Over 120 people crowded into London’s Bishopsgate Institute on the evening of 10th July to celebrate the 30th birthday of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA). Peter Tatchell praised GALHA as “a voice of reason and evidence-based thought” in the face of bigotry and fundamentalism, and warned that “Religious fundamentalism is now the single biggest threat to women’s rights and LGBT rights around the world”.
He urged the community to try to recapture some of the energy and idealism of the Gay Liberation Front, which was inspired both by the Stonewall Riots and by the early law reformers.
“Collectively and cumulatively, we have moved mountains thanks to these efforts.
“The GLF never argued for mere “equality”. Our agenda was about changing society, for the benefits of gays and straights alike.
“We challenged traditional notions of masculinity and femininity, and of the patriarchal nuclear family.”
Stressing that direct action could achieve results alongside traditional lobbying, Tatchell also highlighted the importance of solidarity: “Gays and Lesbians should support all oppressed communities, even when they don’t always return the favour.”
Michael Cashman asked the question “Why are we still fighting for gay and lesbian rights in 2009, and why will we still be doing it in 2029? It is because hatred never goes away. It merely shifts its focus.”
Cashman also warned that “Gays and lesbians too often think that rights once won, can never be taken away.” He pointed to the struggle that was going on to secure human rights across Europe, and the key role of the European Parliament, for example in requiring all EU members to respect rights for minorities including LGBT people.
He pointed out that, often as not, this opposition was religiously motivated. He insisted that “Unless we can separate religion and politics, we will never advance.” He also left the audience with the thought that “Religion and faith are perhaps the most private experience that any of us can ever have, apart from an orgasm that is.”
The event also saw the presentation of the first CHE/Derek Oyston Award in conjunction with GALHA for services to the gay community, sponsored by the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) in memory of Derek Oyston. Journalist and CHE Vice President Ray Gosling presented the award to Sue Sanders “in recognition of her outstanding work for ‘School’s Out’ and for establishing and maintaining ‘LGBT History Month'”. Sanders spoke of the enormous strides that had been made since the days when teachers could be sacked simply for being gay and commented. “I can’t tell you how much it means to receive an award like this from the community”. She also paid tribute to the work of the late Paul Patrick and to other members of the organisation.
GALHA Events Secretary Derek Lennard paid tribute to the group’s founders, including George Broadhead, Roy Saich and Jim Herrick and also praised the contribution of Terry Sanderson who was furthermore the world’s longest standing gay columnist.
Messages of congratulation and support were read out from the British Humanist Association, the National Secular Society, The South Place Ethical Society, the Council of Ex Muslims, and from GALHA Vice President Dr Evan Harris MP.
Stefan Dickers of the Bishopsgate Institute, expressed the Institute’s delight at receiving the GALHA archives, and how they would contribute to the institute’s ongoing work. An exhibition on GALHA’s history, which Stefan had helped to compile, was a major feature of the evening. The GALHA archive can be viewed at the Institute, along with many others.
Adam Knowles, as GALHA’s youngest committee member, saw much hope in the younger generation, too often dismissed as “disconnected”, or even “apathetic”.
“Democratic, rational, questioning and fundamentally optimistic, in many ways they are already humanists in all but name. Our job is to go out and recruit them.”
GALHA Vice President Barbara Smoker also spoke, expressing her admiration for GALHA’s work and her delight at its continuing success.
The evening concluded with the ceremonial cutting of GALHA’s birthday cake, and with a wine and canapé reception.
GALHA Secretary David Christmas commented.
“This wonderful event highlights what we have already achieved but also that there are so many more battles to be fought and won all over the world. This in turn shows why there is still likely to be a need for organisations like GALHA in another thirty years time.”
Messages of congratulation were sent by the British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society. All three organizations are members of IHEU.
Hanne Stinson, Chief Executive of the BHA, said, “This is a wonderful achievement and we congratulate GALHA wholeheartedly on all their valuable work. GALHA supports people to stand up for their right to equality, sometimes in very difficult circumstances.”
She continued, “Society has come a long way since the beginning of GALHA as a reaction to the use of blasphemy laws against the gay press, but there is still work to be done, particularly in the international arena. GALHA is well placed to take such work forward into the future.”
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, who was a long-time committee member of GALHA, said: “I feel a great personal affection for GALHA and a modicum of pride that I have been involved in some of its many achievements. Homosexuality is certainly the bellwether of religious power-seeking. Whenever religion tries to revive itself – as it is doing at the moment – it does so on the back of prejudice against gay men and lesbians. GALHA has been in the forefront of resisting this for three decades, and it has raised many issues that might otherwise have passed under the radar. The group can congratulate itself that it has been an integral part of the gay movement that has profoundly and positively changed British society. GALHA has made a significant contribution to the ongoing campaign to achieve equality for LGBT people in Britain.
“GALHA is very much a membership organisation and provides an excellent selection of social and intellectual events throughout the year. The monthly meetings in Conway Hall have provided stimulation and amusement in equal measure and have increased in popularity. A recent film show found the library at Conway Hall so packed that people had to be turned away. The annual weekend away and the annual lunch have always been excellent social outlets.
“But it is GALHA’s political efforts that have been so important. Its very existence is a challenge to the idea that religion somehow has a right to attack and defame gay people.
“The organisation has a strong and energetic new committee that will see it well into the 21st century. Its job is not done yet, and I hope it will continue to grow in vigour in the coming decades.”
Keith Porteous Wood of the NSS, said: “GALHA has, like all other organisations in our movement, survived many ups and downs in its history, and is growing stronger as a result. I salute its achievements and wish it well for its challenging future.”