Many readers will know the name of Antony Grey (pictured above), one of Britain’s first-ever gay-rights campaigners. I’m sad to say he’s died. He was 82, and hadn’t been in good health for some time. He had leukaemia and died at King Edward VII Hospital in London last Friday.
Anthony Edgar Gartside Wright (his birth name) was instrumental in getting the government of the day to push through the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which led to the first major breakthrough in gay equality. Gays were not, of course, equal, but the Act did decriminalise sexual activity between two consenting adults (over 21) in private. It was a step along the way.
It was then that he joined the Homosexual Law Reform Society, later joining and becoming secretary of the Albany Trust, a charity set up to help gay men who had developed psychological problems after being persecuted.
Grey also wrote several books, including Quest for Justice: Towards Homosexual Emancipation, Speaking of Sex and Speaking Out: Sex, Law, Politics and Society.
Grey had lived with his partner, Eric Thompson, for 50 years, even during the years when it was considered dangerous for a male couple to share a house.
Grey’s death was the “end of an era”, says Thompson, who recalls in the Pink News article how things had changed from the early 1960s. “One night, when we were living in Hampstead, there was an almighty crash, as though the chimney had fallen down. A coach had crashed into several houses.
“But the first thing we did was not to call the police – it was to make up a spare bed, because you knew that when the police came round they would have been far more interested in our sleeping arrangements than the crash.”
“I don’t think the younger generation realises how things were in those days.”
George Broadhead, secretary of the Pink Triangle Trust (PTT), has told us that he, too, mourns the death of Antony Grey, a former PTT sponsor, whom he got to know well when the former was secretary of the Gay Humanist Group (GHG) now called the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA).
“Antony joined GHG in October 1979 shortly after it was founded and remained a staunch supporter until the controversy over an article published in the Autumn 2005 issue of Gay & Lesbian Humanist magazine to which he was a contributor. This article was perceived by some as racist, but Antony disagreed and sadly resigned his GALHA membership. He was always a staunch defender of freedom of expression and against what he considered political correctness.”
Indeed, Grey wrote a fascinating article, “Fight for free speech”, on the subject of freedom of expression for G&LH when it was relaunched as an online publication in late 2008. Here is the standfirst, to give you a taste, and you can click on the link above to get to the article itself:
We live in sombre times. On the pretext of protecting us from terrorism, an obviously frightened and increasingly authoritarian UK government is steadily stripping away traditional safeguards of individual liberty and freedom of expression, which at least the older among us had hitherto taken for granted as part of the weft and warp of Britishness.
Antony Grey was one of the true, and largely unsung, heroes of the modern gay rights movement. His contribution, often at great personal risk, to the relative freedom we enjoy today in Britain deserves to be far more widely known. He will be sadly missed by all those who value freedom and equality.
– Mike Foxwell