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MARTIN ROGER CORBETT
Queer Activist and Saint
27-November-1944 – 11-July-1996
Martin Corbett, who died three years ago of AIDS aged 51, was one of the great unsung heroes of the struggle for gay liberation. Although rarely taking the limelight himself, his legendary behind-the-scenes organisational skills played a crucial role in every gay rights campaign for a quarter of a century. No one else can claim such a distinguished and unbroken record of commitment.
Martin’s activism began in 1970, when he joined the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). This was the first movement of openly gay people, and the first to reject defensive pleas for tolerance, demanding instead nothing less than total acceptance and full equality.
Having witnessed the failure of “begging-bowl” style polite lobbying, Martin enthusiastically embraced GLF’s unapologetic, assertive direct action. This idea that homophobia had to be confronted and challenged – not appeased – remained the lodestar of his activism for the rest of his life.
Drawing on the queer tradition of camp, GLF invented a whole new style of political campaigning, “protest as performance”, where the claim for human rights was projected with imagination, daring and wit, instead of the usual boring format of marches and rallies.
During the GLF’s famous disruption of Mary Whitehouse’s Festival of Light, Martin calmly strode into the basement of Westminster Central Hall and ordered out the staff with a wave of “official” authority. He then proceeded to plunge the Festival into darkness by disconnecting the electrical and broadcasting cables, much to the misery of Mrs. Whitehouse, Malcolm Muggeridge and Cliff Richard.
With the creativity of a stage designer and the technical know-how of a structural engineer, Martin was the quartermaster and prop-maker for many of GLF’s zany zaps. One of his masterpieces was the making of a giant 12-foot cucumber, which he delivered to the managing director of Pan Books. This was GLF’s irreverent response to the publication of Dr. David Reuben’s homophobic tome, “Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex”, which suggested that gay men were obsessed with shoving vegetables up their backsides.
As well as wacky theatricals, GLF also conducted serious civil disobedience campaigns. Martin was one of the orchestrators of the freedom rides and sit-ins that ended the refusal by west London pubs to serve “poofs”, perversely delighted that the police sent in the heavies of the Flying Squad to deal with a non-violent pub occupation.
Together with other GLFers, Martin helped to found groundbreaking community institutions such as Gay Switchboard, the first major gay information and advice service, and “Gay News”, the first gay community newspaper.
Post-GLF, he was prominent in the Gay Activists Alliance, and, in 1977, in the campaign to defend “Gay News”, when Mary Whitehouse prosecuted it for blasphemy.
In the 80’s, Martin helped convene the important (but regrettably fractious) Legislation for Lesbian and Gay Rights Conference, which led to the formation of the Organisation for Lesbian and Gay Action (OLGA). It was OLGA, with Martin’s crucial input, which spearheaded the fight against Section 28, the notorious spawn of Thatcherism, which banned the so-called “promotion” of homosexuality by local authorities.
Galvanised by a spate of horrific queer-bashing murders and apparent police indifference, Martin in 1990 was one of the co-founders of OutRage!. Incensed to discover that more men had been arrested for victimless homosexual behaviour (mostly cottaging and cruising) in 1989 than in 1966 (the year before male homosexuality was ostensibly decriminalised), he eagerly joined the invasion of police stations, the noisy disruption of New Scotland Yard, and the busting of police entrapment operations in parks and public toilets.
While years of negotiations by respectable gay lobbyists had done little to diminish police homophobia, this confrontational OutRage! campaign helped produce dramatic results: from 1990-94, the number of men convicted of consensual gay acts fell by two-thirds. As Martin was fond of reminding the critics of direct action, this turnaround in policing policy has saved thousands of gay men from being dragged before the courts.
At the renowned 1991 OutRage! Queer Wedding in Trafalgar Square, Martin played the role of the wicked judge, and he was also part of the group’s “zap squad” which disrupted official celebrations on the Isle of Man in the same year, to protest at the island’s then total criminalisation of male homosexuality.
In 1994, when OutRage! decided to expose hypocrites and homophobes in the Church of England, inviting them to “Tell the Truth” about their sexuality, Martin was one of the first to volunteer to name names. “If bishops bash the gay community, we’ve got every right to bash them back,” he argued. While OutRage! was vilified by all and sundry for daring to point out that the bishops preached one thing and practised something different, Martin remained calm and philosophical, convinced that history would vindicate OutRage! as it had the Suffragettes, once equally reviled. “Mrs. Pankhurst didn’t panic and neither should we,” he said, with characteristic coolness and wisdom.
Arguably one of Martin’s finest OutRage! moments was in April 1995, when a coalition of OutRage! and Lesbian Avengers members formed the “Dykes and Fags Gone Mad” group. The group plotted a spectacular zap of the rabidly homophobic psychiatrist Professor Charles Socarides, who was delivering a lecture at Regent’s Park College. Socarides was interrupted, shouted down, and sprayed with pink silly string by the horde of activists who had managed to get into the lecture hall by virtue of Martin posing as an academic in his “straight drag” suit. When stopped on the stairwell by a security guard and asked if he was with “these people” (our troops), Martin snootily replied: “Certainly not, I have an appointment downstairs. Excuse me!” and promptly unbolted the door when the guard wasn’t looking to let the “dykes and fags” in!
Martin’s last OutRage! action was in December 1995 when, despite illness, he joined the fancy dress zap of the Buckingham Palace Christmas Staff Ball, in protest at the Queen’s decree that gay male employees were forbidden to bring their partners. Within weeks of this protest, Martin’s health began a rapid decline and he attended his last OutRage! meeting in February 1996. OutRage! was never the same again as we had lost an amazing man with a wicked sense of humour, who was phenomenally kind, generous, intelligent, practical and devoted, not just as an activist, but as a personal friend to many people in the group and throughout the lesbian and gay activist community. He is, and will always be, sorely missed.
In 1994, in recognition of his quarter of a century commitment to gay liberation, Martin was canonised as a Living Saint by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence at a ceremony on his 50th birthday. His title was, appropriately, Saint Martin of the Million Meetings.
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Friday, 2nd July – Sunday, 22nd August
“The legalisation of homosexuality in 1967 has enabled lesbians and gays to become an increasingly visible part of London’s life. ‘Pride & Prejudice: lesbian and gay London’ is an exhibition exploring the contribution they have made to London’s social and economic life, and giving a historic overview of homosexual culture in London.”
Museum of London flyer
Sodomites and mollies
“Homosexual life in London is very poorly recorded before this century. Most of the evidence comes from court records of prosecutions for sodomy (anal penetration). Men sought partners in secluded areas of public places such as Covent Garden, Moorfields, and Lincoln’s Inn. In the 18th century a path in Upper Moorfields acquired the name ‘The Sodomites Walk’.
“In the 17th century molly houses began to emerge in London. These were rooms in a public or private house which were used as meeting places for ‘mollies’ — a term for homosexual men. Margaret Clap ran a well-known molly house in Field Lane, Holborn. Men met at her house to drink, dance, flirt, dress as women, and have sex. When it was raided in 1726, more than 40 people were arrested. Margaret Clap was fined, imprisoned, and sentenced to stand in the pillory in Smithfield Market.”
Sappho banner, made for the 1980 Gay Pride March by Emmelene Davies.
The banner is in the colours of the Women’s Social and Political Union and has many lesbian and feminist symbols within it: the lesbian love sign, a Labrys (double-headed axe), Isle of Lesbos, and an image of Sappho.
Wearing the trousers
“The history of lesbian London is more difficult to uncover. Lesbian relationships have never been illegal, so court records do not exist. It has always been acceptable for women to live together and enjoy close relationships.
“It is known that female transvestites existed in the 17th and 18th centuries, especially among the poorer classes. It would be wrong to assume that all women who dressed as men were lesbians. Transvestism allowed women to play a fuller part in public life, to have jobs and be financially independent. It is also true that some transvestite women did marry women.”
Museum of London,
Tel. 020-78.14.55.02 — Disabled access and facilities
Tel. 020-78.14.55.02 — Press and PR Office
Tel. 020-22.214.171.124 — Interpretation Unit
Adults £ 5
Students, over-60’s, registered unemployed £ 3
16 years and under, visitors with disabilities and assisters free
After 4:30 p.m. free to all
Tube St. Paul’s; Barbican
Buses 8, 11, 15, 23, 25
Mainline trains Moorgate; Liverpool Street; City Thameslink
Pride March, London, 1999 , 3-July-1999
©1999 John Hunt/OutRage! London
This picture may be copied in the cause of furthering our aims, provided that the source is acknowledged.
Anti-fascist, soldier, prisoner of war, advocate of peace and reconciliation, and gay rights pioneer. Dudley Cave was many things, but one word sums up his life: humanitarian.
Cave’s early career with Odeon cinemas was interrupted by World War Two. Initially inclined to register as a conscientious objector, revelations aboot the horrors of Hitlerism changed his mind: “I was basically a pacifist, but I thought the Nazi persecution of the Jews made it a just war”.
On joining the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, aged 20, Cave found there was no ban on gay enlistment, which makes the present refusal of the armed forces to accept gay people somewhat curious and hypocritical.
“Homosexual soldiers were more or less accepted”, according to Cave. “There was never any disciplinary action taken against them”. Despite gossip that he was a “nancy boy”, Cave says the worst prejudice he ever experienced in the army was being chided for “holding a broom like a woman”.
Instead of fighting the Nazis, as he expected, Cave was posted to the Far East. During the fall of Singapore in 1942, he was captured by the Japanese. Marched north in a prisoner-of-war labour detachment, his unit was put to work on the Thai-Burma railway, 10 miles beyond the bridge on the River Kwai. Three-quarters of Cave’s comrades in ‘H’ Force perished. He was lucky. After a bad bout of malaria, the Japanese declared him unproductive and ordered his incarceration in Changi Prison, Singapore.
It was in Changi that he began to accept his homosexuality. A British Army Medical Officer gave him a copy of Havelock Ellis’s “enlightened, eye-opening” book, ‘Sexual Inversion’. It made Cave feel “much better about being gay”.
Changi was, nevertheless, a nightmare of physical deprivation. When liberated in 1945, Cave was near death from malnutrition, down from 12 stone to less than eight. He later confided: “If the war had gone on another month, I don’t think I would have survived”.
After risking his life to defend what Winston Churchill called the “freedom-loving nations”, Cave returned to a country where freedom was still denied to gay people. Not only were homosexual relationships totally illegal, homophobic discrimination was rife. In 1956, Cave was dismissed as manager of the Majestic Cinema in Wembley after it was discovered he was gay. “They asked me to resign”, recalled Cave. “I refused, so they sacked me.”
Fortunately, that same year, Cave met the man who became his life partner, RAF veteran and school teacher, Bernard Williams. At the time, Williams was married. As with many gay men in that bigoted post-war era, the marriage was an attempt to overcome his homosexuality. But the wedding ‘cure’ did not work. Williams’s wife, June, realised this. She encouraged the relationship with Cave. All three became life-long friends and ended up living together in a Bloomsbury-style domestic arrangement in Golders Green. Cave and Williams remained side-by-side as lovers and gay-rights champions for forty years, until Bernard’s death in 1994.
In 1971, Cave joined the Unitarian Church, attracted to its ideals of freedom, peace and tolerance. He soon played a key role in securing –during the early 1970’s!– the ordination of lesbians and gay men, the blessing of same-sex relationships, and the Church’s advocacy of homosexual human rights.
When the information and advice service Gay Switchboard was launched in 1974, Cave was one of the original committee members. The first daily helpline run by and for gay people, Switchboard was (and still is) a vital support for lesbians and gays suffering isolation and victimisation. Cave remained a volunteer –answering the phone lines– for 25 years, right up until his death.
Working for Switchboard made Cave aware that bereaved gay partners are often left to grieve alone without support from their family, and are invariably refused legal recognition as next-of-kin (which can result in eviction from what was their joint home, denial of inheritance, and exclusion from their lover’s funeral).
To tackle these problems, Cave and his partner Bernard Williams set up the Lesbian and Gay Bereavement Project in 1980. As well as counselling the bereaved and giving legal advice to challenge discrimination, the Project successfully encouraged many same-sex couples to make Wills to ensure that their relationship and wishes are recognised when they die.
Cave was proud that the Bereavement Project was the first organisation with the word “Gay” in its title to win charitable status. That victory did not come easily. The Charity Commissioners initially refused to recognise the Project, demanding that it drop the “offensive” word gay from its title. Cave refused, and the Commissioners eventually relented.
From the early 1980’s onwards, Cave turned his attention to “unfinished business” arising from his wartime experiences. Furious at the ban on lesbians and gays in the Armed Forces, he accused military chiefs of cynically enlisting homosexuals when they were needed to defeat Nazism, and then witch-hunting them as soon as the war was over. “They treated gay people like cannon-fodder”, he complained.
Despite his own wartime suffering, Cave was a leading figure in the promotion of peace and reconciliation with Japan. This provoked denunciation and rejection by many former comrades in war veteran and prisoner-of-war associations. “I will never forget what the Japanese did to us: but the time has come for forgiveness”, he wrote to a friend. True to his word, he was involved with the Peace Temple near the River Kwai, and lectured extensively on the need for rapprochement between former adversaries.
For 20 years, Cave battled against the Royal British Legion’s refusal to acknowledge that lesbian and gay people served and died in wars defending Britain. He also challenged the Legion over its opposition to the participation of gay organisations in Remembrance Day ceremonies.
Cave was particularly incensed in the early 1980’s when the Legion’s Assistant Secretary, Group Captain Mountford, condemned moves to promote the acceptance of gay people as an attempt to “weaken our society”, and declared that homosexuals had no right to complain about being ostracised by Legion members.
One of Cave’s final public acts was last November, when he was the keynote speaker at OutRage!’s Queer Remembrance Day vigil at the Cenotaph. After laying a pink triangle wreath honouring gay people who died fighting Nazism and in the concentration camps, Cave deplored the fact that gay ceremonies of remembrance are still –in the late 1990’s– being condemned by the British Legion as “distasteful” and “offensive”.
Dudley Cave served and nearly died in defence of rights and freedoms that he, as a gay man, was often denied. Lest we forget.
Dudley Scott Cave, war veteran and gay-rights campaigner: born London, 19th February 1921; partner of Bernard Williams from 1954 until his death in 1994; died London, 19th May 1999.
“The world looks different from this end of the telescope and this is what it looks like.” (Steve Mayes)
Ian Lucas’s “OutRage! An Oral History” chronicles the rise of queer direct action in nineties Britain in the words of the activists themselves. Lucas traces OutRage!’s origins in the sporadic protests against homophobia of the eighties, paying homage to its short-lived predecessors and sketching the hostile atmosphere which were the inspiration and reason for its birth. Individual accounts do not flinch from articulating the disputes over priorities and tactics, aims and methods, which were nonetheless to produce the most original and highest profile gay rights organisation ever.
A pandemonium of noise is what OutRage! have created in the straight media and the queer communities over the past decade. From the high-profile outing of MP’s and bishops to their attacks on hypocrisy in the Catholic Church or homophobia within the Labour Party, OutRage! campaigns have sparked bitter controversy and debate, massively increasing the public visibility of queer issues. Blowing whistles, banging drums and sporting T-shirts with in-yer-face slogans, these self-styled “Queers with Attitude” have had a profound effect on the culture and politics of the lesbian and gay communities and straight society.
Fierce, funny, camp, sexy, embarrassing but ultimately inspiring, here is the definitive account of the politics and personalities behind this notorious group.
“OutRage! has always sought to articulate a post-equality agenda which seeks to renegotiate the values, institutions and laws of straight culture, challenging not just homophobia but the authoritarian and puritanical nature of social institutions — our agenda is about transforming society, not conforming to it.” (Peter Tatchell)
“OutRage! An Oral History” by Ian Lucas is published by Cassell, London and New York, 1998; 244pp; ISBN=0304333581 (paperback); ISBN=0304333573 (hardback).
“Justin’s death is a tragedy. He was a sincere, warm-hearted person who was destroyed by homophobia, Christian fundamentalism, and a lack of support from fellow football players and managers”, according to Peter Tatchell of OutRage!, who knew Fashanu from the early 1980’s.
Tatchell recalls: “We met at the London gay nightclub ‘Heaven’ in 1982. I had been selected as the Labour candidate for Bermondsey, and he had recently transferred to Nottingham Forest for £ 1 million. We became close friends for the next ten years.
“Even though he was not open about being gay in the early 1980’s, we went out together to nightclubs, parties, family celebrations and public events where Justin was the guest of honour. He knew the press might be there. It was almost as if he was challenging the tabloids to expose him.
“In the early 80’s Justin often phoned me, and we frequently discussed the problems he was having at Nottingham Forest and his difficulties in coping with his homosexuality.
“The pros and cons of coming out were a frequent subject of conversation. Although I helped him come to terms with being gay, it was only a temporary respite. When his football career went on the slide, he turned to evangelical Christianity. In the long-term, that caused him immense grief.
“Justin was very distressed by his treatment at Nottingham Forest. He felt that Brian Clough treated him badly and never gave him proper support. Not surprisingly, his on-the-pitch peformance nose-dived.
“Becoming a born-again Christian screwed up his life. He became very confused and unhappy abour his sexuality. While publicly proclaiming Christian celibacy, he resorted to furtive gay sex. That made it impossible for him to have a stable gay relationship.
“He was devastated when his brother John publicly denounced him after he came out. Justin never got over that betrayal”.
Over 40 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered organisations are now pledged to join the new Equality Standing Forum in the fight for human rights.
The groups are deeply concerned that the campaign for equality is being stalled by recent set-backs in the British and European courts, and by the unwillingness of the new Labour Government to repeal discriminatory laws. Two recent examples are the failed case of Lisa Grant and the prosecution of the Bolton 7.
The new Forum is drawing strong support from the community as it unites both small and large organisations from every corner of the British Isles.
The organisations will meet to plan the launch of a national offensive for gay rights on Saturday, 4th April, 1:30 p.m. at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, WC1, (Holborn tube).
The meeting will formulate campaigning priorities, strategies and methods, in order to maximise the pressure on the Labour Govemment to deliver homosexual human rights.
The new Forum’s objective is to give notice to the Government, all political parties, and all members of Parliament that the continuing denial of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender human rights is intolerable, and that we are no longer prepared to be treated as second-class citizens.
All local groups and campaigning organisations are invited to attend the Forum, strengthening the 40+ strong national network.
The following groups have now committed to the Forum:
The meeting will be attended by Lisa Grant and Jill Percey.
Thirteen additional organisations and charities are currently seeking a mandate from their respective committees to publicly release their involvement with the Forum after 4th April.
Have you ever felt short-changed by the Gay Business Association’s endless perpetuation of the so called “Pink Pound”?
It’s a seductive concept: the idea of a mass of issue-conscious, gay, lesbian and bisexual consumers, capable of (and willing to) exercise their purchasing power to the detriment of businesses that hurt queers … it’s certainly something we’d all like to believe in.
But just look, the ambivalent pattern of consumer spending behaviour within our community — it’s not exactly inspiring, is it?
For example, the apparent lack of anything more than passive queer concern over Time Out’s exposure of staff sexual abuse allegations against Compton’s of Soho manager, George Winchcole, makes a mockery out of the notion of a conscientious “pink pound”; it also casts doubt upon the existence of a genuine, gay, lesbian and bisexual “community”.
If these two things really existed, surely queers would have diverted their custom and expenditure away from a bar that has acquired such an unpleasant reputation.
Sure they would – but they haven’t. Compton’s has consistently been as packed as ever since the allegations first emerged, and the free queer press has (at best) treated the issue as a wholly peripheral news story — a sorry spectacle that illustrates the shameful extent to which they are tucked inside the bar owner’s pockets. The queer press only responded once the story became impossible to ignore. Without Time Out the story would have probably never seen the light of day.
It’s fucking disgraceful, and radical queers must not be afraid to look critically at things that emanate from the (ultimately self interested) GBA, instead of from queer subculture in its far broader sense.
The truth is the “pink pound” protagonists will sell us short every time in the name of a big, fat pink profit; and the wall of silence that initially surrounded the Compton’s fiasco illustrates this far better than words ever could.
OutRage! calls on the GBA to draw up a code of conduct opposing sexual harassment in the workplace (including an independent complaints procedure) and require all its member businesses to sign it.
We also call for the formation of a union for employees working in Gay Businesses to protect their interests against greedy, exploitative employers. We suggest BUGGER – the British Union for Good Gay Employees’ Rights.