Gay life in the 1950s and 1960s

Gay Life banner
Until the passing of the Sexual Offences Bill in 1967, male homosexual activity was illegal. Gay men were frequently imprisoned for consensual sex with another man. Lesbianism was not illegal, but was similarly subject to public disapproval, or ignored.

Despite the dangers and difficulties involved, gay men and women were able to find places to meet. The Minorities Research Group (MRG) was formed in 1964, and provided isolated lesbians with resources and information about female homosexuality and the opportunity to meet other women.

MRG membership card. LSE/MCINTOSH/7/5
Men had roundabout ways of finding places to go. Allan Horsfall of the North-Western Homosexual Law Reform Committee, remembers:

“The story goes … of someone who went to work in a strange town and didn’t know where the gay community was. So he went into a pub and said, “I’ve only been here two days - the first pub I went in was full of nancy boys. I can’t quite remember the name of it,” and two or three people turned round and said “Oh you mean the Rose and Crown”. So he drank up and went down the Rose and Crown, and that was the way people found their way around in those days.” LSE/HCA/Jeffrey-Poulter/6

Police activity against gay men was rife throughout the 1950s. Many homosexuals were blackmailed, although only a fraction came to the attention of the police. The film Victim of 1961 brought these issues to a mainstream audience. It starred Dirk Bogarde as a repressed, married homosexual taking on the blackmailers who drove his partner to suicide.

The belief that homosexuality constituted an illness and could be cured was a staple of the popular press during the period.

Next page: 3. Lobbying for change

1 comment:

Russell said...

Thanks for a concise run-down of what was going on in the not-always-so-gay 1960s and all that. Your touring display is a great collage of clippings and facts. As a homo far too young ;) to have been directly affected by the 1967 law change I was, nonetheless, affected by its ongoing legacy - I had sex with other blokes before I was 21 and so made sure the door was doubly bolted!!
As far as the archive is concerned, pawing through it takes me back to being 13 and hungrily reading through the Nottingham Evening Post or The News of the World for any information (especially the prurient bits!)on my developing sexuality. The shifts in social attitudes are aptly rendered by the archive's cuttings - in the midst of which are refreshing and positive voices some of which incongruously speak progressive opinions and suprising liberality even from clippings of the ever more distant past.