Britain in the 1970s: HISTORY OF HOMOSEXUALITY

Students in the History Department have been making use of the Modern Records Centre in their research for long essays and dissertations on the history of Britain in the 1970s. Here is a sample of what they have been doing:

Vikki Willcox

I am currently writing a dissertation on homosexuality in 1970s Britain and I hope to show that, contrary to existing scholarship and popular opinion, the 1970s were a good time to be gay. The MRC at Warwick has a wealth of sources on this topic and many have been invaluable to my research.

Here are just a few examples:

‘Coventry Gay Activist Alliance’, a broadsheet printed by Warwick University Students Union

MSS.21-1538-225 [click to enlarge]
This broadsheet states that there were a number of homosexuals in the Coventry area who were living in isolation and suggests that coming together as a gay community would help to solve this. The broadsheet lists a number of services in the local area, from gay pubs and club to groups and information/advice switchboards. I was struck by this source as I found it fascinating to discover that there were so many homosexual activists and groups in the local area and was also struck by the student union’s involvement.

Gay Workers’ Group’, a broadsheet printed in 1976

MSS.21-606 [click to enlarge]
This broadsheet lists a number of discrimination cases that occurred in employment in the 1970s, for example; a schoolteacher who was dismissed for answering his pupils’ questions about his homosexuality and a roundsman (delivering milk) who was dismissed because he had worn badges proclaiming his homosexuality whilst he was working. Although this source contradicted my thesis that the 1970s were a good time to be gay, I found it fascinating because it reminded me that the 1970s were a very different age to the one we currently live in – there would now be uproar over job dismissals based on sexuality!

‘Prohibition on Homosexual Prisoner receiving Gay News’, 1978-1979

MSS.76-15-20 [click to enlarge]
This source was a series of letters between the governor of Gloucester Prison and an inmate. The inmate had written to the governor to ask if he could receive copies of the newspaper ‘Gay News.’ Despite the governor’s initial reluctance, “it is unsuitable and I will not have it in the prison”, he was eventually persuaded to compromise; “it is unsuitable material but I will vet each issue to see if it can be issued.” I admired the inmate’s openness and honesty in his letters; he happily declared that he was a homosexual and that Gay News was a newspaper produced for people like himself. Only a decade before homosexuality had been illegal and I believe his honesty reveals positive changes regarding homosexuality and its acceptability in the 1970s.

MSS.76-15-20 [click to enlarge]

For more information on using the MRC please see here.

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Image: 20100612_001/Kevin Goebel/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


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