This thesis is a reassessment of gay male politics in England and Wales during the period between the decriminalisation of homosexual acts in private in 1967 and the HIV epidemic of the early 1980s. It looks beyond the activities of the revolutionary Gay Liberation Front and its offshoots which have dominated previous accounts. Instead it considers a broader range of social and political organisations which developed for gay men in the seventies: including reformist NGOS such as the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, the gay club scene, and publications such as Gay News. Through a detailed consideration of these less formally radical enterprises it argues that the seventies saw the creation of a broadly Habermasian ‘public sphere’ of gay male life. The gay male public sphere was a set of social spaces, political campaigns, and communications media which were explicitly aligned to a gay male identity and had no direct precedent in previous queer public cultures. However, this was not precisely analogous to gay men ‘Coming Out’ as the GLF understood the term. Participation in the gay male public did not necessarily involve openly declaring your sexuality to all possible audiences. It was also not necessarily a radical challenge to the state and existing society and, this thesis argues, gay male politics in the seventies was characterised as much by people who wanted to work within existing systems as it was by those who wanted to overturn them. This thesis also considers the limits that were placed on the gay male public sphere, through an account of the operation of the Sexual Offences Act and Mary Whitehouse’s prosecution of Gay News for blasphemous Libel. As such it is a contribution to debates about the nature and extent of Britain’s postwar ‘Permissive Society.’
A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.