Homosexual Law Reform Society

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The Homosexual Law Reform Society (HLRS) was an organisation set up in 1958 (following the publication of the Wolfenden Report the previous year), to campaign for the decriminalisation of gay male sex.

In 1954 the Conservative government set up a Departmental Committee to look into aspects of British sex laws. The resulting report, the Wolfenden Report, was published on 3 September 1957.

Following publication of the report, there were a number of letters to the press urging reform, starting with one from Dr R D Reid. In particular, A E Dyson (Tony Dyson) wrote a letter to The Times calling for reform of the law by the implementation of the Wolfenden Committee's recommendations. Dyson's letter was signed by many distinguished people including Clement Attlee, A J Ayer, Isaiah Berlin, Trevor Huddleston, Julian Huxley, J B Priestley, Bertrand Russell, Donald Soper, Angus Wilson and Barbara Wootton.

The correspondence that this letter generated helped bring together supporters of the Wolfenden Report and this led to the Homosexual Law Reform Society being founded on 12 May 1958. Most of the founders were not themselves gay. They included distinguished figures such as Victor Gollancz, Stephen Spender, and MP Kenneth Younger.

Advertisements inviting people who supported the Wolfenden Report to contact the Homosexual Law Reform Society resulted in Tony Dyson being joined by Antony Grey, businessman Nigel Bryant and architect Duncan Wright.

In May 1958 the related charity the Albany Trust was set up. In October 1958 the Albany Trust opened an office and the HLRS was able to use these facilities for its campaigning work.

The pamphlet Homosexuals and the Law was sent to MPs in preparation for their first debate on the Wolfenden Report. The first parliamentary debate was initiated on 4 December 1957 by Frank Pakenham (Baron Pakenham, later known as Lord Longford). However, it had become clear that the government had shelved the report and was not planning to implement any reform. The Lord Chancellor, Viscount Kilmuir, had said "I am not going down in history as the man who made sodomy legal."

On 12 May 1960 over 1000 people attended the first HLRS public meeting in Caxton Hall in central London.

In 1962 Antony Grey became acting secretary of the HLRS. In the spring of 1963 this became a full appointment. Some people questioned the appropriateness of this appointment since Grey was a gay man who was living with another man; there was concern that he might be subject to the same type of police attention that the organisation was campaigning against.

The HLRS was most active during the campaign which led to the passing of the Sexual Offences Act 1967. For example, they provided advice and support to the Dorian Society of New Zealand. However, many (in particular the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and the Gay Liberation Front) considered that the new law did not go far enough and blamed the HLRS for what they saw as a weakening of the Wolfenden Committee's proposals, calling the HLRS/Albany Trust a conformist outfit of "Uncle Toms".

In March 1970 the HLRS became the Sexual Law Reform Society (SLRS) in order to campaign for further legal changes, particularly relating to the age of consent. In 1974 it produced a report for the Criminal Law Revision Committee on lowering the age of consent.

Professor A J Ayer was President of the HLRS for a time; he remarked that 'as a notorious heterosexual I could never be accused of feathering my own nest'.