The Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) is one of the oldest gay rights organisations in the United Kingdom. It is a membership organisation which aims to promote legal and social equality for lesbians, gay men and bisexuals in England and Wales. CHE was one of the two main English gay rights organisations of the 1970s, along with the Gay Liberation front, but during the 1980s organisations such as Stonewall (UK) and Peter Tatchell's OutRage! became more influential. CHE had 2,800 members and 60 local groups by 1972. At its peak in the middle 1970s it was claiming 5,000 members and some 100 local groups. By the 1990s its membership had diminished. CHE's activities included pressing for law reforms, providing educational material for use in schools, and attempting to influence the provision of medical, psychiatric and social services. Since the 1980s, CHE has continued to campaign, although with reduced membership the range of its activities have been greatly reduced.
CHE grew out of the North Western branch of the Homosexual Law Reform Society (HLRS), the North Western Homosexual Law Reform Committee (NWHLRC). NWHLRC was founded in Manchester by Allan Horsfall and Colin Harvey in 1964. The formal launch took place at a public meeting on 7 October 1964 at Church House in Manchester. After the Sexual Offences Act 1967 came into force, the London-based Homosexual Law Reform Society was thought by many to have achieved its aims.
The NWHLRC, which in 1967 had already fallen out with Antony Grey of HLRS/Albany Trust over the northerners' wish to press ahead with the establishment of gay clubs, felt on the contrary that much remained to be done, and named itself the Committee for Homosexual Equality (CHE) in 1969 with a view to becoming a national body for England and Wales (in close co-operation with its counterpart north of the border, the Scottish Minorities Group (SMG)).
Among CHE's leading members in this period were the writer and broadcaster Ray Gosling and the academic Michael Steed.
Change to campaign
In 1971 CHE's name changed once more, to the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE). It raised money to rent an office in Manchester and employ a full-time General Secretary, Paul Temperton, and it set out to become a fully democratic "bottom-up" membership organisation.
In 1971 CHE members took part in the first major gay demonstration in London. On 28 August the Gay Day began in Hyde Park, followed by a march to Trafalgar Square, nominally to protest at the age of consent. Between 500 and 1,000 marchers were reported to have attended.
In 1973 CHE held the first national gay rights conference in Morecambe. Its second annual conference, held in 1974 in Malvern, "signalled a formal coalescence between the separate strands represented by GLF and CHE, and CHE's formal commitment to a policy of militant reformism".
In 1974 CHE organised a national Homosexual Equality Rally in London. The rally was supported by the women's movement and people from ethnic minorities. Where earlier actions had concentrated on legal protection from criminal persecution, this rally was part of gay and lesbian people starting to establish a distinct sexual identity. Those who turned out for the rally did so to support the extension of constitutional rights and universal values to lesbian and gay people.
In 1979 CHE's head office was moved to London.
CHE's local groups throughout England and Wales were often highly independent, producing their own newsletters giving details of social and campaigning activities in their own area. Local groups and members had input into CHE policy through the National Council, which met quarterly at different venues through the country, and was composed of CHE members elected by the whole membership. Annual conferences also continued to be held; these were major, multifaceted events covering a long bank-holiday weekend and can be seen in hindsight as key moments in the struggle for gay rights in Britain.
The national organisation later decided that the running of local groups was no longer part of CHE's core function—a decision that was by no means universally supported by the membership. Thereafter many of the groups continued as independent bodies, often with names such as "The xxx Area Gay Society". Following the splitting-off of the local groups, CHE gradually ceased to be a mass-membership organisation, and other groups such as Stonewall and OutRage! have become more prominent in the UK campaign for gay rights.
CHE, together with its Scottish (SMG) and Northern Irish (USFI) equivalents, produced a draft Law Reform Bill in 1975 and devoted much energy to lobbying parliamentarians to introduce it. Among other things, the Bill would have brought about a common age of consent of 16 for all sexual behaviour, something not in fact achieved until many years later.
CHE produced a national newsletter from 1969 to 1971: this gave rise to the CHE Bulletin, which ran from 1971 to 1974; also, CHE Magazine Working Party (set up in 1971) produced Lunch from 1971 to 1974. From 1975 to 1976 CHE published CHE Broadsheet. Between 1976 and 1977 a newspaper called Out was produced.
By the end of the year Friend had become a separate national counselling and befriending organisation. As the London-based organisation began to spread across the UK, and local groups grew up, the whole network began to be known as National Friend.
It was incorporated as a limited company in 1987 with the name of National Friend Ltd.
National Friend became a network of groups whose volunteers provided information, support and befriending to lesbians, gay men and bisexual people. Local groups were affiliated to National Friend, though they remained autonomous within agreed guidelines, which included a constitution, code of ethics, code of practice, an equal opportunities programme and a complaints procedure.
In 1995 there were 31 local groups calling themselves either Friend or Gay Switchboard.
The National Committee supports the local groups, provides guidance, advertises the work of Friend to outside agencies and holds conferences on subjects of mutual interest.
In 1998, a grant from the National Lottery Charities Board enabled the development of a permanent office in Birmingham where two members of staff deal with administration, publicity and fundraising.
London Friend was separated from CHE in 1975.
Activity post 2000
Despite fewer members, Alan Horsfall remains life president of the organisation. Lord Smith of Finsbury (former MP and Cabinet Minister) is a vice-president of CHE.
In April 2009, Liberty (pressure group) notified CHE of the termination of its affiliation with Liberty in a letter from director of operations Raj Chandarana, who wrote that significant concerns had been raised about CHE and the appropriateness of their continued affiliation to Liberty, citing issues with "the nature and size of the CHE membership, governance structures, constitution, electoral process, policy-making process, financial transparency, recent issues and commitment to the objectives of Liberty". Concern was also raised over a motion on child abuse put forward by CHE: "We urge the government to introduce a Statute of Limitation which would debar any criminal prosecution in respect of alleged child abuse unless the matter was brought to the attention of the police within five years of the complainant reaching the age of majority", which was not discussed. The letter to CHE stated, "In particular, your motion on child sex abuse is also clearly contrary to the objectives of Liberty, as listed in Article 2 of Liberty's constitution."
- DANGO Archive
- CHE Constitution 16 Legal Resolution of Disputes
- Gay History Month Timeline
- Outrage campaigns
- http://www.stonewall.org.uk/ Stonewall latest campaigns
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- CHE official web site
- History of Gay Rights campaigning in Manchester
- Unofficial history of CHE by Ray Gosling
- Catalogue of the papers of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality at the Archives Division of the London School of Economics.
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