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social sciences

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United Kingdom II: 1900 to the Present  
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By the end of the 1960s, there were small but viable lesbian associations established in various parts of the UK, including Norfolk and Suffolk, the Midlands, and Hampshire and Dorset. Initially established in 1965 as the Lancashire and Cheshire branch of the MRG, the Manchester-based New Group was the largest lesbian organization outside London, with more than 60 members in 1968.

The Gateways in Chelsea remained the preeminent lesbian venue throughout the 1960s, although several other clubs were established for women in London during the decade. By 1969, this members-only club had literally thousands of members, primarily lesbians but also including some gay men. Consisting only of a single room and a bar, the Gateways actually only had room for about 200 people, so it was very crowded at most times of the day. Maureen Duffy's popular novel The Microcosm (1966), concerned with women who frequent a lesbian club, is clearly based upon Gateways. The club became widely known to the general public when it was used as the setting of Robert Aldrich's highly successful film, The Killing of Sister George (1968), starring Beryl Reid. The lesbian couple that owned the Gateways and various patrons appeared in the film.

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1970s: the Era of Gay Liberation

According to Home Office figures, convictions in the early 1970s for homosexual solicitation were at the same level that they had been before the passage of the Sexual Offenses Act, and police continued to utilize entrapment and similar tactics in order to arrest gay men. Yet, despite police harassment of gay-friendly establishments, the Gay Guide, published in 1970 by John Stamford's magazine Spartacus, described 60 gay venues in London and over 200 in the rest of the UK.

Inspired by developments in the United States, especially the Stonewall Riots and the New York-based Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Liberation Movement held its first meeting November 13, 1970 in a classroom at the London School of Economics. Young homosexual men and women were quickly attracted to the movement, and on November 27, the newly founded Gay Liberation Front (GLF) held its first public event, a torchlight demonstration protesting the arrest of a gay activist for solicitation on Highbury Fields.

By spring 1971, the lively GLF meetings routinely attracted several hundreds, and the GLF also sponsored popular social events and discos. Police raids on GLF events and arrests of its leaders served to solidify support for the organization among younger homosexuals. Over 2,000 people participated in the UK's first Gay Pride March, held in London in July 1972.

By mid-1973, the GLF had fragmented into distinct factions, and it collapsed by the end of the year. Despite its short existence and its naive political stances, the GLF radically transformed gay life in Britain through its strong advocacy of the positive aspects of gay life and its insistence that significant social reforms were both necessary and inevitable.

Also helping to promote gay consciousness, the fortnightly newspaper Gay News, established in 1972, published a wide range of articles intended to appeal to a broad spectrum of the community. By mid-1975, Gay News had a paid circulation of over 7,500, even though most news agents refused to stock it. In contravention of a House of Lords ruling that advertisements for sexual acts between men were illegal, Gay News also published personal ads, insisting not very convincingly that these were strictly non-sexual in intent.

As the influence of GLF declined, membership in more solidly established gay political organizations increased significantly. In November 1970, when HLRS was renamed Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE), it had over 500 members in 15 local groups. By April 1973, when it held its first annual conference at Morecambe, CHE had more than 2,000 fully paid members.

Inspired by the radical stance of GLF, leaders of CHE now encouraged men to hold hands in public and otherwise make their sexual orientation visible. Encouraged by the return of Labour to power in 1974, CHE systematically worked with the Scottish Minorities Group (SMG) and the newly founded Northern Ireland gay rights group to achieve significant legal reform.

Founded in 1969, the Scottish Minorities Group campaigned against the criminal penalties that still applied to male homosexual acts in Scotland. Although its explicit defiance of the law put its existence in jeopardy, the SMG had more than 200 members in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and St. Andrews by the end of 1971.

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