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CHE (Campaign for Homosexual Equality) submitted a motion on a Statute of Limitation to this year's Annual General Meeting of LIBERTY (The National Council for Civil Liberty).

The motion had been passed unanimously by CHE in 2008 and CHE has been affiliated to LIBERTY for more than 20 years.

But just submitting this motion has resulted in LIBERTY chucking CHE out – after saying the motion was unacceptable for debate.

So much for LIBERTY
So much for free speech
So much for fair debate

More news later

Money Appeal

All the time we’ve been operating we’ve only had our own little bits of money Plus sometimes £20 or so for doing a talk to a Gay group - So we’ve not had a bank account.
But CHE have now given us £500 in a cheque. Ta.
And we’ve opened a bank account so we can now appeal for funds.

We also now have a PAYPAL account!

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Wolfenden in the Wilderness
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Sex With Boys
The Way We Were
40 Years of Campaigning
Historical Abuse Appeals Panel
The Bolton Seven
Esquire Clubs
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ESQUIRE CLUBS

This enterprise, when we first embarked on it in 1968, seemed to be an idea whose time had come. The legal advance secured by the - admittedly flawed - implementation of the Wolfenden Report's proposals had created a situation where gay men could identify themselves as such without necessarily attracting the attention of the police.

The social situation of gay men, however, remained desperate with many, particularly in the smaller towns, existing in complete isolation. The Campaign for Homosexual Equality, as the old North-west Homosexual Law Reform Committee had eventually become, soon discovered that the local campaigning groups which it had established were not meeting the needs of the countless thousands of men living without the support of any kind of gay social network.

So was born the rather grand idea of a string of social clubs, not owned by any proprietor or organisation, but belonging to the members themselves and modelled on much the same lines as the Working Men's Club and Institute Union.

These, we figured, would provide places of refuge and socialising without the rip-off prices of the city-based commercial clubs and would also be able to operate in the smaller places which commerce had neglected.

But we reckoned without the depth and intensity of resistance which this modest proposal was to arouse. An early blow came from one of the two leaders of the Parliamentary reform movement. The late Lord Arran - "Boofy" to his friends - had introduced what eventually became the first successful reform Bill into the House of Lords. One of his little eccentricities was to always refer to the reform Bill as "William" and when, on the 4th September 1968, he took the opportunity to use his regular column in the London Evening News to attack the Esquire development, he wrote:-

Burnley Express - June 1971

I am shocked at the proposal to set up "Esquire Clubs" for homosexuals. Had I known that this was likely to be the result, I would never have introduced William. In my final speech I begged homosexuals not to flaunt themselves because whether they liked it or not, the fact is that homosexual practices are ludicrous to most people and offensive to many. The setting up of these clubs is an open flaunting of the new and legal freedom of output…

…When I was a young man, I and my brother were taken to one such club in Munich where dancing was proceeding. It was a solemn and grotesque sight and we were hard put to choke back our laughter.

Suddenly there was a police raid, not because of what was going on but because the club only had a licence for dancing on Thursday, and this was Friday. Typically German. An enormous lady I know went to this same club where she had a colossal success. She had no idea why until she discovered that she had been mistaken for a Prussian officer dressed as a woman. What a drag!

This, of course, was all of a piece with the rest of his closing speech at the end of the Bill's successful third reading in the Lords when he said "This is no occasion for jubilation; certainly not for celebration. Any form of ostentatious behaviour now, or in the future, any form of public flaunting, would be utterly distasteful and would, I believe, make the sponsors of the Bill regret that they have done what they have done."

Clearly, Arran believed that the formation of gay clubs constituted "public flaunting," although it could be argued that clubs, being private places, would assist in keeping the dreaded condition away from the public eye!

On 1 February 1970, in the course of a full-page article by Joanna Slaughter which appeared in the Observer under the heading "The men who still feel hunted" she reported:-

The homosexual search for companionship can lead him into danger. Loneliness drives him to importuning; this in turn may well land him in a magistrates' court, with alarming social consequences. Since 1967 some reformers, aware of this, have made attempts to found clubs which would provide social facilities for homosexuals.

In the north of England one company has been trying unsuccessfully for over 18 months to form a chain of clubs which, it is hoped, will eventually be able to offer not only social facilities, but also a counselling service to members supplied by a panel of lawyers and doctors. The organisers are anxious that the clubs (in contrast to the
dreary 'gay' pubs already in existence) should not be exclusively homosexual, but places to which members will feel free to take heterosexual friends and relatives.

The two planning applications made so far, In Swinton and Eccles, have both been turned down. In Swinton councillors complained that members would be a risk to an existing youth club nearby; in Eccles, after five months of indecision, the council turned down the application on the grounds that the building was not suitable for a licensed club and that there was nowhere to park vehicles.

Not all the reformers concerned with pressing for the 1967 legislation regard these efforts with approval. Mr Leo Abse points out that one of the purposes of the Act was to integrate homosexuals into society. "I think a lot of people have got to get out of their ghettos," he says.

I commented in the following week's Observer that gay men would be very grateful if they had a ghetto to go to! To be fair to Abse, he eventually came to accept the idea of clubs albeit, I suspect, with gritted teeth, but urged that membership should be confined to those over the age of 21, possibly a very wise piece of advice at a time when we all worried about recondite laws being wheeled out to deal with situations which upset the moral right.

The reformed law which Arran and Abse had piloted through Parliament provided for a maximum of two years imprisonment for a man who procured another man to commit an act of buggery with a third man, even though such an act was no longer an offence. Nobody could guess whether a jury might be persuaded that introducing men to each other via membership of a gay club would constitute procuring.

It is indicative of the mindset of Parliament at that time that there is no punishment laid down for a woman who procured such an act by two men. It would appear that they took the same view of this possibility as Queen Victoria allegedly took about Lesbianism, namely that it just didn't exist!

It had been stressed throughout the Parliamentary debates that homosexual acts, even if legalised, would remain immoral and reprehensible and we were aware of the dangers posed by the common law offence of Conspiracy to Corrupt Public Morals which had been resurrected a few years previously to successfully prosecute the publishers of the Ladies' Directory, in which prostitutes had been able to advertise their services.

It became clear then, that no move should be made towards opening a club until the attitude of the local police had been ascertained. We had meetings with the police, usually at Chief Constable level, in Sheffield, Burnley and Bolton and found them surprisingly supportive although the Chief Constable of Sheffield was rather naughty in that, having agreed to see only three of the six-man deputation which attended, he then sent his lackey to discover the names and addresses of the excluded three, something which, in the atmosphere of the time, could only be interpreted as being intimidatory.

Encouragement for the idea of establishing members' clubs for gays had come from the owners of two established commercial gay clubs in Manchester and, in order to encourage people to subscribe to the idea, we were able to offer Esquire members free entrance to the Rockingham and the Rouge clubs in central Manchester, an arrangement which soon ran into trouble as those who had offered this facility began to get cold feet.

The commercial club owners seemed to have had mixed motives for supporting the Esquire project. They were aware, as were we all, of the successful prosecution of the Flamingo Club in Wolverhampton in 1967 when the police were able to convince a court, without producing any witnesses, that there had been sexual shenanigans in the clubs toilets, resulting in punishment for the owner and closure of the club.

In this prosecution the club owner had enjoyed no support network other than that provided by the smallest handful of his members. I suspect that the Manchester club owners took the view that they would be more immune from prosecution or, if not that, from conviction, if they were seen to have the support of a growing political movement and Esquire Clubs, being a subsidiary of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, was seen as providing that kind of limited guarantee.

Reg Kilduff, the owner of the Rockingham Club, had volunteered his willingness to transfer ownership of the club to Esquire and it was agreed that an independent valuation should be carried out Although a valuer was agreed upon, he was never able to gain access to the premises to carry out his task. This was the first indication that this arrangement was beginning to fall apart.

Both club owners, having necessarily conducted their businesses clandestinely for many years when homosexual acts by men were totally illegal, had been used to a rather selective approach to the acceptance of membership applications and were now becoming somewhat alarmed to find that the new arrangement with Esquire was producing visitors to the club who would not have fitted easily, if at all, into their former selective mould.

While such selection might be construed as an snobbery, I believe it was in part a reaction to the perceived continuing threat of police action against the clubs. A general tightening of the policing of all clubs in Manchester had emphasised that a condition of the late licences which they all enjoyed was that the drinking should be ancillary to the dining and the dancing - an unrealistic objective which I believe has yet to be achieved. It hadn't escaped the attention of either the owners or the police that dancing in an all-male club could itself potentially be construed as immoral conduct under the remaining laws.

Because most clubs found that the laws under which they operated were too tightly drawn they were mostly conducted with that degree of illegality which not only placed them in constant danger of prosecution but also made them subject to the attention of corrupt policemen. In the case of gay clubs, both perils were multiplied by a substantial factor. I remember talking to Reg Kilduff at the bar of his club early on evening when his manager came over to inform him that his usual Monday evening visitors had arrived.

He was away for some time and, on my way to visit the gents' I found him in the corridor looking very worried and I inquired who his usual Monday night visitors were and why he was looking so agitated. "It's the police again" he said "and I can't decide whether to give them cash or spirits this week."

I have no means of knowing how widespread this kind of corruption was. Suffice it to say that some time afterwards the whole of the plain-clothes squad responsible for policing licensed premises was suddenly transferred to routine uniformed duties!

Anxiety about the new-found club visitors grew to a point where the Rockingham Club insisted that no Esquire members would be admitted to that club unless they had been personally vetted by the proprietor and his manager. This was unacceptable to the Esquire directors as being against the whole spirit of the enterprise and consequently the arrangement with that club broke down, as did the arrangements with the other club, the Rouge, for much the same reasons.

The next hurdle we encountered was that of planning permissions, where we anticipated converting premises which had not previously been used as a club. Local authorities advertise these applications in order that people had the chance to object, and object they did, in spades!

The first place was Eccles, Lancashire, where we had our eyes on disused bank premises in the town centre. There was never the slightest indication that change of use consent might be granted and councillors were no doubt reinforced in their determination to block the project by the constant talk of the threat which it would pose to the town's youth - something we were to encounter much more of as our work progressed, or at least attempted to. One or two members attempted to put a little gloss on the council's attitude by suggesting that they should at ;least meet the applicants (i.e. ourselves) but no such invitation was ever received.

The going was even harder in nearby Swinton. Proposals for a meeting were immediately rejected and councillors unashamedly proposed that the change of use application we had submitted should be judged on moral, rather than planning, criteria.
On 10 September 1969 The Daily Telegraph reported:-

Teenagers at a Swinton youth club would be in danger of being "perverted" if a club catering for homosexuals were opened nearby, it was claimed yesterday.

An application by Esquire Clubs Ltd. To open a club in the basement of Swinton's shopping precinct was rejected by the town's planning committee.

Following a statement by the Town Clerk that the club would be used by homosexuals, Councillor R. Beech told members that they ought to reject the plan "on moral grounds."

"These people might be very nice - I don't know and I don't want to know - but what about the youngsters in the youth club near there? "They might go down to have a look and to have a giggle, but some of them might become perverted - and I think homosexuality is a perversion," he said.

Swinton Journal 1969

The Town Clerk, Mr. D. Cudworth, said: "This is a club for providing facilities for homosexuals. They could have applied to get this as a night club and then let it be used in this way and we could do nothing about it. But they did not. They have not tried to hide this."

Councillor B. M. Sampson suggested that it was "only common courtesy" to meet the representatives before reaching a decision, but Councillor K. Clements said: "I don't want their people here."

Councillor Mrs E. W. Muldoon said a meeting might suggest that the council was condoning the club.

Shortly afterwards, the Guardian published a letter in which I said:-

I read with interest your report of the refusal of Swinton's Planning Committee to grant an application for a social club for homosexuals and I am impressed by the Town Clerk's reported observation that the applicants "could have applied to us to have opened….as an ordinary night club and then let it be used by homosexuals and we could have done nothing about this. They have not tried to hide from us what they want the club for."

By its decision the Planning Committee has managed at a single stroke, both to strike a blow against civil liberty and to put a premium on dishonesty.

The determination of the council to prevent the project moving forward was widely shared in the town, as demonstrated by the volume and ferocity of readers' letters in the local press, but nobody had actually suggested that the establishment of a gay club would be illegal, although doubts about the legality of our project had been aired earlier by the Albany Trust, which was the charitable arm of the London-based Homosexual Law Reform Society.

Esquire invited the chairman and the secretary of the Dutch C.O.C. organisation to visit Manchester to discuss our proposals. C.O.C. was established in 1946 and, by 1968 it had over 4000 members with gay clubs in several Dutch cities and had established close and mutually helpful co-operation with the police and probation services and was sometimes consulted when the courts had to deal with offenders against young people below the age of consent.

We had, of course, been aware of this organisation for a long time, but its existence had been brought to the attention of the wider public through an article headed "A club for homosexuals" which Roy Perrott wrote in the Observer at the beginning of 1963, with a sub-heading which said "A meeting place not only where homosexuals gather quite openly but to which they are directed by the police - this may sound unbelievable to English people but it exists in Holland."

"C.O..C.'s philosophy" wrote Perrott "rests on the same basis as that which both Wolfenden and the Church of England Moral Welfare Council have accepted as essential. The homosexual, it says, must be allowed to integrate himself into the wider community as himself, accepting his own nature (how abstinent or active he is thereafter remains, of course, his own decision) Only in this way can he adjust himself tolerably to the social disciplines and get the same chance of personal development as other people have."

The meeting with the C.O.C representatives took place on 6 June 1968. I doubt that our visitors were aware of the extent to which homophobia remained rampant. In the U.K., their experience of our citizens being mainly based around the British gays who visited the C.O.C. club.

It was both interesting and enlightening however that they expressed the view that it would take a further ten years before British gays felt sufficiently confident in their new-found freedom to take proper advantage of any clubs which might be established.

In addition to this meeting, Alan Fitch, the MP for Wigan, had, at our behest spoken to the Home Secretary about the Esquire project. Although the Home Office had not raised any objection they had, of course, no powers over law enforcement and so could offer no assurances in this respect, nor had they been expected to.

 

 

 
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