Front cover of Amiable Warriors, Volume One
CHE began in 1964, as the North Western Homosexual Law Reform Committee.
At that time, all homosexual acts between men were illegal. The Wolfenden Report, published in 1957, had recommended that gay sex be decriminalised, but there was little sign of this becoming law. Allan Horsfall, a coal board employee and a Labour councillor in Lancashire, attempted to get the matter raised through his local Labour Party, but found the Party very resistent to change. He then joined the London-based Homosexual Law Reform Society (HLRS) and took part in its campaigns for law reform.
In 1963 the HLRS agreed to the setting up of local committees in different parts of the country. In practice only one such committee was created: the North Western Homosexual Law Reform Committee (NWHLRC) was facilitated by the Bishop of Middleton, and had its first public meeting in Church House, Manchester, on 7 October 1964. Allan Horsfall became its secretary.
Over the next three years the NWHLRC and the HLRS campaigned actively for law reform. This eventually bore fruit with the passing of the Sexual Offences act 1967, which legalised gay sex, but only in England and Wales. Both parties had to be over 21, no-one else must be present, and the Armed Forces and Merchant Navy were excluded. At this point some of the supporters of the HLRS thought that their work had been done; for Allan Horsfall and the NWHLRC however, it was only the beginning of a long process leading to full equality for gay people. In 1969 the NWHLRC was renamed the Committee for Homosexual Equality (CHE) and in 1971, keeping the same initials, it became the Campaign for Homosexual Equality.
Creating safe spaces
Following partial decriminalisation in 1967 it was clear that there was little prospect for the time being of further law reform; meanwhile there was a clear need for "safe spaces" in which gay men and lesbians could be themselves. It was therefore decided to set up Esquire Clubs in towns around the country, on a model similar to northern working men's clubs. CHE organised a very memorable public meeting to discuss the issue in Burnley, chaired by the broadcaster Ray Gosling, but no Esquire Clubs were ever opened.
Over the next few years, rather than clubs, CHE set up local groups throughout the country, and became a mass-membership organisation. It continued campaigning for further law reform, and on issues such as Section 28. In 1979 the office was moved from Manchester to London.
In the early 1980s it was decided to hive off the local groups and concentrate on campaigning. As a result the membership shrunk considerably, but CHE continued campaigning. See our 'Issues raised' page.
The Derek Oyston legacy
In 2005 CHE received a very generous legacy from Derek Oyston of Gateshead. This enabled us to fund the Derek Oyston Film Awards for five years running, and make other donations and grants including the Derek Oyston Achievement Awards.
In 2011 we decided to spent a large part of Derek's legacy on a book about CHE, and the author Peter Scott-Presland was commissioned to write the official history of CHE and its times, to be called Amiable Warriors.
Commemorating the past
Allan Horsfall died in 2012 and CHE organised a commemoration of his life at Manchester Town Hall. In October 2014 there was a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the first NWHLRC meeting, and CHE received the Alan Turing Memorial Award at the Homo Heroes event in Manchester.
Volume One of Amiable Warriors was published in 2015, and further volumes are in preparation.
In July 2021 there was a commemmoration of the 50th anniversary of CHE's public meeting in Burnley Library.
Transition to charitable status
See also our 'From Campaign to Charity' page.
For several years there had been debates about the future of CHE, given that we were no longer realistically in a position to undertake campaigning.
Like so many other organisations, CHE went into suspended animation for a while during 2020, partly because of Covid-19, but during 2021 and 2022 we took steps to implement the decision of the 2019 Conference to form a Trust to research and publish LGBT+ history, and our own history in particular.
Our 50th Annual Conference on 15 October 2022 (full Minutes available for download (PDF file) from the CHERT website) voted to adopt a new, simpler constitution and to transfer the bulk of CHE's funds to CHERT.
The main function of the CIO is to support the researching, writing, publication and marketing of our story, primarily in the form of Amiable Warriors, but equally addressing LGBT+ history more generally. See the CHERT website. CHE remains in existence, to receive continuing subscriptions and donations, and occasionally to undertake projects that fall outside CHERT's charitable objects, but CHE's main function is now to support the work of CHERT.