Campaign for Homosexual Equality
CHE's activities included pressing for law reforms, providing educational material for use in schools, and attempting to influence the provision of medical, psychiatric and social services. Since the 1980s, CHE has continued to campaign, although with reduced membership the range of its activities have been greatly reduced.
CHE began in 1964 as the North Western Homosexual Law Reform Committee (NWHLRC), founded in Manchester by Allan Horsfall and Colin Harvey. The formal launch took place at a public meeting on 7 October 1964 at Church House, Manchester. After the Sexual Offences Act 1967 came into force, the London-based Homosexual Law Reform Society was thought by many to have achieved its aims.
The NWHLRC, which in 1967 had already fallen out with Antony Grey of HLRS/Albany Trust over the northerners' wish to press ahead with the Esquire Clubs venture to establish member-run gay clubs, felt that much remained to be done, and named itself the Committee for Homosexual Equality (CHE) in 1969 with a view to becoming a national body for England and Wales, in co-operation with its counterpart north of the border, the Scottish Minorities Group (SMG).
In 1972 a CHE London Information Centre (CHELIC) was opened in a basement in Great Wndmill Street, Soho.
Change to campaign
It raised money to rent an office in Manchester and employ a full-time General Secretary, Paul Temperton, and it set out to become a fully democratic "bottom-up" membership organisation.
In 1971 CHE members took part in the first major gay demonstration in London. On 28 August the Gay Day began in Hyde Park, followed by a march to Trafalgar Square, nominally to protest at the unequal age of consent. Between 500 and 1,000 marchers were reported to have attended.
In 1973 CHE held the first national gay rights conference in Morecambe (see below for a list of Conferences).
In 1974 CHE organised a national Homosexual Equality Rally in London. The rally was supported by the women's movement and people from ethnic minorities. Where earlier actions had concentrated on legal protection from criminal persecution, this rally was part of gay and lesbian people starting to establish a distinct sexual identity. Those who turned out for the rally did so to support the extension of constitutional rights and universal values to lesbian and gay people.
CHE, together with its Scottish (SMG) and Northern Irish (USFI) equivalents, produced a draft Law Reform Bill in 1975 and devoted much energy to lobbying parliamentarians to introduce it. Among other things, the Bill would have brought about a common age of consent of 16 for all sexual behaviour, something not in fact achieved until many years later.
In 1979 CHE's head office was moved to London.
Derek Oyston legacy
In 2005 Derek Oyston, a CHE member from Gateshead, left a substantial amount of money to CHE. The Executive then consulted with the membership about the possibility of applying for charitable status. but it was decided not to pursue this route as it would have made it difficult for CHE to conduct political campaigns.
In 2010 CHE's Secretary Griffith Vaughan Williams died. He had been one of the most active members of the organisation for many years. Shortly before his death, he signed a contract for the official history of CHE and its times to be written by Peter Scott-Presland. The first volume of the history was published in February 2015.
On 7 October 2014, to commemorate CHE's 50th anniversary, a plaque was unveiled by the Bishop of Manchester and the Lord Mayor of Manchester at Church House, the offices of the Anglican Diocese of Manchester, where the first NWHLRC meeting had been held in 1964. The same evening, CHE received the 2014 Alan Turing Memorial Award as part of the Homo Heroes Awards ceremony organised by the Lesbian and Gay Foundation.
CHE has been holding annual conferences since 1973:
- 1973: Morecambe
- 1974: Malvern; the conference "signalled a formal coalescence between the separate strands represented by GLF and CHE, and CHE's formal commitment to a policy of militant reformism".
- 1975: Sheffield
- 1976: Southampton
- 1977: Nottingham
- 1978: Coventry
- 1979: Brighton
- 1980: York
- 1981: Durham
In recent years the Conference has been a one-day event in London.
For more information see List of CHE Groups
CHE's local groups throughout England and Wales were often highly independent, producing their own newsletters giving details of social and campaigning activities in their own area. Local groups and members had input into CHE policy through the National Council, which met quarterly at different venues through the country, and was composed of CHE members elected by the whole membership. Annual conferences also continued to be held; these were major, multifaceted events covering a long bank-holiday weekend and can be seen in hindsight as key moments in the struggle for gay rights in Britain.
The national organisation later decided that the running of local groups was no longer part of CHE's core function—a decision that was by no means universally supported by the membership. Thereafter many of the groups continued as independent bodies, often with names such as "The xxx Area Gay Society". Following the splitting-off of the local groups, CHE gradually ceased to be a mass-membership organisation, and other groups such as Stonewall and OutRage! have become more prominent in the UK campaign for gay rights.
CHE produced a national newsletter from 1969 to 1971: this gave rise to the CHE Bulletin, which ran from 1971 to 1974; also, the CHE Magazine Working Party (set up in 1971) produced Lunch from 1971 to 1974. From 1975 to 1976 CHE published CHE Broadsheet. Between 1976 and 1977 a newspaper called Out was produced.
One-off publications include:
- Attacks on Gay People: A Report of the Commission on Discrimination (A5 booklet, c.1980}
- Homosexuality: Calling for Honesty in Education (A5 booklet, c.1987)
London Friend was set up in London in 1971 as a CHE taskforce intended to become CHE's counselling arm. It became a successful organisation in its own right, and was separated from CHE in 1975.
Awards and donations
In 2006 CHE began discussions with GALHA about a possible awards ceremony to follow on from the discontinued Mike Rhodes Awards. This led to the inauguration of the Derek Oyston Achievement Award, given on two occasions, in 2009 and 2011. The Derek Oyston Film Award was awarded annually from 2009 to 2013. CHE has also on several occasions helped to support the Pre-launch for LGBT History Month.
President and Vice-Presidents
Allan Horsfall was Honorary Vice-President until his death.
Current Honorary Vice-Presidents are:
- Martin Bowley QC
- Dr Tony Cross
- Dame Margaret Drabble
- Dr Jonathan Miller
- Lord Smith of Finsbury
- Michael Steed
Previous Vice-Presidents include:
- http://www.c-h-e.org.uk Official CHE web site
- http://www.manchester.gov.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=398 History of Gay Rights campaigning in Manchester
- http://www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20120701220048/http://www.gaymonitor.co.uk/chehistory1.htm Unofficial history of CHE by Ray Gosling
- Hall-Carpenter Archives: http://archives.lse.ac.uk/TreeBrowse.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&field=RefNo&key=HCA%2FCHE Catalogue of the papers of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality at the London School of Economics Archives Division (http://www.lse.ac.uk/library/archive/Default.htm)
- CHE Annual Report, 2005–2006
- CHE Annual Report, 2006–2007
- John Chartres, "Homosexuals seek revision of discriminatory laws", The Times 9 April 1973
- Jeffrey Weeks, Coming out: homosexual politics in Britain, from the nineteenth century to the present. London: Quartet Books. ISBN 0-7043-3175-6. page 212.