Allan Horsfall – Gay Monitor

Publish Date: 23/02/2012

Continuing our series looking at Gay Pioneers as presented by Mike Newman who has produced a short history of freedom for gay men in Britain since the 1950’s. Following our look at gay life in the fifties and an appraisal of the work done by Leo Abse and Antony Grey in this area, here we look at the achievements of Allan Horsfall who in 1957 began to challenge the Labour Party on gay rights. He then set up the North West Homosexual Law Reform Committee (later the Campaign for Homosexual Equality) in 1964.

There have been, as we have seen, moments of high drama in Westminster, letters to The Times, big meetings in large metropolitan halls, nationally and internationally known names supporting campaigns to improve the lot of gay men. What there had not been was national mass involvement. Allan Horsfall saw that campaigning for gay equality could never fully succeed if it was ‘seen as the concern only of the chattering classes’.

The struggle for freedom for gay men had been conducted mainly at the level of government and opinion formers; this was seen as all that was needed to achieve legalisation. What did not exist was a mass movement of the kind that, for instance, C.N.D. marshaled each spring to show opposition to nuclear weapons. Also, efforts at bringing about change had been very much London based. That the situation did not remain so was at least partly due to a northerner, Allan Horsfall.

It is interesting to note that the Wolfenden Report, published in 1958, said that certain London public toilets were famous throughout Europe as places to find casual gay sex. After this policing was said to be 'tight' and many men had a feeling they were being watched.

Allan Horsfall contacted Tony Dyson, when he set up the Homosexual Law Reform Society, because there was no-one else to contact, and cold called Peter Wildeblood,  who in due course, moved to Canada to escape his reputation from sensational reports of the Montague case which saw him imprisoned for same sex relationships.

After leaving the service, Allan met, through the RAF Association, the man with whom he would have a relationship for the next forty years; curiously, he referred to this as an ‘affair’, which seems to diminish something that lasted longer than most relationships, gay or straight. The partner was older, and a headmaster; as Allan put it, ‘teaching and homosexuality did not mix in people’s minds’.

Horsfall had  become actively involved in politics, joining the Homosexual Law Reform Society and setting up its North West Committee, which became the most active regional offshoot, Horsfall and a straight supporter had headed paper printed, and they  launched their organisation. Later spawning the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, and proving that there was life outside the metropolis. He also became a local councilor ‘which gave me the excuse for acting for political reasons’. Such publicity was difficult enough for his partner, so he acquired a small terrace house, formerly a miner’s home, which gave him a separate address for his campaigning.

The house belonged to the National Coal Board. The personnel manager tried to cancel the offer, but the National Union of Miners sponsored M.P. for Wigan got him to back down. Bodies like the National Coal Board. and National Union of Miners were powers in the land at the time.

In the 1960's this must have taken a certain moral courage. ‘I felt able to stick my neck out’, says Allan,’ because by that time none of my family was living’. Nonetheless Leo Abse was not pleased, feeling that, if the campaign was seen as being led by gays, it would be weakened.

Allan vouched for widespread homophobia in the Labour party having said which, there were liberal-minded people who supported him. Bearing in mind that his party deleted references to C.N.D. and mental health from election literature, it is no surprise that they were unwilling to discuss Wolfenden, refusing to discuss the issue, putting pressure on the woman who had been willing to second his motion until she backed down, and when another agreed to take over that role to permit discussion of the issue, moved to next business, which Allan described as ‘the usual Labour Party manoeuvre’. It is worth adding at this point that Allan himself found many of his opponents were themselves gay men, anxious that the boat not be rocked.

Following the passage of the 1967 Act, ‘everything went into abeyance’, as Horsfall recalls it, ’they thought there was popping of champagne corks, flying of balloons and all sorts, following the victory, but that wasn’t my experience. The tempo of arrests, using powers agreed in the parliamentary debates in order to get as many ‘yes’ votes as possible through the lobbies, accelerated, illustrating, if illustration were needed, the need for further effort towards reform.

This led to the northwest Committee of the HLRS becoming the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, the very title of which indicates it’s much more 'in your face' stance. Its heyday was the sixties, seventies and eighties. It reflected the growing number of out gay men, actively campaigning in their own right, no longer dependent mostly on the support of straight liberal people.

HLRS was against the idea of provincial groups, though it did agree to one in Manchester, which Antony Grey attended. They each expressed respect for the other, but the organisations they led were different in composition and character.

The Albany Trust’s policy was determined by a panel of trustees, mostly not gay, and did not have members; CHE (Campaign for Homosexual Equality) is a campaigning organisation of gay people, with a mass membership. It seems that both approaches were needed, that of a small lobbying and research group and that of a mass movement of gay people.

That its founder and now Life President remains living in Lancashire shows that life exists outside the capital, though the fact that its 2008 A.G.M. was held in London also shows that a base there is still arguably a requirement of British political life.

CHE worked towards its own end, as gay men became ever more ‘normal’ in the public mind. This is no mean achievement. Those limitations can be said to be at least in part to a Lancashire man, Allan Horsfall, who continues to campaign for the righting of wrongs perpetrated on gay men.

In 2004 outnorthwest celebrated 40 years of the NWHLRC and interviewed Allan and Ray Gosling: Download PDF of ONW 37

For further reading we recommend a visit to Allan’s own site:

  • Class55

    In 1981 onwards into the early 90's, the word "affair" was a common one on the Manchester scene, it meant that the 'affair' was one of unknown length, any permanency noticed after a few months used to raise the question "oh, is he now your boyfriend now?" From books I have dated 1972, it mentions the word affair being used amongst gay speak, the word and implication that a gay affair was usually a short term relationship, probably comes from its meaning, in the straight world, basically an illicit relationship, which often don't last that long, I agree with the previous poster, many gay words have now been lost, and often using them on the new, modern speak scene, you are met with a blank look, especially amongst the younger, with it, crowd :) The future is on it's way, it's just a shame that much gay history seems to have been lost on the route..

  • GS

    The word "affair" was commonly used by gay men in the past to mean their partner, no matter how long they had been together and how committed their relationship was. I remember older friends using it to refer to my relationship in the 1980's and early 1990's, even though that lasted nearly nine years. In fact I'm pretty sure I use the word in my diary in the late 1980's, though I would have to check. It's a shame the article didn't uncover this and fails to recognise that the word had a different meaning in gay circles in the past. In the same way as other words did (dolly, chicken, cottage etc.). In those days gay men didn't look on their relationships from a heterosexual perspective in the way we're being forced to now. That isn't to say they were viewed as inferior. Far from it. Just different and refreshingly so. Unfortunately this is an example of how our LGBT history, even things that were commonplace just 25 years ago, is being forgotten in the headlong rush to be exactly like heterosexuals. It will all end in tears!