Mayor praises Manchester’s ‘long fight for inclusion’ ahead of gay rights movement’s 50th birthday

A plaque commemorating the 50-year anniversary of the birth of Manchester’s gay rights movement will be unveiled today at Church House.

The Deansgate site provided a safe place for the first meeting of the North Western Committee for Homosexual Law Reform (NWCHLR), who are today known as the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE), half a century ago.

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

Lord Mayor of Manchester Councillor Sue Cooley said: “Manchester has a long and illustrious history of fighting for inclusion, representation and equality for all members of our diverse society – a fact that we should all be proud of.

“The Campaign for Homosexual Equality is one of the oldest gay rights organisations in the UK and on their 50th anniversary it is only fitting that a plaque is unveiled to create a permanent reminder of everything they achieved.

“Attitudes have dramatically changed since the 1960’s, when the CHE was founded, but there is still work to be done in fighting discrimination and I hope people find inspiration in the work of organisations like CHE.”

The Lesbian & Gay Foundation have organised the tribute and celebration in honour of the landmark NWCHLR group and later CHE.

The North West Committee for Homosexual Law Reform was set-up in 1964 by gay activists Allan Horsfall and Colin Harvey in the Greater Manchester area.

They made huge strides in taking away the stigma attached to homosexuality and triggered a chance that was felt nationally, impacting massively even in the present day.

Ross Burgess, representing CHE’s national Executive Committee, said: “This country has seen enormous changes since CHE’s foundation in 1964, when all sex between men was still illegal.

“CHE is proud to have played a great part in those changes, both by campaigning for law reform and by organising a nationwide network of local groups that touched the lives of thousands of lesbian and gay people.

“We are greatly honoured by this recognition in Manchester, where it all started, and our only regret is that so many of the early pioneers, such as Allan Horsfall and Ray Gosling, are no longer here to celebrate with us.”

Manchester Bishop David Walker will be present at the plaque at unveiling, and next week, Bishop Walker will be joining other members of the Diocese of Manchester to celebrate the fourth bi-annual service for the city’s LGBT community called OUT! At The Cathedral.

He said: “Fifty years ago, sexual activity between adult males was still a criminal offence in England. The attitudes of the wider population to same-sex relationships were gleaned from court cases and comedians, spiced up by innuendo and accusation, and fuelled by fear.

“Half a century on, most of us are informed in our views by our friends, work colleagues and close family members who are able to be open about their sexual identities.

“That we are in such a better place is a tribute to those who were here in October 1964. This plaque is a modest recognition of that fact and of the debt we owe.”

The Lesbian & Gay Foundation have organised the tribute and celebration. Later this evening, the LGF’s annual Homo Heroes Awards ceremony will be held at a city centre hotel in Manchester to mark the 50th Anniversary of CHE.

The awards, supported by Barclays, are now in their fourth year and provide an opportunity to celebrate those people that have made a difference to the lives of people in LGBT communities.

Paul Martin OBE, Chief Executive of The Lesbian & Gay Foundation, said: “Many people know a little about LGBT history from the decriminalisation of male homosexuality in 1967 but there is a story that goes back much further and one that Manchester and the North West played a key part in.

“The men and women behind CHE have made huge steps forward in fighting for LGBT rights for over half a century and we are delighted that representatives from CHE, who still have an important voice in campaigning for equality and respect for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people, will be attending the commemorations of this historic date in the LGBT calendar.”

The plaque unveiling will be followed by afternoon tea in the presence of The Lord Mayor of Manchester at Manchester Town Hall, and will be attended by members of the city’s LGBT community.

Image courtesy of EndLonlinessUK via YouTube with thanks

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