Colin Wilson pays tribute to a pioneering campaigner for gay rights who died last month
Allan Horsfall, a pioneer of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) equality in Britain, has died aged 84. He was a key figure in the movement to abolish laws in England that banned all sex between men.
Horsfall founded the North-West Homosexual Law Reform Committee in 1964. He had been a Labour councillor in Nelson, Lancashire, and had seen police arresting gay men, going through their address book and then arresting all their friends.
The North-West Committee was part of the wider movement for law reform, but was very different from the London-based Homosexual Law Reform Society.
That campaign was always deeply respectable. It was mostly composed of heterosexual middle class people, such as lawyers or clergymen. It relied on polite lobbying rather than on public campaigns.
Horsfall lived in a miner’s cottage and worked in the estates department of the National Coal Board. Later he recalled the local response to his campaigning in the small mining community where he lived.
“When we put out the AGM announcement the local paper did a front page spread with an eight-column headline, which they’d never done before, ‘Homosexuals and the Law’.
“Of course everybody thought we’d get our windows put through and all sorts of harassment. But we didn’t get anything like that at all. No trouble.”
Most of the members of the North-West Committee were gay themselves, including Horsfall. Some of them were openly gay. The committee rejected the national campaign’s view that gay men were unfortunate people who deserved pity.
When the law was finally changed in 1967, the national body regarded their task as complete, and became inactive.
But the North-West Committee continued to campaign. Gay men had few places to socialise, so the Committee called for the establishment of non-profit social clubs. Respectable supporters in parliament were appalled.
Gay campaigning changed enormously after the Stonewall Riot of June 1969. The Gay Liberation Front, established in Britain in 1970, saw itself as part of the revolutionary movement of the time.
The North-West Committee became the basis of the national Campaign for Homosexual Equality—in the new context of the 1970s, seen as a very moderate organisation—with Horsfall at its head.
Horsfall continued to campaign into the 1990s. He supported the Bolton 7, a group of working class men convicted in 1998 for having group sex, which had not been decriminalised in 1967 and remained illegal until 2003. One man received a two year suspended sentence.
Allan Horsfall’s decades of campaigning should inspire us all. Today when Pride marches are sponsored by multinationals, it’s remarkable to think that key events in the history of the LGBT movement took place in a miner’s cottage near Wigan.