Nottingham CHE (and Nottingham Switchboard, which developed out of CHE) was based first at 33 Mansfield Road. This was the home of Nottingham CVS, which at the time included the People's Centre.
CHE AND GLF
The change in the law in 1967 produced little in the way of immediate gains. The new law was so flawed that prosecutions continued on a large scale and the law did little to counter society’s attitudes and the numerous areas of discrimination which still remained. Though the 1967 Act did not involve lesbians, discrimination and negative attitudes certainly did.
Two organisations which attempted to improve the lot of lesbians and gay men emerged in the early 1970s. They were the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE).
“Organisation” is perhaps the wrong word to describe GLF. It thrived on spontaneity. It favoured events which could achieve as much public notice as possible, but it seemed to have little time for structure and long term planning. One person who was a member of both CHE and GLF said
In Nottingham GLF was Kris Kirk. Kris was a student at Nottingham University, who later went on to work in television and as a writer. He died in the 1990s. When he was in Nottingham, GLF flourished. When he left, it faded rapidly
I became involved with GLF. I started going along to “zaps”, zapping people like Larry Grayson at the London Palladium, streaming on to the stage and stopping the show. At Christmas we went to Ardleigh, where Mary Whitehouse lives and sang Christmas Carols outside her house.
CHE in Nottingham
CHE started in Manchester towards the end of the 1960s. It went through various name changes (the Campaign for Homosexual Equality was its third and final name) and eventually managed to gain some publicity, which resulted in people from other parts of the country writing off to the Manchester group.
The second CHE group started in London, but the CHE group in Nottingham was either the third or fourth.
The local contact was Ike Cowen. At that time Ike was a Law Lecturer. He later wrote the CHE Constitution, framed drafts for alterations in the law (which received praise, but not acceptance from Parliament) and helped start the first local gay club.
When sufficient people had contacted CHE to make a local group viable, Ike organised the first meeting on November 16th 1971. In March 1972, a small committee was set up to keep the group running and a series of meetings began. The meetings attempted to address one of the many issues which CHE tried to deal with - a lack of social facilities.
The roles of Nottingham CHE
One might expect that people contacting the Campaign for Homosexual Equality would be interested in campaigning. In fact, the vast majority of contacts were from people who needed to socialise and who latched on to CHE as a possible means to that end.
Today, Nottingham has one gay club, several bars for gay men and lesbians, once-a-month discos, various social groups, support groups, special interest groups and helplines. In early 1971, there were a couple of bars made known by word of mouth and nothing more. By 1972 you could add a club and the CHE group.
Nottingham, however, was relatively well provided for compared with most areas of the country. The total lack of facilities over great swaths of the UK was demonstrated when people travelled to Nottingham CHE group meetings from Derby, Mansfield, Loughborough, Leicester, Leeds, Sheffield, Northampton, Lincoln and Scunthorpe.
People often became aware of CHE by accident and then kept the information for a long time before using it.
I was walking with my dog and saw an old Derby Evening Telegraph flying around. I picked it up to put in the bin and, lo and behold, I saw an advert to join CHE. I took the wet paper home, dried it out, kept looking at it for a week or two and then rang the number.
It became clear that many of the people contacting CHE had problems. Some were very isolated, some were finding it hard to come to terms with their sexuality and some were being victimised and harassed because of their sexuality.Others made contact to gain information about homosexuality in general or what CHE could do. Enquiries of this type came from the Samaritans, Women’s Groups, Universities and Colleges, the Probation Service etc.
The result of this was that the local CHE felt obliged to function on four levels:
providing social facilities
providing education and information
counselling. The “counselling” was initially very ad hoc and would better be described as “sympathetic listening”.
Nottingham Switchboard developed out of the last two strands. To read more about Nottingham Switchboard, click HERE
Nottingham (+ Derby) CHE on the march in 1975 at a Women's rally in london
What did Nottingham CHE do?
Some of the early campaigning was significant and also successful. Meetings and discussions took place with Derby and Nottingham Samaritans, groups of probation officers and social workers, students at Derby Technical College, Matlock College and at Bishop Lonsdale College where we took part in a large scale “teach in”.
At Bishop Lonsdale College we were informed that if a student was known to be gay at school, then they would not be accepted for the college.
People participated in radio programmes, spoke to a Jewish Youth Group and Ike Cowen talked to a large assembly of Sheffield Police officers……….
Nottingham CHE had Howard Hyman, who started NALGAY, a support organisation for workers in NALGO which is now UNISON. It became a very successful group. It has been important in changing attitudes within the union and getting some anti-discrimination legislation and then other unions following suit.
I have been a practicing homosexual for over 30 years and after all that practice I’m now rather good at it
To read more about Nottingham CHE, click HERE