In the immediate aftermath of the decriminalisation homosexual acts between males in 1967 a new breed of non-government organisations emerged, run, for the first time, by and for gay men. Previous work by historians such as Weeks and Robinson have concentrated on analysing the political philosophy of the most revolutionary and left wing of these organisations, the London based Gay Liberation Front, ignoring more reformist and mainstream groups such as the Campaign for Homosexual Equality.Consequently there has been little work on how these organisations started to become integrated into the state and civil society, or on the many important social and welfare roles they played.
Gay campaigning organisations achieved little in this era in terms of narrow high politics, with almost no reforms to legislation being achieved. However such campaigns did play a part in forming open social networks for gay men, and provided a forum through which gay men could begin to engage with public life. This was a diverse period of innovation where gay men responded to a lack of state help and limited new freedoms by working to form their own community structures and services. An often tense process, it was fraught with debate over whether any group could truly serve the whole “gay community” – and about whether they could ever equally represent the concerns of both lesbian women and gay men.
The paper will chart the evolution of these organisations, and the debates which surrounded them. It will suggest that local voluntary action can be seen as important for the formation of ideas of identity and community as national political campaigns.