Meeting report Howard Hughes of The Gay & Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA) 10th November 1995.
In a bold, brave, passionate and commanding delivery concerning one of the most important issues in contemporary Humanist thinking, Howard discussed how GALHA, (Often misread by some as GAYLA) campaigns fiercely against social discrimination against gay people, particularly by church organisations. Howard gave a moving account of his own personal homosexuality. Having already become an unbeliever at twelve, he realised he was gay when he was sixteen. He was married at twenty-two for twenty years, and then got divorced. He has many supportive friends and family members, and feels fortunate to have escaped from much of the social stigma and hatred many other gay people have faced from their peers.
Howard focused primarily on male homosexuality, as he feels that lesbians have not been quite so affected by the same difficulties as male homosexuals.
In 1885, the law prohibited buggery but had little to say on homosexuality in general. After 1885, the law changed. Oscar Wilde was one of the earliest and most famous victims of the law, though he may have provoked his own fate through his libel action. He certainly did not deserve the brutal legal condemnations he received.
There are many areas where the law still treats homosexuals as second class citizens: the age of consent is 16 for heterosexual couples but 18 for gay couples. In 1967 homosexual acts in defined circumstances were finally legalised. Howard Hughes addressed us on the eve of attending the First National Conference of Policing the Gay and Lesbian Community, an event organised by the police.
Up to 1993, homosexuals in the armed forces risked imprisonment; now they still face likely dismissal. One member of our group observed in relation to this that National Service must have brought thousands of gay men into the armed forces without the military being corrupted by their presence.
Section 28, the notorious clause of the Local Government Act of 1987, prevents discussion of homosexuality in schools, even during sex education lessons. Employers can still sack suspected homosexuals, with little fear of tribunal action against them, while they would be less likely to risk prosecution for dismissing people on the grounds of race in the current political climate. Surveys have indicated that up to 62% of homosexuals have directly experienced some form of social prejudice, discrimination or reprisal over their sexuality. While many gay men regret not having children, society is often fearful of employing men as child-minders, baby-sitters, etc. The association in the media between gay men and child-molesters is far removed from the truth. Howard very poignantly observed that homosexuals have the same desire for love, affection, tenderness and meaningful relationships as anyone else. The notion that gay people simply and exclusively flaunt promiscuity and carnal desire is very misleading. Many people believe gays are less than human. Someone observed that the word GAY could be seen as an acronym for "Good As You". Statistic vary, and indicate that up to 50% of the male population has had some kind of homosexual experience or desire. Four to ten percent of gay men are estimated to be open about their homosexuality. Howard criticised television coverage of homosexuality for focusing on the exhibitionist type, the camp, the cross-dresser - these are a minority among gays.
Religions are generally hostile to homosexuality: Jesus is not recorded as having made specific observations on homosexuality, but as he was a strict supporter of the Mosaic Law (Matt. V 17-20) he more than likely supported Leviticus XX,13: And if a man lie with mankind as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. Such condemnation is taken up by Paul in Rom. I 18-32, throughout which same-sex relations are discredited as improper, unnatural and shameless acts. In v.32 Paul also observes that homosexuals deserve to die. While some orders in the early church supported and even blessed homosexual relationships, the general church response has been condemnatory in the extreme. The General Synod in 1987 called on homosexuals to repent immediately. In 1991 a pamphlet from the House of Bishops expressed token tolerance of gays among the laity, but certainly not among the ordained ministry.
The Catholic Church dismisses homosexuality as an abhorrent deviation from the objective natural order (whatever that is). Methodists are ambivalent, while in New Age and cultic groups more extreme views are expressed. Maurice Cerullo, `'healer" and televangelist compares gays to Satanists. Some New Age healing groups feel able to cure people of homosexuality, and cultivate a terrible sense of guilt in their converts. Among Jews, gays are often ostracised from the warm communal family relationships enjoyed by their kinsfolk. Islam is committed in opposition to any hint of homosexuality and aims to punish gays with death, a sentence often carried out in some Islamic countries. The controversial issue of outing arose, as GALHA have supported this policy. Peter Tatchell of Outrage promoted a policy of outing
prominent known homosexuals in the Church (later including MP's too), but only those who have hypocritically supported statements and policies that condemned their fellow homosexuals.
The meeting ended with one of the liveliest ever question sessions, which could easily have continued all night. Members observed that heterosexuals were often uncomfortable in discussions with friends on gay issues, since if they show too much support for gay people they may be suspected of being gay themselves. The question of whether homosexuality has a genetic or social basis also arose. Howard observed that the danger lies in scientists trying to detect a genetic cause for homosexuality in the hope of eradicating it. The latest research seems to support the idea of genetic cause or causes.
GALHA originated in 1979 in response to the trial of Gay News for blasphemy when Mary Whitehouse condemned the journal for suggesting that Jesus may have been gay. GALHA supports the human rights of gays and the need to use a non-religious perspective in the matter. GALHA is one of Humanism's most directly engaged organisations. It conducts letter writing campaigns, media commentaries on gay issues and arranges affirmation ceremonies for gay couples wishing to declare their love for one another through a marital relationship, as well as funerals and baby-naming ceremonies.
GALHA welcomes support and donations from both gays and straights. Anyone wishing to learn more can contact GALHA at
GALHA, 34 Spring Lane, Kenilworth, Warwickshire CV8 2H8
01926 858 450
Howard Hughes generously gave us his permission to print this summary, which he has seen.
© Copyright. Arthur Chappell
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