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Gay Liberation Front’s Ted Brown recalls laying the foundations for the fight for LGBTQ rights

“I was thrilled to be among people who were proud and open about who they were, who were ‘out’ and fired up to encourage others to be so, too.”

By Thomas Stichbury

Fifty years ago, the London branch of the Gay Liberation Front – the UK’s pioneering queer activist group – met for the first time.

In its short life, the GLF set up the Gay Switchboard, published a gay newspaper and laid the foundations for future LGBTQ rights movements.

In the summer issue of Attitude magazine – out now to download and to order globally – we spoke to two of its early members, including Ted Brown.

Born in the US to Jamaican parents, Ted moved to London and, in the summer of 1969, fondly remembers attending a GLF meeting.

“With about 60 people assembled in the hall, it was the first time I’d ever met a large group of LGBT people,” he says. “Furthermore, they were speaking passionately about the abuse they’d suffered, expressing their determination to take no more, while presenting their perspectives on love and life.”

“It was astonishing and inspiring, especially as the few previous contacts I’d had with gay men had involved a necessarily furtive way of behaving, mixed with little pride,” he continues. “I was thrilled to be among people who were proud and open about who they were, who were ‘out’ and fired up to encourage others to be so, too.”

Pushed to pick his most memorable moment with the GLF, Ted singles out a protest against Pan Books’ publication of ‘Dr’ David Reuben’s tome, Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask.

“Among its myriad of nonsense, the book stated that typical gay sexuality involved inserting light-bulbs and cucumbers anally. So, we created a 14ft-long, cardboard cucumber and a large, inflatable, plastic light bulb.

“Carrying these items through the streets with placards, we marched into Pan Books’ offices, suggesting they partake of these sexual practices themselves. I’ll never forget the faces of the management and staff,” he exclaims.

Early GLF protest

As a young gay and black man, Ted admits that he would sometimes experience the rub of his dual identities.

“There was a considerable amount of patronising, rather than hate-filled racism. Some people considered black people as novelties. Most white LGBT people shared the same ignorant ideas as the general population,” he explains. “[But] there were a few people of colour like me involved at the start, who were determined to have a black presence in the campaigns, tackling homophobia and racism together.”

Ted and other early GLF members mark 50 years since the GLF’s foundations/Image: Mike Kear

Ted – who went on to co-found Black Lesbians & Gay Against Media Homophobia – adds that the GLF was instrumental in helping him to embrace his sexuality and, indeed, meet his partner.

“It took about four or five years for me to be comfortable with my sexuality,” he recalls. “In my early 20s, I moved into one of GLF’s communes in Bounds Green – there were four or five that were located across London. There I became more than comfortable; in fact, celebratory. Not only was I living with other gay people, I moved in with Noel, the man who is still my love and now Civil Partner.”

The Attitude Summer issue is out now to download and to order globally.

Subscribe in print and get your first three issues for just £3, or digitally for just £1.54 per issue.