and therefore should be allowed to date underaged people. Shkreli asked people to spread awareness of “clovergender” on Twitter, and the call for volunteers on 4Chan asked for help to “troll SJW’s.”
Besides the obvious goal of causing distress to queer people, the goal of “clovergender” proponents and of the Oregon Pride trolls is bifold: to get cisgender heterosexual people to associate the LGBTQ+ community with sexual predators, and to get the LGBTQ+ community to mount a genuine defense against the accusation that it is harboring pedophiles within our circles, thus, on some level, validating the assertion. These repudiations, while virtuous in intent, still give the trolls what they want. They want to use the preexisting stigma against LGBTQ+ people to demonize us.
Another recently debunked hoax was the “Minor Attracted Persons” flag that emerged in Pride season this year. “Minor Attracted Persons” is indeed a term some pedophiles have attempted to use to breach mainstream acceptance, but the flag appears to be a hoax that, again, was taken at its word. It fits nicely with other hoaxes that use rainbow flag imagery and inclusive language that support pedophilia.
But perhaps the most malicious campaign came in 2016, when a faction of 4Chan users attempted to create a false movement to include the letter “P,” for pedosexuals, into the LGBTQ+ acronym. Snopes has debunked this as well, but what’s most chilling about this campaign is the planning and patience the organizers exhibited when putting it together. “If they want to demand that society accept their horseshit identities, then it’s time we slip in one of our own,” wrote the post’s author. “How do we do this? We convince them that Pedos deserve rights too. Think about it, if this were to catch any traction at all it would only further remove any legitimization they’ve gained.”
Ethan Edwards, a cofounder of the group “Virtuous Pedophiles” who uses a pseudonym, advocates against acceptance of pedophilia and monitors the movements of groups like NAMBLA online. He says he hasn’t seen any attempts on their end to integrate with the LGBTQ+ community. “Perhaps there is some genuine pedophile somewhere pushing this new rainbow flag. Maybe a few others are trying to infiltrate LGBT+ groups by the backdoor,” he says over email. “But I haven’t seen any evidence of this in a group setting.”
That hasn’t stopped some well-meaning LGBTQ+ people from speaking out against this alleged movement. Attitude, a UK-based gay mag, ran a story on the supposed “MAPS” Pride flag, which, again, is a hoax. It’s completely understandable why one might exercise an abundance of caution by calling this out, but it still validates a false premise that this is part of some larger movement.
It’s also worth noting that oppression of LGBTQ+ people in the modern day relies on the falsehood that queer people are child predators. In Russia, for example, Vladimir Putin said in 2014 that gay people would be safe at the Sochi Winter Olympics so long as they “leave kids alone.” It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that people often invoke the safety of children when trying to legislate against the LGBTQ+ community.
But obvious troll campaigns like these, while they do invoke that reality, must be dealt with on a different level. Our current political climate is an example of what happens when we assume every argument, no matter how ridiculous or odious, has merit and must be met halfway. It’s how we ended up with Donald Trump, whose litany of ridiculous and bombastic statements, like assertions that Mexicans are rapists, earned him even more coverage but little accountability.
We should bear this in mind when responding to incidents like what happened in Oregon, and be aware of the offending party’s goal: to paint a picture in which LGBTQ+ people are having an internal debate over where pedophiles fit into our community. It’s a debate that, at the moment, is not happening on any meaningful scale. Our response should not necessarily be to ignore it. Our response should, however, call a spade a spade and place the blame where it rightfully lies: on the trolls.
‘Dan White murdered my friend’: When anger boiled over into violence at City Hall and San Francisco police raided a Castro bar
On May 21, 1979, thousands of members of San Francisco’s predominantly gay Castro District community took to the streets to protest the lenient sentence received by Dan White for the murders of local politician and gay rights activist Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. Their anger–combined with the actions of police who arrived to quell the scene–soon boiled over into rioting. The resulting violence affected San Francisco’s LGBT community for decades to come.
Harvey Milk rose to prominence as a gay rights activist and became the first openly gay person elected to a public office in the state of California when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. His murder, as well as that of Mayor Moscone, devastated not just the gay community, but the city as a whole.
Dan White was a former member of the Board of Supervisors who had clashed with Milk during their time serving the city together. In November of 1978, White resigned from his post, but changed his mind and asked to be reinstated. Mayor Moscone denied the request–with Milk lobbying against White’s reappointment. On November 27, White entered City Hall through a basement window and shot both men to death in their offices.
Six months later, White was convicted, not of first-degree murder, but voluntary manslaughter. White’s defense team had pointed to his diminished mental capacity and emotional state at the time of the murders, as indicated by the once-health conscious White consuming too much junk food– a ploy that became known as the “Twinkie Defense.” The jury-predominantly white, Roman Catholic and heterosexual—bought into it, recommending the lesser charge, which led to a sentence of just 7 years and 8 months.
When news of the verdict broke on the night of May 21, Cleve Jones–a close friend of Milk’s who would eventually go on to become one of the creators of the AIDS Quilt–spoke to a crowd of about 500 gatherers on Castro Street, and a peaceful march was quickly organized. By the time the crowd of protestors had made its second trip around the block, they were 1,500 strong. They then marched to City Hall, where their numbers expanded to an estimated 5,000.
As the crowd grew, so did the anger. Police soon arrived to try to control the situation, but that only served to enrage the crowd more. The police had raised over $100,000 for White’s defense–he was a former police officer–and many in the community believed the department had conspired to reduce White’s charges and sentencing. Although ordered to simply hold the crowd back, many officers began attacking the protestors with night sticks. Many had even taped over their badges, so as not to be identified.
Chaos erupted, as the crowd fought with police and destroyed a dozen police vehicles, as well as parts of City Hall itself. After three hours, officers moved in to quell the rioting for good, using tear gas in the process, and the crowd dispersed. In all, 59 officers and 124 protestors were injured, with about two dozen arrests made.
Hours later, several police officers gathered on their own to raid the Castro neighborhood, vandalizing a local bar and assaulting patrons. They shouted anti-gay slurs at the victims, and eventually turned their attention to attacking anyone that happened to be out on Castro Street.
After two hours, Police Chief Charles Gain was made aware of the rogue officers’ activities, and he made his way to the Castro to put a stop to it. No officers were reprimanded for the attacks, as officials were never able to determine who had ordered it, but the violence was finally over.
The next day, on what would have been Milk’s 49th birthday, 20,000 San Franciscans gathered to remember him. That October, more than 75,000 people marched for gay rights in Washington, D.C., and gay rights activists from around the country were inspired to continue their fight.
In San Francisco, the riots led to a wave of political changes, as more and more LGBT politicians were elected over the next decades. LGBT presence on the police forced also dramatically increased, and has continued to increase to this day.
The Student Homophile League, the first gay student organization in the country, was founded at Columbia University in 1966 and held many of its activities in Earl Hall.
In 1970, the group became the more activist Gay People at Columbia (also known as Gay People at Columbia-Barnard), which sponsored a series of popular Friday-night dances in Earl Hall’s auditorium.
In 1971, gay students established a gay lounge in Furnald Hall, which is now known as the Stephen Donaldson Queer Lounge.
In 1966, Columbia University became the first collegiate institution in the United States, and possibly the first in the world, with an LGBT student group. In the fall of that year, bisexual sophomore Robert Martin (using the pseudonym Stephen Donaldson) founded the Student Homophile League (SHL) following a meeting with Columbia and Barnard representatives, religious advisers, and two of the most important national leaders for gay and lesbian rights, Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings.
The small student group had the support of the university chaplain and, thus, gained space in Earl Hall, the center of student religious life. The university officially recognized the group in April 1967 with the stipulation that it not organize social events. A subsequent front page article in the New York Times resulted in outrage from hundreds of alumni and negative editorials in many newspapers; one alum wrote “Tolerance has its limits. Let the pansies go elsewhere.” The SHL sponsored lectures, held “rap sessions” about homosexuality on dorm floors, and advocated for the acceptance of homosexuals in society in generally, with specific emphasis on ending discrimination in the military and the psychiatric community.
By 1970, Columbia’s gay student group had become the more activist Gay People at Columbia (also known as Gay People at Columbia-Barnard), which sought to “present as complete a view as possible of the contemporary gay experience: socially, educationally and politically.” Its most popular activity was monthly Friday-night dances, beginning in 1970, held in the auditorium on the third floor of Earl Hall, which welcomed the entire gay and lesbian community of New York. The dances reached their peak popularity in the 1980s and were especially popular with those who enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere that contrasted with the clubs and bars downtown. The group still exists as the Columbia Queer Alliance (CQA) and hosts “First Friday” dance events in Alfred Lerner Hall.
In 1971, gay students, led by Morty Manford (later the head of the Gay Activists Alliance and son of PFLAG founder Jeanne Manford), requested space for a gay lounge. Although denied permission by the university, the group took over an unused space in the basement of the Furnald Hall dormitory. The lounge eventually was recognized by the university and the space is still in use, now known as the Stephen Donaldson Queer Lounge.
In March 2018, the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project successfully nominated Earl Hall to the National Register of Historic Places, following its listing on the New York State Register in January 2018. The nomination is available in the “Read More” section below.
Student Homophile League at Earl Hall, Columbia University ,Student Homophile League at Earl Hall, Columbia University,
I learned what “racial play” is and had a rather shitty experience with a “straight” guy who was into having sex with men.
After breaking up with a boyfriend in 2011, I wanted to explore online dating and give being single in Toronto a shot before jumping into anything serious. Unfortunately for me, I soon realized that the gay dating world came with its own set of rules, most of which are pretty weird and somewhat racist. Race, body shaming, identity politics, and masculinity seemed to come up a lot and eventually I just said “fuck it” and deleted every dating site I was on. I needed a break. I needed to hear something other than “looking for whites only” or “straight-acting only.” It got to a point where I felt shitty about wanting to get laid and needed give the online thing a rest.
In 2013, I came out of “online dating retirement” and decided to explore it again. Every so often I’d hear my friends gush about all the great dates and hot sex they were having on Grindr and Scruff. It took a lot of convincing, but I gave a few of these apps a shot. I downloaded both Grindr and Scruff and immediately starting messaging people.
Throughout that year, there were a few really nice conversations that didn’t really go anywhere, the occasional good ass and/or dick pics, and an older couple in their 80s that always messaged me in Spanish. But aside from that, the string of weird encounters just got worse every time. In January, I finally deleted all the apps and have sworn off online dating and hookups for good. But it wasn’t all for nothing. Below, you’ll find three stories that I’ll probably never forget.
Around Thanksgiving last year, I got a message from an Irish guy visiting the city for a few weeks. I chatted him up about all things Ireland and told him about a trip I was planning for spring 2016. The vibe was friendly for the first few days, and then he wanted to see some pics, which I was more than willing to share. I sent a face pic to start and he sent one back. He was a bald, rugged, bearded man with green eyes. Suffice to say the dude was really hot and definitely checked off a few boxes in the “my type” department.
We talked for a week and he eventually asked me if I had a dick pic. I sent the most recent one and waited for him to send something back. Two hours later he sends a pic, but it’s not of a body part or another sexy face pic, it’s a picture of him and his sister with the caption “hot pic.” I wasn’t sure if this was a mistake or a joke, but I decided to just brush it off and send another dick pic. He then responded with a picture of him smiling with his grandmother, saying nothing else.
Two days later he messaged me to ask what I was doing. I told him I was just enjoying my day off and asked him what he had planned for the day. He then sent a picture of his spread asshole dripping with cum, a picture of him and his dog, and then a picture of him having family dinner, again saying nothing else. At this point, I wasn’t even mad or upset. The dude clearly wasn’t serious. That or he had a fucked-up sense of humor.
As funny as the whole thing was, I decided to stop communicating with him entirely. I often wonder what a dripping asshole, playing with your dog, and eating dinner with your family could be code for, but I guess I’ll ever know.
“Racial Play” I messaged a guy after work one day just to see if he’d reply. He messaged me back and said he comes to Toronto for work every day and wondered if we could hook up later that evening. I told him we should drink a few beers at my place and see where it goes. He came over around 10:30 PM, and made a few weird comments about the beer we were drinking, calling it “hipster beer.” That sort of turned me off, but I decided not to read too much into it.
I wasn’t expecting things to heat up after the weird beer comment, but after six beers we just went for it and started making out. Before things escalated, he stopped me and said he needed to tell me something. I remember being puzzled and asking what was wrong. He told me he was into a few kinks, but didn’t know how to talk about them. Fetish is always an awkward subject for people, but I assured him I wasn’t easily weirded out. He looked extremely flustered and scared to say it, but after about five minutes of circling around the big confession, he sheepishly blurted out that he was into “racial play.”
I kind of giggled and then looked at him again. At that moment I realized he was being serious and took a deep breath because, as a black man and a human being, the whole thing had just thrown me off. Solely based on curiosity, I asked him exactly what this type of roleplay scene would entail. It scared me to imagine where this conversation was going to go, but I still couldn’t quite process what I just heard. I’ve done some weird shit, but this whole thing was fucked up and I didn’t understand what turned him on about it exactly. He asked me if I was mad that he was into that. I told him no because I actually wasn’t pissed at all. After having another beer he got into the finer details of how a “racial play” scene would go down.
According to him, a play scene would involve me in a cage, getting choked with his dick, while he spits on me and calls me nigger a few times. He assured me that while it was a lot to handle, it was actually a pretty popular fetish. It’s just something that nobody talks about. I looked at him, extremely puzzled after that statement. He stood, confident in his belief that was an acceptable thing to get off to, and it took a minute for me to figure out the best way to respond. Wanting to end this interaction on a peaceful note, I told him that while I respect his honesty, the thought of a man getting off to calling me racial slurs and performing violent sex acts on me was enough to make me want to commit murder.
When I said that he laughed it off, but once he saw the expression on my face, I could tell he knew it was probably in his best interest to call it a night. After he left I Googled “racial play” and found a lot of crazy shit, most of which I wish I could unsee. There are certain thoughts and images that linger in the subconscious and lead us to the fetishes we have. I think most things are fair game, but if me picking cotton gets you horny, there probably won’t be a second date.
Runaway Cucumber One of the first guys I met on Grindr was a university student who had just moved to Toronto for school. During our first hangout we drank a few beers and talked about Toronto, which was a nice change from the usual in-and-out hook up. We immediately hit it off and it turned into an ongoing thing. We met up for sex about twice a month for a couple of months. It was really low-key, which has awesome because I wasn’t after anything serious at the time.
One night he came over and dropped a bomb on me. Apparently he had a girlfriend, which was news to me. He said he wasn’t gay—he just met up with guys because his girlfriend wasn’t into anal play. This all seemed messy and complicated, so I told him we should cool it on the sex until he and his girlfriend had a serious conversation. It would be one thing if they were in an open relationship, but it seemed more like their lack of communication had led to him sneaking out to get fucked by guys behind her back. It just didn’t seem healthy for me to continue sleeping with him if that was the case.
He texted me out of the blue three months later, asking if we could meet. I had my reservations about it, but I decided to let him stop by and get an update on what was going on with him and his situation. He came over and immediately went for my crotch, but before I could let it go any further, I needed to ask what the status of his relationship was. Apparently he had broken up with his girlfriend and was exclusively fucking guys. The way he talked about these new relationships was very strange. He maintained that he was still straight, but just really loved bottoming and couldn’t get enough.
We proceeded to play around a bit and eventually I was fucking him. I don’t know if fate was punishing me for allowing my thirst to blind me from the obvious mess of a situation this was, but ten minutes into it I’d felt something wet go down my leg. Let’s just say that he wasn’t ready to bottom and by the time I stopped the evidence of that was all over my bed.
When you’re having butt sex, there’s always the slight possibility of a little shit, but this was literally a shit storm. He felt really bad and I didn’t want to make a big deal about it, so I said we should just shower and call it a night. I let him go first so I could throw away the sheets and after he got out I went in to get myself cleaned up. When I walked out of the shower, what I saw him doing brought new meaning to the phrase “by any means necessary.” I stood quietly by the door and watched as he began squatting down on a cucumber from my fridge, trying to fuck himself with it. He was jerking off and heavily breathing as he attempted to fit the entire cucumber up his ass.
After a minute or so, I purposely slammed the bathroom door and he freaked out when he saw me standing there. He could tell I was pissed and he kept trying to avoid eye contact. I asked him what he was doing still naked, which left him stuttering as he tried to make up a good excuse. I snatched the cucumber out of his hand and asked him to put on his clothes while I finished getting dressed in the bathroom.
After we were both dressed I walked him out of my apartment and told him he shouldn’t contact me again. I didn’t want to be an asshole, but between his first lie about the girlfriend and the shit-stained bed I had to throw out, I felt like the universe was trying to tell me this needed to end.
To make matters worse, when I went back into the house, I checked the fridge and the fucking cucumber was gone. I was short an ingredient for my next lunch. I ordered a new bed and went to buy groceries the next day. Thank you universe! I definitely got the message.
“Gay” was the first queer word I ever learned, and the first queer thing I ever called myself. Something about “lesbian” didn’t sit right with me, and I wasn’t yet aware of reclamation, of the bright side of pejoratives — the spark that happens when you turn a weapon on itself. Plus I liked the sneakiness. Gay meant happy, right? You could claim it while admitting nothing. It was a rainbow dream mask.
But even before it got the rest of its colors, this word blushed. Pleasure, joy, and other gaieties are perpetually societally fraught, and gay has the scars to prove it — it’s been punned on, leaned on, worn proudly, hidden behind, argued over, and ping-ponged across the net of respectability ever since it was invented. If words could break, gay might have a long time ago. Luckily it bent instead. Here’s the beginning of how it happened.
The most common etymology of the word “gay” has it rooted in the Proto-Indo-European root *gey- (“to go”). This evolved into *gheng- (“to stride”) which became the Proto-Germanic *ganhaz/*ganhwaz (“sudden”), and then the Old High German gahi (“quick, impulsive”). The move to Old French jai (“merry”) brought the recognizable definition and a nice modern jauntiness. Jai became gai likely due to the influence of Gothic gaheis (“impetuous”), and soon we had the Middle English gay, direct ancestor of the word we use today.
Easy enough — except that etymology is an inexact science based on barely traceable exchanges that took place thousands of years ago, so not everyone agrees on what happened. Anatoly Liberman has an alternate theory that roots gay in Old High German wahi (“shining”/”beautiful”), based on a g/w interchangibility that we see borne out in word pairs like “guardian” and “warden,” or “guerrilla” and “war.” But he’s even more attached to a different explanation from the 19th century master Frank Chance. An “excellent etymologist, now almost forgotten,” Chance used to publish almost exclusively in Notes and Queries, a quarterly where scholars and hobbyists traded notes and asked each other questions — kind of like an early Formspring, but for linguistics and lexicography. In an 1861 Note, Chance took on “gay” via an analogy to the French gaîne, or “sheath,” which comes from the Latin vagina, also “sheath” (and also your bonus etymology-of-the-day).
“The g in gaîne,” Chance explains, “corresponds to the v in vagina… In a similar way, I think, our adjective “gay” might be readily deduced from the Latin vagus, or perhaps from the corresponding Italian vago, which means both wandering, roaming, and pleasant, agreeable.” About a century and a third later, German linguist Harri Meier added some evidence to the pile, listing Italian cognates like svagarsi (“amuse oneself”) and svago (“diversion”).
I have also become attached to this theory, not only because it’s more fun, but also because it means that the start of gay’s backstory involves a gradual influx of positive feeling — what semantician Stephen Ullman calls an “amelioration of meaning.” As Liberman points out, the Latin vagus often meant “flighty” or “frivolous,” which, though not the worst possible things to call someone, aren’t as sunshiney as the merriment and joie de vivre implied by “gay” — see, for example, Propertius’s Elegy V, in which a “vagis puellis” is compared negatively to Cynthia, a “docta puella” or “learned girl,” and Propertius’s perpetual muse. So somewhere over the course of its initial leap into English, gay enjoyed a rise in reputation — a fine beginning for a word that would spend the rest of its life undergoing a roller coaster ride of semantic shifts.
“Gay” first hit paper in 1325, in a transcription of a Middle English song called “Blow, Northerne Wynd.” When I started reading it, I thought it was about how the narrator would brave the northern wind to get to his beloved, who is described as semly and menskful and lossom (“seemly,” “worshipful,” and “lovely,” if you prefer boring new English words). But in the end, he’s actually asking the wind to blow his suetyng (“sweetheart”) to him, which honestly sounds kind of mean and lazy. Dave Wilton found the relevant stanza:
“Heo is dereworþe in day graciouse, stout, ant gay gentil, iolyf so þe iay worhliche when heo wakeþ. Maiden murgest of mouþ; bi est, bi west, by norþ ant souþ, þer nis fiele ne crouþ þat such murþes makeþ. Blow northerne wynd! Send thou me my suetyng! Blow northerne wynd! blow, blow, blow!”
(TRANSLATION: “She is precious in day / gracious, stout, and gay / gentle, jolly as the jay/ noble when she wakes. / Maiden merriest of mouth / by East, West, North and South / Neither fiddle nor crowd / Makes such abundance. / Blow northern wind! / Send me my sweetheart! / Blow northern wind! Blow, blow, blow!”)
Gay is a nice-sounding, one-syllable word that rhymes with a lot of things — all the makings of a poetic mainstay. To the delight of decades of middle school English students, no one could get enough of it for centuries and centuries. Chaucer used it in 1385. Robert Mannyng used it in his “story of England,” in the late 14th century. The lyrics of “Deck The Halls” are from 1862. Shakespeare used it thirteen times in total. Here’s Iago, in Othello, written in 1603: “She that was ever fair and never proud / Had tongue at will and yet was never loud / Never lack’d gold and yet went never gay.” I’m trying to be mature here but Shakespeare makes it hard.
Over this time, though, “gay” began experiencing a “pejoration of meaning” — it’s the opposite of the aforementioned amelioration, and you use it when a word’s reputation starts going downhill. Some think this started as far back as the 14th century, but it was definitely established by the 17th, when, according to the OED, it was generally used to describe those “addicted to pleasures and dissipations.” Carefreeness had flipped back to frivolity. You can even see it in the above Shakespeare, as Iago uses “gay” to mean “flashy” and sets it in parallel with pride and loudness, two then-undesirable traits). This frivolity developed into a general lack of inhibitions, and often referred to sexual carefreeness — by at least 1799, a “gay man” was a womanizer, a “gay woman” a prostitute, and a “gay house” a brothel.
In a nice return to its roots, “to go gay” was to live a life of hedonism. For proper usage, see this sentence, from Edward Montague Compton MacKenzie’s Carnival, that was far ahead of its time:
“After dinner Jenny went back to Hagworth Street, and had a flaming quarrel with her mother, who accused her of “going gay”; demanded to know how she dared put in an appearance dressed in another woman’s clothes; insisted she was to come home immediately after dinner; forbade a hundred things, and had the door slammed in her face for the advice.”
While this meaning became more prevalent, another now-familiar one snuck up alongside it. Next time we’ll talk about when gay started meaning what it does now — and take another few dips up and down the semantic roller coaster.
Decades before gay marriage became legal anywhere in the US, same-sex couples were committing themselves to each other in front of friends and loved ones. Few records of these ceremonies existed – until now, writes Jonathan Berr.
In 1957, a man dropped off a roll of film at a pharmacy in Philadelphia. But the developed photos were never returned to their owners.
The pictures appear to depict a gay wedding, nearly 50 years before same-sex marriage was legal anywhere in the US and almost 60 years before it became a federally-recognised right.
Now, a trio of gay producers and writers are trying to identify the grooms to learn their story and to find out whether a pharmacy employee balked at providing the snaps because they objected to their subject.
The writers are documenting their efforts in a reality show The Mystery of the 1957 Gay Wedding Photos.
The programme, which doesn’t yet have a platform to call home, is being produced in conjunction with Endemol Shine Group, whose shows include Big Brother, The Biggest Loser and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
“It’s a passion project for us,” says Michael J. Wolfe, a Los Angeles-based writer. “We are turning over every stone, interviewing dozens of people in the Philadelphia area and beyond, and consulting with investigators, historians, and experts across many different fields.”
The photos were acquired by a collector a few years ago who had bought them at an online auction. He realised their significance and donated them to ONE Archives at the USC Libraries in Los Angeles and at the Wilcox Archives in Philadelphia.
The couple in the pictures appear to be in their 20s or 30s, so they would be in their 80s or 90s if they were alive today. The grooms and their guests are dressed up in dark suits with flowers in their lapels.
The celebration took place in a modest flat with the blinds drawn. It featured a ceremony officiated by someone who appears to be a member of the clergy. The grooms are shown kissing, cutting their wedding cake and opening presents.
Mr Wolfe and his partners, filmmaker PJ Palmer and TV writer/producer Neal Baer, have not identified the mystery couple yet.
“We are recovering amazing, important stories all sorts of them… and more gay history that’s been buried,” he says.
“There is a very rich history that’s been suppressed… I wish as a child [that] I had seen family photos of a marriage like this… I would have felt more normal as a kid. I would have known that I was okay.”
Couples who fell in love sometimes committed themselves to one another in unions that were not acknowledged by either governments or religions.
The US Supreme Court didn’t recognise the right for gay people to marry the person of their choice until 2015, 11 years after Massachusetts did so.
“We don’t know how common or uncommon it was for couples to hold ceremonies to marry each other [because] there is so little photographic or film record of how people actually lived,” says Eric Marcus, host of the Making Gay History podcast.
“It’s important to remember that people found ways to live their lives quietly away from the prying eyes of the straight world.”
Of course, that was easier said than done.
Several years before the wedding took place, President Dwight Eisenhower signed an executive order banning gays from working for the federal government.
In 1952, The American Psychiatric Association classified homosexuality as a “sociopathic personality disturbance” in the first edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the listing of known psychiatric disorders.
After considerable lobbying by activists, the APA removed homosexuality from the second edition of the DSM in 1973.
The Stonewall Riots, considered to be the birth of the modern gay rights movement, had happened a few years before that in 1969 – 12 years after the wedding.
It’s not just the passage of time that will hinder the search for the grooms. The filmmakers believe the Aids crisis may also be factor – about 700,000 Americans have died since the start of the epidemic in the 1980s, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“We are talking about a generation of people who were decimated by Aids,” Mr Wolfe said. “There are a lot of missing people who otherwise would have made a search like this much easier. All of that happened before social media.”
If the couple is ever identified, they would certainly add another chapter in the history of gay rights for doing something extraordinary that is now becoming increasingly ordinary.
Justice minister hails ‘momentous day’ as so-called Turing’s law receives royal assent, but critics say move does not go far enough
Thousands of men convicted of offences that once criminalised homosexuality but are no longer on the statute book have been posthumously pardoned under a new law.
A clause in the policing and crime bill, which received royal assent on Tuesday, extends to those who are dead the existing process of purging past criminal records.
The general pardon is modelled on the 2013 royal pardon granted by the Queen to Alan Turing, the mathematician who broke the German Enigma codes during the second world war. He killed himself in 1954, at the age of 41, after his conviction for gross indecency.
Welcoming the legislation, the justice minister Sam Gyimah said: “This is a truly momentous day. We can never undo the hurt caused, but we have apologised and taken action to right these wrongs. I am immensely proud that ‘Turing’s law’ has become a reality under this government.”
There is already a procedure in place for the living to apply to the Home Office to have their past convictions, relating to same-sex relationships, expunged from their criminal records.
Under what is known as the disregard process, anyone previously found guilty of past sexual offences that are no longer criminal matters can ask to have them removed.
A disregard can be granted only if the past offence was a consensual relationship and both men were over 16. The conduct must also not constitute what remains an offence of sexual activity in a public lavatory.
Each disregard application is checked to prevent people from claiming to be cleared of offences that are still crimes. Those granted a disregard will also be pardoned.
No lists of past pardons will be published but the new law will allow future historians to point out that those imprisoned or fined for consensual gay relationships would not under modern legislation have committed a crime.
Rewriting history will not be easy. The complexity of the evidence, for example, that led to Oscar Wilde’s conviction in 1895 for gross indecency – including evidence of procuring male prostitutes – would make it difficult to assess.
The gay rights organisation Stonewall has suggested the playwright and author, who was sentenced to two years hard labour in Reading jail, should be entitled to a pardon.
The Ministry of Justice said there would be no historical limit in relation to past offences. It declined, however, to say whether Wilde would be among those deemed posthumously pardoned.
The amendments to the bill were tabled by Lord Sharkey, Lord Cashman and Lord Lexden with government support.
A private member’s bill with a similar aim and a blanket pardon, brought forward by the SNP MP John Nicolson, was not supported by the government. It would have backdated pardons only to 1919.
A Stonewall spokesperson said: “This is significant. And it’s as important to the whole lesbian, gay, bi and trans community, as it is for the gay and bi men affected.
“The more equality is enshrined into our law books, the stronger our equality becomes, and the stronger we as a community become.
“This month the government issued a clear and powerful apology to every gay and bi man who had been unjustly criminalised for being who they are. This is not just equality for gay and bi men; the passing of this law is justice.
“We’re working to ensure that this new process is brought quickly and correctly, and to ensure all gay and bi men unjustly persecuted and prosecuted can finally receive the justice they deserve.”
Welcoming the new law, the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: “This pardon is an important, valuable advance that will remedy the grave injustices suffered by many of the estimated 50,000 to 100,000 men who were convicted under discriminatory anti-gay laws between 1885 and 2003 – the latter being the year when all homophobic sexual offences legislation was finally repealed in England and Wales.
“A pardon has connotations of forgiveness for a wrong done. These men and the wider LGBT community believe they did no wrong.
“The legislation has a few omissions. It does not explicitly allow for the pardoning of men convicted of soliciting and procuring homosexual relations under the 1956 and 1967 Sexual Offences Acts. Nor does it pardon those people, including some lesbians, convicted for same-sex kissing and cuddling under laws such as the Public Order Act 1986, the common law offence of outraging public decency, the Town Police Clauses Act 1847, the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860 and the army, navy and air force acts and other diverse statutes.
“However, agreements secured by Lord Cashman mean that people convicted under these other laws can also apply for a pardon.”
The last men who were executed for homosexuality in England were James Pratt and John Smith who were hanged in 1835.
Sharkey, the Liberal Democrat peer who drafted the amendment to the bill, said: “This is a momentous day for thousands of families up and down the UK who have been campaigning on this issue for decades.
“It is a wonderful thing that we have been able to build on the pardon granted to Alan Turing and extend it to thousands of men unjustly convicted for sexual offences that would not be crimes today.”
Posthumous pardons law may see Oscar Wilde exonerated
Ministry of Justice announces initiative to wipe criminal records of gay and bisexual men convicted of sexual offences that are no longer illegal
Is Oscar Wilde about be posthumously pardoned? In a symbolic gesture announced by the government on Thursday, deceased gay and bisexual men convicted of sexual offences that are no longer illegal will have their criminal records wiped.
Announcing the initiative, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said that no individuals would be named or singled out – leaving the status of past scandals unresolved.
If the historical homosexual crime is no longer illegal and involved a consensual act with someone over the age of 16, then those convicted will be deemed to have received a posthumous pardon.
The complexity of the evidence that led to Wilde’s conviction in 1895 for gross indecency – including evidence of procuring male prostitutes – would make it difficult to assess. The gay rights organisation Stonewall suggested that the playwright and author, who was sentenced to two years hard labour in Reading jail, should now be entitled to a pardon.
The justice minister, Sam Gyimah, said that a clause would be introduced into the policing and crime bill. “It is hugely important that we pardon people convicted of historical sexual offences who would be innocent of any crime today,” he said. “Through pardons and the existing disregard process we will meet our manifesto commitment to put right these wrongs.”
The disregard process is already open to those who are alive and wish to remove from their criminal record any past sexual offences that are no longer illegal. They will be entitled to a statutory pardon under the new legislation.
In 2013 Alan Turing, the gay mathematician who broke the German Enigma codes, was posthumously pardoned by the Queen. He killed himself by taking cyanide in 1954, at the age of 41, following his conviction for gross indecency.
The MoJ said it would partially follow Lord Sharkey’s amendment to the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 although it would grant a blanket pardon for those who have died and not investigate individual historical cases.
Sharkey said: “This is a momentous day for thousands of families up and down the UK who have been campaigning on this issue for decades. I am very grateful for the government’s support and the support of many of my colleagues in parliament.”
The government has declined to support a private members’ bill on the subject, brought forward by an SNP MP, John Nicolson, which is due to be debated in parliament later this week.
Ministers said they fear that bill would allow some people to claim they have been cleared of offences that are still crimes – including sex with a minor and non-consensual sexual activity.
Gyimah said: “I understand and support the intentions behind Mr Nicolson’s bill, however I worry that he has not fully thought through the consequences. A blanket pardon, without the detailed investigations carried out by the Home Office under the disregard process, could see people guilty of an offence which is still a crime today claiming to be pardoned.”
The MoJ said there would be no historical limit in relation to past offences. It declined to say whether Wilde would be among those deemed posthumously pardoned.
Nicolson, the former BBC newsreader and front bench SNP culture spokesman, told the Guardian that the former justice secretary Michael Gove had promised him government support for his private member’s bill. His would only backdate pardons to 1919. “I hope that the government will sit and read my bill carefully,” he said. “Mine would also be a blanket pardon. A lot of those people [who are alive] are very old and would not want their names listed.”
Paul Twocock, director of campaigns at Stonewall, said: “We welcome the government announcement to issue a posthumous pardon to all gay and bi men unjustly prosecuted for being who they are, but we don’t think it goes far enough. John Nicolson MP’s proposed bill closes a loophole that means some gay and bi men who are still alive and living with those convictions still can’t have them deleted, despite them being unjust and not illegal today. We urge the government to look at bringing this into their proposal.
“We also don’t agree with the government’s interpretation of John Nicolson MP’s bill – it explicitly excludes pardoning anyone convicted of offences that would still be illegal today, including non-consensual sex and sex with someone under 16.”
Family of Alan Turing to demand government pardon 49,000 other men
Campaigners to bring petition to Downing Street, demanding all men convicted under gross indecency law for their homosexuality are pardoned
The family of the codebreaker Alan Turing will visit Downing Street on Monday to demand the government pardons 49,000 other men persecuted like him for their homosexuality.
Turing, whose work cracking the German military codes was vital to the British war effort against Nazi Germany, was convicted in 1952 of gross indecency with a 19-year-old man, was chemically castrated, and two years later died from cyanide poisoning in an apparent suicide.
He was given a posthumous royal pardon in 2013 and campaigners want the government to pardon all the men convicted under the outdated law.
Turing’s great-nephew, Nevil Hunt, his great-niece, Rachel Barnes, and her son, Thomas, will hand over the petition, which attracted almost 500,000 signatures, to 10 Downing Street.
Ms Barnes said: “I consider it to be fair and just that everybody who was convicted under the Gross Indecency law is given a pardon. It is illogical that my great uncle has been the only one to be pardoned when so many were convicted of the same crime. I feel sure that Alan Turing would have also wanted justice for everybody.”
Matthew Todd, the editor of Attitude Magazine, who will also visit Downing Street, said: “Generations of gay and bisexual men were forced to live their lives in a state of terror.
“Men convicted of gross indecency were often considered to have brought huge shame on their families and many took their own lives. We still live with the legacy of this period today and it’s about time the country addressed this appalling part of our history.”
Benedict Cumberbatch’s Oscar-nominated portrayal of Turing has brought the pioneering scientist’s story to a wider audience. The film follows him from his days as a second world war code breaker at Bletchley Park to his work at Manchester University, which saw him hailed as the father of modern computing, and his tragic death.
Turing led a team decoding messages at Bletchley Park, whose work remained secret until many years after the end of the war, and also designed the Bombe machine which decrypted German messages. Their work helped shorten the conflict and saved many thousands of lives.
A brutal murder that took place over 40 years ago in San Francisco shocked and catalyzed that city’s gay community and resulted in exposing the mostly hidden to the public- eye violence against gay people.
On the night of June 21, 1977, Robert Hillsborough, and his roommate, Jerry Taylor, went out to a disco for a night of dancing. They left sometime after midnight and stopped for a bite to eat at the Whiz Burger a few blocks from their apartment in the Mission District. When they left the burger joint, they were accosted by a gang of young men shouting anti-gay slurs at them. Hillsborough and Taylor ran into Hillsborough’s car as several of the attackers climbed onto the car’s roof and hood. Hillsborough drove off, and thought that he left his troubles behind him. What he didn’t know was that they were following him in another car. Hillsborough parked just four blocks away from their apartment. When they got out of the car four men jumped out the other car and attacked them again. Jerry Taylor was beaten, but he managed to escape. Robert Hillsborough wasn’t so lucky.
Robert was brutally beaten and stabbed 15 times by 19-year-old John Cordova who was yelling, “Faggot! Faggot! Faggot!” Witnesses also reported that Cordoba yelled, “This one’s for Anita!” Neighbors were awakened by the commotion, and one woman screamed that she was calling the police, which prompted the four attackers to flee. Neighbors rushed to Hillsborough’s aid, but it was too late. Hillsborough died 45 minutes later at Mission Emergency Hospital. Cordoba and the three other assailants were arrested later that morning.
Because Hillsborough was employed as a city gardener, Mayor George Moscone followed longstanding practice and ordered flags at City Hall and other city properties to be lowered to half-mast. He also directed his anger to Anita Bryant and California State Sen. John Briggs, who was running for governor and an anti-gay platform. Anita Bryant’s anti-gay campaign in Miami which resulted in the defeat of a gay rights ordinance three weeks earlier had inspired Briggs to hold a new conference in front of city hall the week before Hillsborough’s death to announce a campaign to remove gays and lesbians from teaching. Moscone called Briggs an anti-homosexual “demagogue” and held him responsible for “inciting trouble by walking right into San Francisco, knowing the emotional state of his community. He stirred people into action. He will have to live with his conscience.”
Hillsborough’s death also struck a deep nerve in the gay community. ”We live in a paranoid state,” said Harvey Milk, who was preparing his run for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, “and the death of Robert is only the culmination of a lot of violence that’s been directed at us.” San Francisco’s Pride celebration, which took place just a few days later, attracted a record-breaking 300,000 people, and it became an impromptu memorial march as participants erected a makeshift shrine at City Hall.
Cordova was charged with a single count of murder, along with Thomas J. Spooner, 21. The other two passengers in the car were not charged.
Cordova was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to only 10 years in prison. Charges were later dropped against Spooner.
The parents of Robert Hillsborough filed a $5 million lawsuit accusing Anita Bryant of conducting a hate campaign against homosexuals. Hillsborough’s parents claimed and rightfully so that Miss Bryant’s public comments constituted “a campaign of hate, bigotry, ignorance, fear, intimidation and prejudice” against their son and other homosexuals. This, they said, amounted to a conspiracy to deprive Hillsborough of his civil rights.
U.S. District Judge Stanley A. Weigel dismissed the case saying that he lacked jurisdiction because Miss Bryant lives in Florida.
And still 40 years later the violence continues to this day. We must never forget those who lost their lives to hatred and bigotry.
Robert L. Hillsborough Born: March 10, 1944 Died: June 22, 1977
Organisation now bases enrollment in boys-only programs on the gender listed on application to become a scout
The Boy Scouts of America now allows transgender children who identify as boys to enroll in its boys-only programs.
The organization said on Monday it had decided to begin basing enrollment in its boys-only programs on the gender a child or parent lists on the application to become a scour, rather than birth certificate.
Rebecca Rausch, a spokeswoman for the organization, said the organization’s leadership had considered a recent case in Secaucus, New Jersey, where an eight-year-old transgender child had been asked to leave his Scout troop after parents and leaders found out he is transgender, but that the change was made because of the national conversation about gender identity.
“For more than 100 years, the Boy Scouts of America, along with schools, youth sports and other youth organizations, have ultimately deferred to the information on an individual’s birth certificate to determine eligibility for our single-gender programs,” the statement said.
“However, that approach is no longer sufficient as communities and state laws are interpreting gender identity differently, and these laws vary widely from state to state.”
Rausch said the enrollment decision went into effect immediately.
“Our organization’s local councils will help find units that can provide for the best interest of the child,” the statement said.
Boy Scouts of America leaders lifted a blanket ban on gay troop leaders and employees in July 2015.
Transgender boy removed from Boy Scouts troop in New Jersey
Joe Maldonado is at the center of the first known case of a trans child being banned from organization
Joe Maldonado wanted to join the Boy Scouts because many of his friends were a part of it. The eight-year-old went to school with the boys in the group, hung out with them and played on the basketball team with some of them, said Kristie Maldonado, his mother.
But about a month after joining Pack 87 in Secaucus, New Jersey, Joe was asked to leave because he is transgender, according to Kristie Maldonado. His case is believed to be the first known in which a scout was rejected based on their gender, Justin Wilson, the executive director of Scouts for Equality, told NorthJersey.com.
“Because he wasn’t born a boy, he was no longer able to go back into the Boy Scouts,” Maldonado told the Guardian.
Maldonado said she was unaware of any issues with her son until she received a call from a scouting official, asking whether Joe was born a girl. “At first, well, I didn’t answer him. I just said, you guys didn’t ask for a birth certificate. I said no one had ever seen my child naked,” she said.
The call came as a surprise to Maldonado because Joe was open about his gender identity and had been accepted as a boy at school. The other kids in the troop had never had an issue with him, Maldonado said.
But the official told her that some parents had mentioned Joe’s name had previously been Jodi, and that Joe could no longer be a part of the troop, Maldonado said.
“If they had said right from the beginning, because I know it’s a touchy subject and I know it’s a private organization, I would have said, OK, we can’t join. We can’t do it this year. I would have made an excuse for Joe,” she said, “But you don’t accept a child, then a month later you throw them out.”
The Boy Scouts of America endured years of controversy before ultimately lifting bans on gay scouts and leaders in recent years. Maldonado said she took this as a sign that her son would be allowed to join. “I took it as, OK, if they’re accepted, why not transgender?”
But a spokeswoman, Effie Delimarkos, said in a statement the organization considered transgender children as a separate issue.
“No youth may be removed from any of our programs on the basis of his or her sexual orientation,” she said, but added: “Gender identity isn’t related to sexual orientation.”
The Boy Scouts declined to directly address Joe’s situation or say whether there was a written policy on transgender participants. The statement said Cub Scout programs were for those identified as boys on their birth certificates.
Wilson told NorthJersey.com that the Boy Scouts of America organization was not known to have rejected any scouts due to gender identity prior to Joe’s case. He knew of at least two transgender boys who were Cub Scouts in other states and did not know of any instances in which scouts were asked for birth certificates as a condition of membership.
Eric Chamberlin of the Northern New Jersey Council of Boy Scouts acknowledged having called Maldonado last month, NorthJersey.com reported. He declined further comment and referred questions to the scouts’ national office, saying the issue involved “our membership standards”.
Earlier this year, the Boy Scouts told the Associated Press that it would admit transgender children to its coeducational programs, but not to programs that are for boys only, like the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.
By making the family’s story public, Kristie Maldonado is also hoping for change. “The change is I want for them to go not by birth certificate or what they’re born with, but go by their identity. Our definition of identity is how you feel,” Maldonado said. “When they say identity, they’re going by the birth certificate.” She wants transgender kids to be included, “no questions asked”.
The national Girl Scouts organization, which is not affiliated with the Boy Scouts, has accepted transgender members for years.
The Boy Scouts did not respond to questions about whether the group would accept a transgender girl whose birth certificate indicated she was assigned male at birth.
Boy Scouts of America ends ban on gay and lesbian troop leaders
On the heels of gay marriage legalization, the organization’s new policy allows local units to select their leaders to appease both liberal and religious groups
The national governing body of the Boy Scouts of America has ended a blanket ban on gay adult leaders while allowing church-sponsored Scout units to maintain the exclusion because of their faith.
The new policy, aimed at easing a controversy that embroiled the Boy Scouts for years and threatened the organization with lawsuits, takes effect immediately. It was approved on Monday night by the BSA’s 80-member national executive board in a teleconference.
The ban pitted leaders and members of the 105-year-old organization against each other, often fragmenting according to faith. The new policy seeks a compromise between more liberal groups, such as the New York City scouting group, and regions whose groups are run by staunchly conservative faiths, such as the Mormon church.
Under the new policy, local units will be able to select their own leaders according to their own standards, meaning church-run groups can “choose adult leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own”, according to a statement from organization executives.
“It is not a victory but it certainly is progress,” said Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout and executive director of Scouts for Equality, told the Guardian earlier on Monday. “I think this is the most progressive resolution we could’ve expected from the Boy Scouts.”
Wahls noted that the organization had banned gay people since 1978, and that its decentralized structure – religious organizations charter about 70% of Boy Scout troops – means some prejudices have deep roots.
“What really has to happen is change in the sponsoring organizations,” he said, adding that his concern was not with specific religious groups but for full inclusion.
“I’m not worried about Mormon units not allowing gay leaders as there aren’t a lot of openly gay Mormons anywhere,” he said. “But discrimination sends a harmful message to gay youths and straight youths, and it has no place in scouting.”
Scouting law says that a boy scout is cheerful, so we’ll be OK
Zach Wahls, Scouts for Equality
On 13 July, the organization’s executive committee, headed by president and former defense secretary Robert Gates, unanimously approved the resolution, saying there had been a “sea change in the law with respect to gay rights”.
“The BSA national policy that prohibits gay adults from serving as leaders is no longer legally defensible,” the organization said in a statement earlier this month. “However, the BSA’s commitment to duty to God and the rights of religious chartered organizations to select their leaders is unwavering.”
The vote took place only a month and a day after the US supreme court legalized same-sex marriage throughout the US, striking down state bans and punctuating the swift progress of gay rights with its 5-4 vote.
The board’s vote also follows only two years after a long and bitter debate at the organization’s 2013 meeting in Texas, where 60% of some 1,400 scout leaders voted to end the ban. The organization said at the time that it had no intentions of revisiting the issue.
But earlier this year the New York City chapter hired a gay camp counsellor, and said it would force the issue in court if necessary to keep the counsellor employed.
The Boy Scouts has about 2.5 million members between the ages of seven and 21, as well as 960,000 volunteers in local units, according to the organization. Membership has steadily declined about 4-6% each year for several years, contributing to the internal crisis over what to do.
John Stemberger, chairman of the breakaway Christian youth outdoor program Trail Life USA, told Reuters on Friday that lifting the ban was an affront to Christian morals and would make it “even more challenging for a church to integrate a [Boy Scouts] unit as part of a church’s ministry offerings”.
But major Catholic and Mormon supporters appeared to approve of the new policy. On its site, the National Catholic Committee on Scouting said that the Boy Scouts did not endorse homosexuality. The committee then wrote: “Any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.”
The Mormon church meanwhile reasserted itself earlier this month, saying in a statement that it has “always had the right to select Scout leaders who adhere to moral and religious principles that are consistent with our doctrines and beliefs”.
This is what Britain’s Gay Liberation Front movement looked like in the 1970s
Protests, parades, pamphlets, and policy change
Last month marked the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, a landmark piece of legislation in the United Kingdom that ceased the prosecution of men for homosexual acts. It wasn’t a perfect law by any means — it did not fully decriminalize sexual acts with persons of the same sex — but it was the first legislative step toward equality for LGBTQ people under British law.
Prior to the 1970s, few gay people in Britain were publicly out and even fewer publicly campaigned. Dedicated activists knew that taking to the streets, being visible and not cowed was a key strategy in the pursuit of equal rights. They called for people up and down the country to come out.
These days, gay pride marches are among the largest and most joyful gatherings. So, it might be difficult to imagine the extent to which a public showing of support for LGBTQ rights was radical.
Archive photographs, journals, and organizing literature provide testament to early activism in Britain. Recently, such papers and prints in the Hall-Carpenter Archives at the London School of Economics (LSE) were brought together for Glad to be Gay: The Struggle for Legal Equality, an exhibition of ephemera and social movement materials.
We witness the gatherings, think-ins, political actions, and marches. We see the self-made pamphlets, zines, and newsletters that forged solidarity of thought. These objects galvanized citizens who refused to remain silent; they propelled a movement.
LSE has an important historical role in the push for LGBTQ rights. The first ever Gay Liberation Front (GLF) meeting in the UK was convened in a basement classroom there. The date was October 13, 1970.
Inspired by the GLF movement in the United States, the UK GLF drew up demands and focused on group activities to root those demands — street theatre, “gay days,” festivals, and sit-ins. At first, it was very informal, but soon the GLF realized the power of collective voice. Its activities led to London’s first Gay Pride March in 1972.
The curator of Glad To Be Gay, Gillian Murphy, explains that until the 1950s homosexuality was a taboo subject. Male homosexuality was illegal and lesbianism wasn’t even recognized as an emotional, sexual, or social reality.
In 1957, UK Parliament published the Wolfenden Report, which recommended that the law should no longer judge nor punish sex conducted in private between consenting same-sex adults. The report didn’t come so much from a position of moral enlightenment, but more a realistic appraisal of privacy, its legal protections, and the impossibility of enforcement. Throughout the 1960s, the Homosexual Law Reform Society and campaigners such as Tony Dyson and Antony Grey pressed politicians to decriminalize homosexuality.
Passage of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act was a huge leap forward, but it also had negative consequences. It formalized the legal age of consent at 21 (it was lowered to 18 in 1994, and to 16 until 2001) and as a result, vast numbers of young gay adults, in their love, remained outside the law. Under the Sexual Offences Act, homosexual acts in the military also remained illegal. Furthermore, the law only applied to England and Wales and homosexual sex remained a crime for millions in Scotland and Northern Ireland until the early 80s.
Lifelong gay rights activist Peter Tatchell said in his book Europe in The Pink (1992) that the 1967 Sexual Offences Act actually facilitated an increase in prosecutions against homosexual men. Tatchell told The Guardian recently that between 1967 and the passage of the 2003 Sexual Offences Act, at least 15,000 men were convicted of same-sex acts, which would never have been prosecuted had the partner been of the other sex.
These photographs show the actions behind the LGBTQ community’s call for gay persons to come out. In the second half of the 20th century, gay, lesbian, and queer identified people found strength in numbers. They raised consciousness among the public at large and refused to feel shame any longer. The Gay Liberation Front brought a new energy to gay activism. Newly established grassroots organizations such as the Joint Council for Gay Teenagers, Gay Activists Alliance, and FRIEND (Fellowship for the Relief of the Isolated and Emotionally in Need and Distress) met specific needs of diverse groups within the LGBTQ community.
Looking at these images, reading this history, and tracing the legislative changes (especially the 2003 repeal of the remaining discriminatory laws from 1967), you might be forgiven for thinking the fight has been won. Far from it. The activism of the 1960s and 1970s began a fight which continues today. Transphobia, limited access to medical and mental healthcare, and general homophobic attitudes persist in British society. The fight for equality adopted back then isn’t just a chapter in history; it is also part of a continuum of speaking out, winning freedoms, and promoting love that is ongoing.
GLF Gay Day, Holland Park, 1971. (Hall-Carpenter Archives/LSE Library)
Gay Liberation Front demands, November 1970. (Hall-Carpenter Archives/LSE Library)
Gay Liberation Front demands, February 1971. (Hall-Carpenter Archives/LSE Library)