Gay online newspaper
History of Gay News
Sex between men had been partially decriminalised for males over the age of 21 in England and Wales with the passage of the Sexual Offences Act 1967. After the Stonewall Riots in New York in 1969, the Gay Liberation Front spread from the United States to London in 1970. Gay News was the response to a nationwide demand by lesbians and gay men for news of the burgeoning liberation movement.
The paper played a pivotal role in the struggle for gay rights in the 1970s in the UK. It was described by Alison Hennegan (who joined the newspaper as Assistant Features Editor and Literary Editor in June 1977) as the movement's "debating chamber". Although essentially a newspaper, reporting alike on discrimination and political and social advances, it also campaigned for further law reform, including parity with the heterosexual age of consent of sixteen, against the hostility of the church which treated homosexuality as a sin, and the medical profession which treated homosexuality as a pathology. It campaigned for equal rights in employment (notably in the controversial area of the teaching profession) and the trades union movement at a time when left politics in the United Kingdom was still historically influenced by its Nonconformist roots in its hostility to homosexuality. But under the influence of its features editors, Howes and Hennegan, it also excavated the lesbian and cultural history of past decades as well as presenting new developments in the arts. Keith Howes later published the encyclopaedic reference, Broadcasting It, ostensibly dealing with homosexuality in film, radio and TV from 1923 to 1993 but amounting to a cultural review of British homosexuality in the 20th century.
One of the biggest problems the newspaper faced was that, although it was not an obscene publication, sale outlets were hard to find. W.H. Smith then controlled much of the newspaper and magazine distribution in the UK through a wholly owned subsidiary and they refused to sell it or allow their distribution company to distribute it to other suppliers. Various campaigns organised by the gay community to shame W.H. Smith into carrying the paper met with success.
In 1976 Mary Whitehouse brought a private prosecution of blasphemy (Whitehouse v Lemon) against both the newspaper and its editor, Denis Lemon, over the publication of James Kirkup's poem The Love that Dares to Speak its Name in the issue dated 3 June 1976. Lemon was found guilty when the case came to court in July 1977 and sentenced to a suspended nine-month prison sentence and personally fined ₤1,000. When all totalled up, fines and court costs awarded against Lemon and Gay News amounted to nearly ₤10,000. After a campaign and several appeals the suspended prison sentence was dropped, but the conviction remained in force. The case drew enormous media coverage at the time. In 2002 BBC Radio 4 broadcast a play about the trial.