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social sciences

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United Kingdom II: 1900 to the Present  
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Although hindered by their country's devastating sectarian conflicts, gay men in Northern Ireland determined to organize to defend their rights. They founded the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform (CHLR) in 1974, with the goal of achieving extension of the 1967 Act to their country. In 1975, CHLR was dissolved and replaced by the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association (NIGRA).

To support their plea for immediate legal reform, CHE, SMG, and CHLR jointly sponsored a number of demonstrations, including one held in Trafalgar Square on November 2, 1974, which was attended by more than 2,500 people. Determined to influence Parliament, the three organizations publicly launched a draft Homosexual Law Reform Bill on July 3, 1975. In response, the government established the Criminal Law Revision Committee (CLRC) to review all laws relating to sexual consent. Although activists hoped for quick action, CLRC took more than six years to fulfill its brief.

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In 1975, the television broadcast of the dramatization of Quentin Crisp's autobiography, The Naked Civil Servant, helped to foster discussion of homosexual issues. The film was produced by Thames Television after the BBC turned it down. John Hurt won several awards for his performance in the title role, and the show enjoyed great popular acclaim. According to a survey by the Independent Broadcast Authority, only three percent of viewers said they were shocked by the broadcast, and eighty-five percent maintained that they enjoyed the show.

In the second half of the 1970s, the gay community endured several significant political setbacks. Despite organized opposition by SMG, the House of Commons on November 3, 1976 enacted a bill that consolidated all homosexual offenses in Scotland into a single law, intended to expedite prosecutions. In 1977, the House of Lords overwhelmingly defeated a proposal to lower to 18 the age for male-male sexual acts. After extensive debate begun in March, the House of Lords passed on July 7, 1977 the Sexual Offenses Scotland Bill, which decriminalized sexual acts between two adult men in private. Unfortunately, the Scotland Bill lapsed and did not become law because opponents in the House of Commons successfully prevented debate.

In January 1976, the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Belfast raided the homes of 23 gay men involved in reform issues, holding and interrogating them for several hours and seizing NIGRA materials as evidence of criminal activity. One of the men targeted in the raid, Jeff Dudgeon, submitted a case to the European Court of Human Rights, asserting that the British government was invading his privacy by refusing to legalize homosexuality.

In July 1977, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission recommended legalization of homosexual acts between consenting adults. However, despite a declaration of support, the Government did not act on this proposal, which was vociferously opposed by the Democratic Unionist Party.

On July 11, 1977, Denis Lemon, editor of Gay News, was found guilty of blasphemy for publishing a poem by James Kirkup that characterized Jesus Christ as a homosexual. The prosecution of Lemon had been initiated by conservative moral reformer Mary Whitehouse, who referred to an archaic and virtually forgotten law. Readers of Gay News donated over £21,000 to Lemon's unsuccessful legal defense.

Worsening the situation, established gay political organizations, such as CHE, had increasing difficulty attracting and retaining members during the later 1970s. A variety of factors contributed to this situation, including the emergence of highly specialized interest groups within the gay movement and the hedonistic distractions readily available in the expanding commercial gay scenes in large metropolitan areas.

Lesbianism and Feminism in the 1970s

Although actively involved in the founding of GLF, many lesbians came to believe that feminist organizations had more relevance to them than gay rights groups dominated by men. Initially, major feminist groups were reluctant to address lesbian causes, but members of the GLF introduced lesbianism as a topic of discussion at the Women's Liberation Conference held at Skegness in October 1971. Subsequently, most British feminists came to regard lesbianism as a politically sound alternative to heterosexuality, and many women came out in the context of feminist organizations.

Despite their historic contributions to the formation of lesbian identity, both the MRG and Arena Three were in dire straits by 1970 as membership levels declined. Founded in 1970, the Press Freedom Group sought to promote circulation of Arena Three and to radicalize its content. With the winter 1970 issue, Arena Three began to publish erotic fiction and images, but the magazine collapsed at the end of 1971, when Langley appropriated its remaining financial assets and moved abroad.

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