The Story of Gay Liberation Front in Britain

Explore how GLF broke down barriers and led the way to a more liberated gay community.

By LSE Library

Gay Liberation Front badge (c.1970)Original Source: LSE Library

The first meeting of the London Gay Liberation Front (GLF) took place at LSE in October 1970, inspired by the Stonewall Riots in New York in the previous year.

Gay liberation Front demands (1971)Original Source: LSE Library

A list of demands was quickly drawn up and printed as a leaflet to encourage people to come to future meetings. As numbers grew, meetings moved to LSE’s New Theatre and then to larger venues outside LSE.

International News (1970-11)Original Source: LSE Library

On 27 November 1970 GLF held its first public demonstration in Highbury Fields where a prominent young Liberal had been arrested by the police and accused of ‘indecency’. IT ['International News'] reported the protest.

Gay Liberation Front ‘think in’ leaflet (1971)Original Source: LSE Library

GLF meetings were very democratic. There was no hierarchy and everyone who had something to say could speak. Although there were ‘no leaders’ there still had to be some organisation and a co-ordinating committee was set up.

A distinctive feature of GLF meetings was the 'think in' when the large meeting was broken up into small unstructured discussion groups where ideas were worked out.

Producing Come Together (1971)Original Source: LSE Library

After a few general meetings, it became clear that practical things were difficult to achieve in large meetings. More ‘functional’ groups were needed. A Media Workshop was formed quickly to start 'Come Together', the newspaper of GLF. Working on 'Come Together' was a collective experience and everyone who attended the Media Workshop had an equal say in what went in.

Gay Liberation Front Manifesto (c. 1970)Original Source: LSE Library

A Manifesto Group started after the 'think in' in January 1971. Its aim was to explain why gay people were oppressed and to map a way forward to liberation. The Manifesto Group was made up of women and men and worked in a collective way, discussing and writing during the summer, until the Manifesto was published in October 1971.

Statement by Counter Psychiatry group (c.1970)Original Source: LSE Library

Other early ‘functional’ groups were the Counter Psychiatry Group...

GLF Street Theatre (c.1970)Original Source: LSE Library

...a Street Theatre Group...

Come Together number 6 (1971)Original Source: LSE Library

.. and a Demonstrations Group. GLF participated in many demonstrations on issues which affected gay men and lesbians as workers. In February 1971, a hundred or so GLF members went on an anti-Industrial Relations Bill demo and faced a mixed reception from other groups.

GLF Youth Group demonstration (1971)Original Source: LSE Library

The GLF Youth Group wrote a Declaration of Rights and demonstrated against the age of consent at 21 in Trafalgar Square in August 1971.

Gay pride march (c.1970)Original Source: LSE Library

GLF organised Gay Pride Marches.

Gay Day in Holland Park (1971)Original Source: LSE Library

GLF organised Gay Days in London parks during the early 1970s. There were often two or three of these each weekend and it was a chance for people to get together.

Women's Liberation & the New Politics Women's Liberation & the New Politics (1969) by Sheila Rowbotham and Bertrand Russell Peace FoundationOriginal Source: LSE Library

During the 1970s, another consciousness-raising movement was growing in Britain - the Women's Liberation Movement. After the first national women's liberation conference in Oxford in February 1970, many women's liberation groups emerged throughout the country.

Gay Liberation Front Women’s Liberation leaflet (1971)Original Source: LSE Library

GLF actively supported many women’s liberation struggles, beginning with the Miss World demonstration in 1970, when the Street Theatre group held its own ‘Miss Used’ outside the Royal Albert Hall.

Coordinating group minutes (c.1970)Original Source: LSE Library

Women were involved in GLF from the beginning. Although they were in the minority, and often not the most vocal at general meetings, the women were central to many actions and projects – the Street Theatre, Counter-Psychiatry, the Manifesto and many demonstrations. Tensions began to develop between their needs and those of gay men in GLF. A separate Women’s Group was formed early on and they were responsible for producing issues number 7 and 11 of 'Come Together'.

The Women's Group met only once a month and problems continued with how this group interacted with GLF as a whole.

Letter to Mary McIntosh re Skegness conference (1971)Original Source: LSE Library

The women in GLF had an escape route - women’s liberation. It began with an invitation to a women’s liberation national conference in Skegness in October 1971. Some GLF women went along. They questioned the organisation of the conference, which was very bureaucratic, and objected to how particular groups were dominating the conference. Once the most dominant group was ousted, the GLF women took to the stage and talked about being lesbians. They weren’t anti-straight but they wanted to show that there were other ways to be a woman and other ways of being a feminist.

Lessons of Skegness pamphlet (1971)Original Source: LSE Library

Pauline Jones demonstration (1972)Original Source: LSE Library

Shortly after the Skegness conference, there was a shared protest between GLF and women’s liberation groups relating to the imprisonment of Pauline Jones at Holloway prison. She had received a harsh three-year sentence for abducting a baby, although she was in a vulnerable mental and emotional state of mind.

Camden GLF leaflet (1971)Original Source: LSE Library

By November 1971, the atmosphere at the all-London GLF meetings was very tense. This led to new London GLF groups forming, the first one was in Camden, north London. Local groups became the focus for different types of activity. Notting Hill was a centre for radical drag, for instance. There was co-operation between the different groups, even after the all-London meetings were discontinued in April 1972.

Leeds national ‘think in’ (1971)Original Source: LSE Library

The GLF message spread around the country and groups emerged in Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Leeds.

Gay Icebreakers leaflet (c.1970)Original Source: LSE Library

GLF blazed a trail. GLF broke down barriers and led the way from the traditional gay ghetto, very confined and repressed, to a less inhibited gay community. It enabled the gay community to spread in many different directions: from new clubs, dating services, publishing, telephone helplines, counselling services, to groups for teenage gays, older gays, black gays, Asian gays and disabled gays.

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