I was shocked to learn this week that I had missed news of the death of Allan Horsfall. I’m cross with myself. This was someone I should have made time to meet and say thank-you to. It is because of the bravery of Mr. Horsfall, and others of his generation, that we live in near equality with our straight counterparts.
And it was real bravery. He was a clerk for the coal board outside Manchester – which was about as far away from liberal views as it was possible to get. Despite this, he shared a house and bedroom with his lifelong partner, Harold Pollard, from shortly after the end of World War II through the 1950′s and 60′s. And this, at a time, when sexual acts between men were regularly punished with up to two years in jail – with the possibility of hard labour. That might sound harsh – but less than a hundred years earlier (until 1861) you could still be sentenced to death. Despite the risks, Allan wasn’t prepared to live quietly. He founded the North West Committee for Homosexual Law Reform, which ultimately led to partial decriminalisation in 1967. These laws wrecked the lives of many decent British people. Ever heard of the great British hero Alan Turing, who invented the Enigma code-breaking machine, which arguably won World War II? He was gay. When the authorities found out, they forced him to undergo chemical castration – and the shame ultimately led to him committing suicide.
I spent much of my life partly in the closet. Even in the early nineties, going on Pride marches through Brixton was scary. I used to be scared that people in my office would find out that I was gay. I was scared that my neighbours would discover my secret. It could be miserable.
Ultimately though, because of the bravery of people like Allan Horsfall (and living heroes like Peter Tatchell), I became comfortable with my own sexuality. Young gay people today may even grow up without ever feeling they are second class citizens. Thank you, Allan Horsfall. I owe you almost everything.
I’ve saved down an item from the BBC’s obituary programme, “The Last Word”. Click on the link to play. 2012-10-14_Allan_Horsfall