Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Spring 1998

Speaking Out: Sex, Law, Politics and Society 1954-95, by Antony Grey

reviewed by Ted McFadyen

By way of a dual celebration to mark the 30th anniversary of the passing of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, and the 70th birthday of Antony Grey (which was noted with congratulations in the last issue of Gay & Lesbian Humanist), Cassell have brought out this collection of articles and talks written and delivered by Antony on a wide range of topics around the principal themes of sex, law, politics and society, over the years 1954-95.

As is well known, Antony Grey was Secretary of the Homosexual Law Reform Society in the 1960s, and in that capacity was largely responsible for the lobbying which culminated in the Sexual Offences Act. Some of the earlier articles in this collection are instructive, showing as they do that, even as early as the 1960s, he was dissatisfied with the inadequacies of that legislation – inadequacies which critics never tire of pointing out. In particular Antony Grey thought the fixing of the gay age of consent at 21 was a mistake: “it seems singularly inapt of Parliament to retain severe laws which are unlikely to deter young people’s sexual activities ...”. He goes on to complain about the “severe provisions against a third party who ‘procures’ homosexual acts which are themselves legalised under the Bill.” In Antony Grey’s view, clearly set out in 1967, the legislation “remains a woefully hesitant step towards that comprehensive overhaul of all our laws and attitudes about sex ... which is called for in the second half of the 20th century”.

Moving on some twenty years, he writes in May 1987 a perceptive piece on “Gay Fears and Anti-Gay Phobias” in which he notes the hostility being whipped up by much of Fleet Street around the issue of AIDS, and compares it to “feelings akin to those which must have gripped German Jews during the latter days of the Weimar Republic: a growing sense of vulnerability and powerlessness ...”.

This is one of the pieces which reminds us that, slow though progress has been, the subject of public and press perception of AIDS has improved beyond recognition. It is unthinkable that any downmarket tabloid would publish now the sort of rubbish about AIDS that was commonplace in those days. And this is due far more, of course, to the magnificent response of the gay community itself to AIDS, rather than to any significant government initiative.

In his final chapter Antony outlines what has been achieved and discusses what still needs to be done; his basic thesis is that there is no room for complacency although “we have chalked up some impressive gains”. He approves of the fact that “gay visibility is now irreversible, because so many people are ‘out’ in so many different walks of life that it is no longer possible for anyone seriously to pretend that gayness is an abnormal condition ...”. He is adamant about the importance of coming out: “Coming out about one’s orientation ... must now be regarded as a positive duty, and those who remain in the closet should be left in no doubt that their self-serving hypocrisy is letting every other gay person down.”

Some of the issues discussed in this collection of articles have a relevance to our situation today; others deal with ideas which now seem dated and of only marginal interest. But on the whole it is useful to have this material on record, and as a testimony to one remarkable man’s life and career it is invaluable.

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