Comment: Peter Tatchell pays tribute to Antony Grey a giant of the gay movement

Peter Tatchell May 5, 2010
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Antony Grey, regarded as the first gay rights activist, died aged 82 on April 30th after several years of illness.

As secretary of the Homosexual Law Reform Society in the 1960s, he was one of the founding fathers of the gay law reform struggle in Britain. Although a true pioneer, he sadly remains a largely unsung hero of the movement for LGBT equality.

More than 20 years before Stonewall and OutRage!, he was spearheading the campaign to end the criminalisation of homosexuality, which remained totally illegal and punishable by life imprisonment until 1967.

Antony was a superbly professional organiser who successfully won over and marshalled together sufficient MPs and Lords to secure gay law reform.

While MPs like Leo Abse got the publicity and credit for decriminalisation, it was Antony’s astute, meticulous behind-the-scenes lobbying that was the key to securing the passage of the ground-breaking 1967 Sexual offences Act.

His crucial role was never properly acknowledged or recognised.

Antony was immensely frustrated by the way the MPs and Lords sponsoring the decriminalisation Bill watered down his draft legislation, resulting in the passage of a liberalisation law that was not nearly as liberal and progressive as he had wanted and proposed.

Undeterred, he continued lobbying for further gay law reform for a further two decades, mostly through the Homosexual Law Reform Society and its successor, the Sexual Law Reform Society.

When he first attended Gay Liberation Front meetings in the early 1970s he was often treated quite shabbily. I was involved in GLF and remember some radical firebrands unfairly branding him as an “Uncle Tom”. In fact, he was much more radical than his critics claimed. He was a supportive of GLF and later of OutRage!

I don’t believe in the honours system but it is absolutely outrageous and despicable that he was never offered even an OBE, let alone the knighthood that his work for homosexual equality merited.

Successive Labour and Conservative governments deserve severe condemnation for failing to honour this truly great social reformer.

I salute Antony Grey and his trail-blazing contribution to LGBT equality and human rights. We all walk in his shadow.

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