Gay rights plaque unveiled at Manchester movement’s 50th birthday – but bishop warns there’s still long way to go

The Bishop of Manchester warned there is still a ‘way to go’ to win the global gay rights battle as a plaque was unveiled to mark 50 years since a pioneering movement was launched in the city.

Clergyman David Walker was joined by the Lord Mayor, the Lesbian and Gay Foundation (LGF) and members of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) at the event as they paid tribute to the pioneers that defied anti-homosexuality laws to revolutionise gay rights in the city.

Just eight people turned up to the first The North Western Committee for Homosexual Law Reform meeting on the October 7 1964 to form the movement that eventually saw homosexuality decriminalised and paved the way for future progress.

Bishop David Walker said: “The meeting that took place 50 years ago were momentous, they led to a changing in the law that I think everybody in here would warmly endorse.

“But things in other parts of the world are not quite as good as they are here and by unveiling this plaque we are saying we still haven’t finished.

MARKING HISTORY: The plaque shows the site of the pioneering meetings

“There are places in the world where homosexuality is still a criminal offence and places where its criminalised where it hasn’t been criminalised before, so this means we need to stand firm in the face of those retrograde movements and this plaque will remind us every time we walk past it that it is possible to win through and we pray that there will be a victory in other countries too.”

The North Western Committee for Homosexual Law Reform, who are today known as CHE, was originally set up by activist Allan Horsfall.

JUST THE START: Bishop David Walker warns the international fight isn’t over

The organisation was one of the first grassroots gay organisations in Britain and fought tirelessly for the decriminalisation of homosexuality at a time when the LGBT community faced serious discrimination.

Chief Executive of the LGF Paul Martin OBE said: “I can’t imagine the courage it took for people where homosexuality was illegal to put an advert in a paper to advertise a meeting to talk about homosexual law reform, so today we are standing on shoulders of giants.”

SEAL OF APPROVAL: Mayor Sue Cooley and LGF chief Paul Martin OBE

Yesterday’s event was organised by the LGF in partnership with Manchester City Council and the Manchester Diocese while Canal Street businesses from the Village Business Association kindly part-funded the plaque.

Mr Martin said:  “The UK has some of the most progressive legal protection of LGBT people from anywhere in the world and people are quite rightly excising their right to get married, to adopt or have children so I’m really pleased that LGBT people are living their lives free of persecution from the state, but it’s important to recognise this is only the start of the process.

ON A HIGH: The movement changed homosexuality’s perception in Manchester

“Because we do have those legal rights, but we still have people who are being attacked on the street every single day. I was reading an article today that said nine men a day get infected with HIV somewhere in the UK so there are enormous challenges we still need to confront.

“As we are clearly aware there has been a lot done and a lot still to do.”

FRIENDS REUNITED: Members of CHE pay tribute to forerunners

Despite the torrential rain, spirits were high as the Lord Mayor of Manchester Councillor Sue Cooley unveiled the plaque taking pride of place on the Deansgate wall.

She said: “It’s lovely to be here to celebrate a very special day that took place 50 years ago. I think in those 50 years we really have come a long way.

“It is great to remember this but what we also have to remember is there is a long way still to go in many parts of the world.”

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