A history of LGBT Humanists UK

As far back as you can look, you can see that humanists have not just been LGBT-friendly, but champions of LGBT people and our human rights. To mark LGBT History Month, here’s a history of LGBT Humanists UK and some of the country’s most prominent LGBT humanists.

LGBT Humanists UK

Humanist activism for equality stretches back to our foundation in the 1890s and (through individual humanists) earlier still. Humanists were the principal organising force behind simultaneous campaigns in the 1960s to end corporal punishment, introduce abortion rights, and decriminalise homosexuality. A J Ayer (President of Humanists UK from 1966-1970), though not gay himself, was President of the Homosexual Law Reform Association and Bertrand Russell (Vice President of Humanists UK in the 1960s) was on the board. 

Our section LGBT Humanists UK (originally known as the Gay Humanist Group) dates back to 1979 – formed in response to the Gay News blasphemy trial; a high profile trial which exposed not only Britain’s archaic and obscure blasphemy laws, but the rampant homophobia of the time.   

In the last four decades, LGBT Humanists has blazed a trail arguing for LGBT liberation and has played a key role in achieving milestones such as the decriminalisation of gay sex, ending Section 28, and the equalisation of the age of consent. 

Humanists UK celebrants were conducting same-sex humanist weddings decades before the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Humanists UK was later a prominent campaigner for legal same-sex marriages in Britain, working closely with the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group on the passing of the Same Sex Marriage Act 2013.

The Gay Humanist Group also campaigned for legal same-sex marriages since its inception in the late 1970s. In 2001, the group campaigned heavily for gay couples to take part in the London Partnership Register – the policy which later inspired the Civil Partnerships Act and eventually the Same Sex Marriage Act.

Today, Humanists UK continues to fight for a ban on so-called ‘conversion therapy’.

Here are some photos from the archives!

LGBT Humanists on parade at London Pride, 1987

Gay Humanist Group leaflet, date unknown

Gay Humanist Group at Stop Clause 28 demo in Manchester, 1988

Humanists UK patron Maureen Duffy and founding members toasting at the Gay Humanist Group’s 5th anniversary celebration, 1984

Prominent LGBT humanists

Today Humanists UK can count prominent LGBT figures such as Stephen Fry, Sandi Toksvig, John Amaechi, Peter Tatchell, Maureen Duffy, Adèle Anderson, and Angela Eagle MP among its patrons. Other prominent humanists have included LGBT writers Virginia Woolf and E M Forster, the mathematician Alan Turing, and the economist John Maynard Keynes.

Virginia Woolf: Humanist and one of history’s all-time great writers (her father was in fact one of Humanists UK’s founding fathers). In 1928, she presented her close-friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West with ‘Orlando’. Sackville-West’s son wrote, ‘The effect of Vita on Virginia is all contained in ‘Orlando’, the longest and most charming love letter in literature’.

E M Forster: Vice President of Humanists UK in the 1950s, and a member of the Advisory Council of Humanists UK from its foundation in 1963. He fell in love with Muhammad, a bus conductor, while working for the Red Cross in Cairo during the First World War. Later, after Muhammad’s death from tuberculosis, he fell in love with a policeman with whom he had a close relationship for the remainder of his life. He wrote a novel ‘Maurice’, depicting the problems of gay men at a time when homosexuality was illegal. He decided it should not be published until after his death, and he did not reveal his homosexuality publicly during his lifetime.

Alan Turing: one of the greatest humanists, mathematicians, and code breakers of all time. Tragically, he was persecuted for being openly gay by the Government – threatened with imprisonment, chemically castrated, and driven to suicide. He died in 1954 from cyanide poisoning.

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