History of CHE
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 beginnig 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.
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.
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 commission the author Peter Scott-Presland to write the official history of CHE and its times, entitled Amiable Warriors: Volume One was published in 2015, and further volumes are in preparation.
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.
In July 2021 a Rainbow Plaque was unveiled at Burnley Library commemorating the 50th anniversary of CHE's first public meeting.
We hope to find ways of continuing to celebrate the history and legacy of CHE. There are significant anniversaries which could be commemorated, such as CHE’s first national conference in Morecambe (Easter 1973). These could be occasions when CHE veterans gather to exchange memories – and also to be more available for researchers to meet them and gather oral evidence. A regular annual reunion could also be considered. Since CHE and CHERT may have limited administrative capacity to organise events, which might also be considered to fall outside its charitable objects, we suggest seeking suitable local partners as appropriate.
We hope that through such celebrations, and in other ways, CHERT will be able to establish and embed the highly significant role in history played by CHE, as one of the most significant organisations supporting the rights and equality of LGBT+ people. Alongside its campaigning role, CHE provided an invaluable support and welfare function to LGBT people (mostly gay men and women); and this must certainly be included in any full appreciation of CHE’s place in LGBT+ history.