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Michael Brown

Michael Brown

Michael Brown: 2 December 1932 – 29 June 2013.

Funeral address by David Soloman

Michael Brown has died. For his friends of many years and his newer friends this fact is hard to sink in, because Michael was a fixture in our lives, he seemed always here, always a constant presence, seemingly immortal in a way, except that no-one is. Even those who knew how ill he was over the last few months, with leukaemia and the treatment for it bringing on liver failure, find Michael’s passing unreal. Michael was 80, and his life touched not only his friends but people he never knew and didn’t know him, people of generations younger than him, whose lives he made easier, more dignified, more equal through his work.

Michael was in many ways a product of the 20th century, its darkest and also its lighter, more joyful aspects. He was Hungarian on his father’s side. Three of his uncles were in Auschwitz. They all physically survived but two of them subsequently committed suicide, the second one killing himself on the grave of the first. Fear was always present in his life, at times threatening to overwhelm him.

But there were other sides to the character of this deep and complex man. His mother came from a family of orthodox rabbis in Ireland. She herself was an actress in the Dublin theatre. Michael himself always had a fine aesthetic sense. He loved books, paintings and music. He was a wonderful poet. Like Leopold Bloom, the hero of Joyce’s Ulysses, he was whimsical, human, playful, also non-conformist and when he challenged pompous authority, as he often did, it was always in a gentle subtly mocking way.

Above all he had a sense of justice and was angered and outraged when he saw unfair treatment meted out by guardians of cruel unthinking moralism, whether police, politicians, religious authorities, or bureaucratic managers. He regarded himself as orthodox, and he was, not because he observed the minutiae of the Jewish religion in which he grew up, but because he grasped the essence of that religion. One of his favourite quotes was from Rabbi Hillel, who when asked by a non-Jew to teach him the law, replied, ‘That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary’. He was inspired by the prophets like Isaiah, and thought it one of the glories of Judaism that not only were you allowed to argue with God, as Job did, but that you were required to do so.

Michael came of age in the late sixties and early seventies. This was a radical period in which people of his generation revolutionised their own lives at the same time as changing society’s attitudes as a whole. He helped to form the society in which we live, one in which we have advanced somewhat from a condescending liberal tolerance of otherness at best into a genuinely equal acceptance of diversity, between different races, between men and women, and people of different sexualities.

Michael’s campaigning was not confined to the UK. He was always concerned with the international situation. He lived for a time in Canada and the US, making many friends there, and had several long-standing relationships with partners from Britain and other countries.

Michael remained a campaigner until the end of his life. He was a frequent speaker at numerous events, also acting as an ambassador for Age UK’s Opening Doors project. All the time he was fired by a sense of justice and indignation that had deep ethical, philosophical and religious roots in his upbringing as well as his own insights and personal development.

Michael wanted the best not only for himself and the people he loved but for society as a whole. He thought that it could evolve into something gentler, more sensual and caring and less authoritarian. He belonged to a generation that believed not only that things could move in that direction but that they were doing. He was badly disappointed by the way that they have in fact turned out. In recent times he found the increasing hardness, coldness, bureaucracy, and cult of functionality and efficiency at all costs harder to deal with. But he never altered or compromised on his core values.

Michael is loved and is greatly missed by his friends, ex-partners and fellow-activists, and was greatly respected by all those who realise the difference that his life and work have made. We are now sadly witnessing the passing into history of a heroic generation of campaigners and activists who experienced the horrendous unfair persecution of people on account of their sexual nature in this country and abroad and fought to change it. Michael was one of the last of these men and women. The vastly different world that we live in today is a measure of their success and their lasting legacy.

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P A Mag Lochlainn

P A Mag Lochlainn

A personal tribute by Seán McGouran

I first encountered PA Mag Lochlainn at the door of Cathedral Building (opposite Belfast's St Ann's cathedral). He asked me if it was where “N. I. G. R. A.” held its meetings. After momentary puzzlement at the set of initials, and the idea that anybody would actually want to attend, I said “Yes”. P A (as he was known to all and sundry) was then a chunky man. He had had a 'near death' experience while yachting during the summer. He was part of the crew on a racing yacht, some malicious people implied it was a Russian oligarch-type vessel.

I don't know if he was disappointed at the smallness of the event but he returned on a regular weekly basis. As he was retired, due to the kidney infection that killed him at 67; a relatively early age for a men who had been a yachtsman and hill walker in his earlier days, PA was available for callers (journalists and other gay people) who needed help, or a quote. PA (an - interestingly, I thought - garrulous man) proved to have a distinct knack for pithy sound-bites. He was a good interviewee too, able to turn things around, without making it obvious.

As P A was the spokesman it was decided to make him President of the Association, which pleased him, and gave it an attractive public image. He was a very likeable man. He was also a physically brave man, I have seen him surrounded by large, surly young men and facing them down. That knack had partly to do with the fact that he had been a secondary school teacher for nearly a quarter of a century. He was a founder-member (in Northern Ireland) of NAS/UWT (the National Association of Schoolmasters / Union of Women Teachers), on non-sectarian grounds. His first teaching job was in County Down, in a State school. The people he lodged with, and some of his colleagues, objected to the spelling of his name. He found a job in Omagh, a relatively short distance from his home town Dungiven, with the Christian Brothers, (he didn't really like the Brothers).

He was trained to teach French, but taught 'Art', his minor obsession with heraldry was useful in this capacity. PA was a genealogist, and very knowledgeable about Irish families, British aristos, and the Royal Houses of Europe – something that flew straight over the heads of most of the company he kept for the last twenty-odd years of his life. PA did not really take a holiday for most of his stay in Belfast (1991 to 2012) but he was knowledgeable about France, its cuisine, and its wine. He approached both with considerable gusto until his illness made it impossible. He was rather modest about his linguistic capabilities. He said that he was 'trying' to learn Polish, but I heard him in conversation with a Polish couple. And it wasn't a 'How d'you do?' chat – they were discussing Pan Tadeusz, the national epic novel.

P A (and his contemporary Éamonn McCann, of the Derry Labour Party, then SWP) went to St Columb's College. P A, the son of a well-off farmer, may have been there because his family could afford the fees, but he may have been a scholarship boy. He didn't like the place and rarely talked about it. Dungiven is a short bus journey from Derry, but he was a boarder.

Due to his loyalty to the SDLP (which he always insisted was 'socialist' despite all the evidence to the contrary) P A was the object of some prejudice, the rise and rise of Sinn Féin put paid to that. But his amiable disposition meant that maintaining prejudice was hard work. He was a good musician, and played big parts in Omagh's annual pantomimes, his sonorous voice was probably due to such efforts. He could do wicked impersonations of people who rubbed him up the wrong way. But – apart from the Brothers – he was not a malicious man.

He was a kind, and level-headed man, and gave people who asked for it sound advice. He gave sound advice on other matters, too: when US-financed fundamentalists organised a Stop the Parade Committee (they were too prejudiced to use the phrase 'LGBT' or 'Gay'), he suggested to the Pride Committee that they take up their challenge to go before the Parades Committee. The latter deals with contentious parades and demonstrations. He suggested the Pride committee play along with any suggestions the Parades Committee suggested. The upshot was that the (cheerful, and popular) Pride demonstration's route was slightly curtailed. But the bigots had to come to terms with the fact that they too had to obey the law. They were (and still are) confined to a static protest immediately outside the City Hall. They annoy the public because a large part of the footpath is closed for several hours, even though the demo they are protesting takes about twenty minutes to pass. And the kids who mingle there every Saturday afternoon are irritated at being moved-on to make room for them.

It is fitting that PA's most obvious legacy to Belfast is the fact that Ulster's sour-faced fundies can no longer call the shots 'morally' or legally.

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Ian Buist

Ian Buist

Ian Buist (actually John Latto Farquharson Buist, 1930–2012) was a gay rights campaigner and former diplomat. After achieving a first in classics at Oxford he joined the diplomatic service and worked in senior positions in Kenya and East Africa.

Buist joined CHE in 1972, rejecting GLF because 'The “GLF” idea of an anti-family, anti-Establishment social revolution seemed to me unlikely to produce change for the better.'

He continued to contribute to the ongoing campaign for gay rights, up to his death in October 2012.

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Allan Horsfall

Allan Horsfall

Allan Horsfall, who died in August 2012, was founder and Life President of CHE, the Campaign for Homosexual Equality.

Allan Horsfall was born and brought up in the Emmott Arms pub in Laneshaw Bridge, Lancashire and attended Nelson Grammar School. Towards the end of World War II he was called up into the Royal Air Force and spent some time in Germany. After the war he joined the local Royal Air Force Association and met Harold Pollard who moved into the pub. Harold and Allan shared a bed beause of the lack of space, but it took some time before each realised the other was gay. They became an item and took a house together in Nelson: Harold became a head teacher and Allan started working for the National Coal Board.

In 1956, Allan Horsfall joined the Labour Party, and was subsequently elected to Nelson council.

In 1957 the Wolfenden Committee proposed the limited decriminalisation of sex between men. The Conservative Government that had appointed the Committee showed little sign of wanting to implement its recommendations. Allan was concerned at the lack of progress towards legalisation, but hesitant to get involved. He went down to London and visited Peter Wildeblood, who had gone to prison for having a gay relationship, and written a book about his experiences. Wildeblood challenged Allan “What’s the worst than can happen?” Allan went home determined to get the matter raised through the local Labour Party, but faced great obstruction in even getting it debated.

In 1963 the HLRS decided to set up local groups; as a result the North West Committee for Homosexual Law Reform (NWCHLR) was set up in 1964, with Allan Horsfall as the main organiser and secretary. The Committee decided to issue a leaflet, and it appeared with Allan’s home address as the contact point. This was a bold move, as it could have left Allan in danger of physical attack, or of being evicted from his Coal Board house (he was working in a Coal Board office). One of these leaflets went to the local paper, which ran a front page article with 8-column banner headlines, “Homosexuals and the Law”. There was no public outrage, showing that Northern mining communities were not as reactionary on this issue as many opponents of reform had been claiming.

By 1966 the NWCHLR was no longer describing itself as a subgroup of the HLRS. Relations with the London-based HLRS had always been delicate: the HLRS was always dominated by straight people (or in some cases closeted gays) whereas Allan’s Committee was always led by gay men and lesbians.
Allan and the North-West Committee continued campaigning actively for law reform. Eventually, the Sexual Offences Act 1967 was passed, making sex between men legal. Many of its supporters, including Allan, were very disappointed that the Act did not even go as far as the limited reform proposed by the Wolfenden Committee, but there seemed little prospect of further legisltation in the short term.

The need was now to work for social facilities for gay people, and Allan, together with the journalist Ray Gosling, put much effort into promoting a network of Esquire Clubs in different parts of the country, similar to the working men’s clubs with which Allan was very familiar, to be owned and run by gay people, as an alternative to cottaging or the seedy commercial gay scene. They came close to achieving this several times, in Manchester and elsewhere, and faced down public objections at a very lively public meeting in Burnley, but never actually managed to open a single club.

In 1969 the NWCHLR reformed itself as the Committee for Homosexual Equality (CHE), The word “Equality” is significant. Much of the political pressure behind the passing of the 1967 Act had come from straight society, concerned to reduce the danger of gay men being blackmailed: the idea that homosexuals should campaign in their own right and seek to be equal with heterosexuals was a radical one.

CHE thus became a national organisation, with Allan as its chairman. In 1971 it changed its name to Campaign for Homosexual Equality. Over the next few years it started a network of local CHE groups, and achieved a membership in the thousands. Thus Allan had transformed a small specialist northern committee to a mass movement campaigning for reform and supporting gay people throughout the country.

In 1970, Allan suffered a severe heart attack, and was forced to step back from the leading role in CHE, but he was appointed Life President, and continued to campaign.

A dilemma arose with the suggestion of reducing the age of consent to 18. This was a tempting idea, which would make life a lot easier for young gay men aged 18 to 20. But Allan was resolute that “Equality” in CHE’s title meant what it said. CHE should not accept 18, but go for 16 since that would mean equality with heterosexuals. By accepting 18, the case for true equality would be put back for years. In the event, the age was reduced to 18 in 1994, and full equality was not achieved until 2000.
In 1998, the Bolton Seven were prosecuted for gross indecency. This showed up one of the limitations of the 1967 Act, that gay sex was still illegal where more than two people were involved. Ray Gosling and Allan pursued the case, and persuaded the accused to plead not guilty. The Seven they were convicted, but the case went to the European Court of Human Rights; they were awarded compensation, and the law was subsequently changed.

Harold Pollard, Allan's partner for 48 years, died in 1996.

In latter years Allan Horsfall and Ray Gosling ran Gay Monitor seeking justice for men wrongly accused of sexual abuse.

Alongside Allan’s gay campaigning, he was an active campaigner in several other fields – in the Labour Party, for CND, and for local bus services. He never had a high-powered job, preferring a simple clerical job that would leave him time for his campaigns.

Allan Horsfall died in hospital in August 2012, aged 84.

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Derek Oyston, 1930-2005

Photo of Derek Oyston

Derek Oyston was a gay schoolteacher from Gateshead, who left a very generous legacy to CHE.

Derek was born on the 9th of February 1930, in Low Fell, Gateshead, the
son of a teacher. He taught physics and later chemistry at Hookergate
Grammar School in Rowland's Gill, County Durham for many years. He was well liked by the pupils, and was involved in many activities, including the annual sports day where he was the official time-keeper. He always helped out with school plays, but he oversaw the stage make-up rather than, say, lighting which one might have expected of the science teacher.

According to one of his pupils:

He always sat on a cushion in class - all the staff were eccentric, so
it wasn't thought strange - but once when he was out of class, the cushion was thrown around and it burst open to reveal that it was stuffed with pink ribbon. The cushion was quickly reassembled and replaced, and I don't think he ever knew we'd seen the contents. We knew Derek lived with his mother, and we knew that our own mothers sometimes inflicted embarrassing things on us, so we just assumed the
cushion was his mother's idea.

Far from thinking Derek was gay, we really thought that Derek and the
school secretary, Joan Porter, were an item. They certainly got on very well together and we often saw them talking and laughing together. Again in retrospect, they both had some involvement in out-of-school amateur dramatics, so that probably accounted for their friendship.

At some time during his teaching career Derek was the subject of homophobic abuse from some of the pupils, which probably led to his leaving Hookergate in 1971; he’d already had an extended absence (almost two terms) in 1966. In his later years he was dogged by mental illness.

Derek finally entered a care home, and died there on Monday the 7th of Feruary 2005 (two days before his 75th birthday) . He was cremated at Saltwell Crematorium, Gateshead a week later.

In his will he left the bulk of his estate (mainly the proceeds of the sale of 21 Cromer Avenue, Low Gill, where he had lived for most of his life) to the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE). In Derek’s memory, CHE has funded the Derek Oyston Film Prize (in conjunction with the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival) and the Derek Oyston Achievement Award.

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Jim Edgell, 1936–2005

Jim Edgell

Jim Edgell was born in Gloucestershire in 1936. He and his sister were adopted at an early age, but may have been closely related to their adoptive parents. Jim’s aptitude for languages became apparent at school and at Cambridge, and during National Service in the Royal Navy he worked as a translator and was sent on a course to learn Russian. He then worked at GCHQ in Cheltenham, where the Official Secrets Act prevented him from discussing work with his family; this led to a rift with his father, and Jim left home. In an age when homosexuality was still illegal, he could not have come out as gay at GCHQ, so he took a teaching job at West Kent College in Tonbridge, and bought a little house at Harmony Street, Rusthall, near Tunbridge Wells.

In 1974 he became Campaign Organiser for the Tunbridge Wells CHE Group (Campaign for Homosexual Equality), and a year later took over as Chairman. The group was re-launched in 1982 (when CHE shed its local groups) as the Tunbridge Wells Independent Gay Group (TWIGG). Meanwhile Jim had become co-ordinator of the West Kent Befriending Group, and he continued to serve on the CHE National Executive.

Jim’s life was much changed when he met Roger, who lived in Bedford. They shared many holidays and happy times, but could not live together because of family responsibilities (Jim’s mother having moved to the Tunbridge Wells area). Sadly, Roger died of cancer at an early age.

Jim had meanwhile left West Kent College to work as a translator for the Department of Trade and Industry, and after his mother died he moved into the house in Bedford that he and Roger had bought together. He continued his work with CHE, and was one of the founders of the Bedford gay help line. He was a very effective spokesman for the help line in the face of opposition from a local newspaper, and his combination of sharp intellect and gentle approach made him particularly effective on local radio.

During this time he met Albert (Albie) and they lived happily together for more than ten years, with Albie acting as a devoted carer during Jim’s last illness. Jim died of Lewy Body Disease in October 2005.

As well as his linguistic abilities, Jim was always good with his hands. He had life-long interests in photography and in clocks and clock repairing, and was always ready to help others, for instance with practical tasks, or by driving vans and minibuses. He had a quiet Christian faith, and towards the end of his life became very interested in the Roman Catholic Church, joining Quest (the gay Catholic group) although still remaining an Anglican. He will be fondly remembered as a good friend and a steadfast supporter of gay causes.

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Alan Louis, 1932–2010

Alan Louis

Alan Louis was a long-term activist for gay rights, and a member for many years of the CHE Executive. He had a special interest in the Caribbean and its peoples,which made him all the more insistent in campaigning against "Murder Music".

He ran the gay group "Sunday at Two" for a number of years in his own home, and had a special interest in campaigning for the rights of older LGBT people.

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Griff Vaughan Williams, 1940–2010

Griff Vaughan Williams

Griffith Vaughan Williams, lifelong campaigner for LGBT rights, and Secretary of CHE, died on the 15th of November 2010.

Griff was born in Bangor, North Wales, and was educated at a local grammar school and then at a college of journalism in Cardiff. He worked for a number of magazines and provincial newspapers around the country, and later in the press office at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, which he left about 20 years ago to become a freelance journalist. After retirement he threw himself into many voluntary causes, serving on committees, attending conferences, and forever asking questions at company meetings.

Griff had been a gay activist since about 1964, and was a leading member of CHE from its very earliest days. In recent years, despite ill-health, he had continued to be the driving force behind many of CHE’s activities. He will be very much missed. His final act as Secretary was to sign the contract commissioning a new book about the history of CHE, a history which he had very much helped to make.

Griff was a founder member of the LGBT Advisory Group to the Metropolitan Police, and was very active on behalf of older people in his borough and elsewhere.