Obituary: Michael Brown – a long-standing gay activist
One of the most long-standing LGBT activists in the UK has died at the age of 82. He was a founder of the world’s oldest gay Jewish organisations and an activist with the Campaign for Homosexual Equality as his close friend David Solomon explains.
It is with great sadness that I am writing to inform you about the death last weekend of Michael Brown, one of the most long-standing gay activists in this country. Michael was 82 and had been suffering from a number of acute health conditions including leukaemia and liver failure.
When Michael came out on to the London gay scene in the early 1950’s homosexuality was still illegal and taboo. There was no gay movement and almost nobody was out. Michael started his activism in 1954 by sending a series of letters to the newspapers, which he had to do under an assumed name because that alone might have made him liable to prosecution. He joined the Homosexual Law Reform Society in 1957 and remained involved in it until partial decriminalisation of gay sex ten years later. He then became one of the original members of the Gay Liberation Front. This was a radical period in which people like Michael revolutionised their own lives at the same time as changing society profoundly from a condescending liberal tolerance at best into a genuinely equal acceptance of diversity. Michael’s campaigning was not confined to the UK. He was always concerned with the situation of gays and lesbians internationally, and he was heavily involved with the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA). He lived for a time in Canada and the US, making many friends there, and had several long-standing relationships with partners from Britain and other countries.
Michael remained active in the radical gay movement, co-founding the first Jewish gay group in the world, the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group (JGLG), and later with the onset of the AIDS crisis, the Jewish Aids Trust. He was a long-standing member of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, and was recently awarded a lifetime achievement award by them. He was a frequent speaker at numerous events, and an active campaigner right until the end of his life, also acting as an ambassador for Age UK’s Opening Doors project. All the time he was fired by a sense of justice and indignation at the way gay and lesbian people were treated, that had deep ethical, philosophical and religious roots in his own upbringing and personal development. Not long ago he became a great hit at Bar Wotever on Tuesday nights at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, where he connected strongly with a younger generation in his talks about gay life in the 1950’s.
Michael was loved and is greatly missed by his friends, ex-lovers and fellow-activists, and was greatly respected by all those who realise the difference that his life and work made. We are now sadly witnessing the passing of a heroic generation of campaigners and activists who experienced the horrendous persecution of gays and lesbians in this country and fought to change it. Michael was one of the last of these men and women. The totally different world that we live in today is a measure of their success and their lasting legacy.
Michael’s funeral will be taking place shortly at Bushey Cemetery in north London. His friends will also be organising a celebration of Michael’s life in central London in the near future.