The history of CHE
The present-day organisation has a proud tradition and is a direct descendant of the gay law reformists of the 1950s and 1960s who established the Albany Trust — a charity concerned with psychosexual counselling — and a highly political organisation — the Homosexual Law Reform Society.
Around the time of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act (which meant that no longer were homosexual acts illegal in certain circumstances), a number of law reformers sought to create a social environment which was free of the commercial gay scene. They registered a limited company — the Esquire Clubs — to establish a series of gay clubs around the country. Although considerable interest was created, the project was unsuccessful. In turn the Esquire Clubs company was subsequently passed to CHE.
CHE's Life President
The reformers turned their attentions to creating a campaigning group, as there was (and still is) much to achieve within what was only a barely tolerant society. CHE was formed in 1969 as the successor to the North West Homosexual Law Reform Committee. As the Committee for Homosexual Equality, CHE became a national organisation and attracted support from many leading figures in the medical profession and the arts, together with some from the Church. However, the term 'Committee' created an image of far too much bureaucracy and was off-putting, so in 1971 the title was changed to the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. In 1979 the head office was moved to London.
In the early 1980s there was considerable feeling that CHE was carrying a lot of dead weight, members who just belonged for the social benefits and contributed little to the Campaign in all its political senses. Servicing such members with newsletters etc was costly both in money and person-power terms. Therefore, it was decided to hive off the social side and for CHE to be just a campaigning body with two types of members: Campaign members, giving a small annual sum and doing the detailed campaigning activities; and Supporting members, who could not give the time but would donate money instead.
The social role passed to the Gay Community Organisation, and a limited number of GCOs were started up around the country. However, no-one could argue that the GCOs have been very successful — possibly due to the strong commercial scene which exists. Also, what was CHE's counselling section separated in the mid-1980s into an independent body called Friend.
Due to the numerous single-issue groups which have sprung up in recent years, CHE now has fewer members than during the 1970s and 80s, but it still manages to campaign on a variety of major issues. With Britain now more united with the European Community than ever, it is hoped homosexual law reform will be forcing itself on the British Government's agenda. Indeed, judgements from the European Court of Human Rights and proposals from the European Parliament are forcing Britain to legislate to remove laws which discriminate against gay people. CHE will in the years to come be working closely with other campaigning groups such as the Cutting Edge Consortium and the International Lesbian and Gay Association to further promote favourable legislation.
The London CHE Groups are featured in Out of the Shadows, a History of the Pioneering London Gay Groups and Organisations (2010), edited by Tony Walton.
In 2010, CHE commissioned the gay author Peter Scott-Presland to write the definitive history of CHE.