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News: UK

Mon 1 Mar, 2010
By Danielle Carter

Several of the women who came to the meetings were married women, it was a vastly different time. A woman couldn’t take out a mortgage without her husband that is how primitive it was.

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Exclusive: Pinkwire speaks with Andrew Lumsden from the GLF

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The Gay Liberation Front started in America following the Stonewall riots and made its way across the pond some forty years ago. Andrew Lumsden an original member of the GLF reflects on the past and considers the future.

“The GLF here began because two students met up almost by chance in New York when the Gay Liberation Front was getting going after the Stonewall riots. They met up in the early 1970’s, they travelled around America and were so excited by what they saw they thought that they must get a branch going over here.

They booked a room at the London School of Economics and put the word about and about ten people were there in the September, and within about two months, (I first went in November) there were a hundred or more people coming. Eventually in the New Year LSE asked us to leave because the crowds were so I agree.

So we went for a while to a very famous pioneering rock basement club called Middle Earth in Covent Garden and that was because a very wealthy gay man arranged that we could have access. It was like being an early Christian because they were catacombs, underground cellars one after the other. The crowds became enormous, so we went to All Saints Hall in Notting Hill Gate and by 1972 it was getting unmanageable so it was decided to make the meetings localised.

There were lesbians who began to say it was intolerable, that the agenda was being set by male voices, so in a way the break up of the GLF started then by the creation of smaller pockets of meetings. So I have always said that the GLF has been dead since 1972-73 in terms of a rallying group but the consequences of it have been extraordinary in terms of the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard. And other such services born out of the movement. In terms of the GLF it never had a membership so you can’t say I was a member of the GLF because it isn’t true, it wasn’t like a coffee club. I went along to the GLF and took part in its activities.

The situation at the time of GLF for women was chronically bad, in all their working lives they kept on encountering glass ceilings much lower than they are now. Several of the women who came to the meetings were married women, it was a vastly different time. A woman couldn’t take out a mortgage without her husband that is how primitive it was. In the gay clubs for men it was still the ground rule that you couldn’t touch if you were dancing, so the people that ran the gay clubs they would come over and break you up. It was the fear of the law not because they were homophobic.


The one thing that I find is that people still don’t understand public lavatories because many of them have been closed. Still at the time of the GLF there were Victorian public conveniences all over London. Many of them were very ornate, you went down steps and they had wonderful tile work with amazing Victorian plumbing. Men met each other there because there were no other facilities for meeting and I find that some young people are now are outraged by the process they think that it is a disgusting way to meet people but the answer is in primitive conditions it was the best way to do it. The police knew what they were used for.

There were lots of phrases used at the time of the GLF which are no longer around they came from an era of oppression. One of them was the BMW which I have not heard in a long time, it means the ‘Bloody Manly Walk’. A way in which we all had to walk so we didnt get ‘spotted’.

It was only after the GLF started that I saw a man with shoulder length hair, I was on Oxford Street and people stopped and stared. That is how socially conformist we were.

We had the 1967 act but we didn’t have the word ‘gay’ we had to introduce it. Newspapers refused to print it and people from Tunbridge Wells kept on writing in saying ‘My wife and I have spent years saying we have had such a gay evening and now we can’t’. The word gay was subversive.

Most of my friends think that political activism amongst the young gay community is at a very low level. I went to
a protest about Uganda’s conduct and there were only about 50 people there, that is shocking and scandalous but the numbers of gay people enjoying themselves has increased. We do feel that if the government tried to remove their freedom’s then the community would come out of the bars and react.

Civil Partnership
I never wanted it to get this far but I have seen with delight what civil partnerships have meant to very elderly gay couples that have been together for 50 years, 20 of those illegal. For that I am very glad. I have also seen the delight of heterosexual family members where a kind of guilt is lifted from them. All of that is the great side and probably that is enough but I do always dislike that avenue. What we were fighting for at GLF was the freedom of personal conduct, a change in all the relationships in the world. Sharing in a tax privilege is not what we were fighting for and not what people died for.

It has created a two-tier system in our society now where it can create a feeling of non-achievement whereby if you don’t have a civil partnership you can feel that you have failed.

Marriage- I would have never campaigned for, I hated it when the American’s brought it in and if I had my way it would be reserved for those who are rearing children, whether they are straight or gay. It would be a tribute to the work that they do.

Youth & History
Some of the youth must have knowledge of their past. There are probably about as many as there ever were, most people only want to know enough history in order to cope.
There are some very promising books that are being published that name and praise people involved in the forwarding of gay rights. This is where we need formal, higher education to teach people what went on and what happened.

I do get concerned that the word ‘gay’ that we used as a quasi-revolutionary term has now descended into a playground insult. That is distressing to anyone of my generation, it is appalling.

The Pope
I don’t think that we should have to tolerate the pope intervening into British public affairs. My gut reaction to the Catholic Church’s record is one of horror and my instant reaction was to say ‘get that man out of our faces’.

I have thought long and hard about this. Surely a religious outfit can employ people who agree with their religious ideals and adhere to their ethics? If you think about a women’s club, men are not allowed. A legislation that would force men to be entitled to go, would feel uncomfortable surely? It is the same thing for a religion being compelled to employ gay people when their whole purpose is to teach a sexual morality that doesn’t include gays.

However, there is no point in passing anti-discrimination laws if you make an exception for the people that discriminate.

Also why would you want to defend somebody who wants to go and work for one of these church’s?

Coming Out
For a long time when the GLF was in full flight I would have believed that people have an absolute duty to come out and no excuses. I would long to still say that but I amend it a little bit now and say that I think we have an absolute duty to ourselves. A little bit of testimony of this Lord Brown who says that his life is now whole after being forced out.

For as long as we don’t come out for whatever reason, however enormously powerful we don’t damage ourselves.”

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