Allan Horsfall: Influential gay rights campaigner


The death of Allan Horsfall marks the end of an era. He was the last surviving founding father of the modern LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights movement. In 1964, from his miner's cottage in Atherton, Greater Manchester, he formed the North West Committee for Homosexual Law Reform, which mutated into the Campaign for Homosexual Equality in 1971. At its height CHE boasted over 130 local groups and more than 5,000 members. It was the most successful attempt in this country to create a mass-membership democratic LGBT organisation. If its legislative gains were small, it changed the lives of thousands of individuals through its groups, encouraging self-respect through “coming out”.

Allan Horsfall was born in 1927 and brought up by grandparents in a pub on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. After Nelson Grammar School he did National Service in the RAF. It was in an ex-Servicemen's Club in 1947 that he met his life partner, Harold Pollard, a primary school teacher 20 years his senior. They remained together until Harold's death in 1995.

Horsfall was working for the Coal Board as a clerk. Like many of his generation, he was radicalised by the Suez Crisis in 1956. He joined the Labour Party and within two years was elected as a councillor in Nelson. By 1960 he was trying to get a motion through his local association, calling on the Party to adopt the implementation of the Wolfenden Report as official policy; Wolfenden had recommended the decriminalisation of consenting male homosexual acts in private in 1957. Caucuses and procedural chicanery blocked him at every turn; many worthies objected to the mere mention of the subject in the presence of women, who were also often asked to leave the public gallery at gay sex trials.

Allan supported the Homosexual Law Reform Society from its inception in 1958, but was frustrated at the lack of involvement of supporters especially outside London. After several years spent overcoming reluctance in the London organisation, he got the blessing of their general secretary to start what was intended to be a compliant satellite, lobbying Northern MPs. Horsfall's decision to use his own address and phone numberwas an act of considerable bravery. Several Labour MPs in industrial constituencies opposed decriminalisation because "the miners would not stand for it".

There was some personal cost: he was shunned in local gay bars by people who feared he would bring the police down on them. His partner was warned he should not be seen in public with Allan. They ignored this.

Once gay sex was partly decriminalised in1967, the North West Committee, with Horsfall as secretary and guiding force, could take wing. In Manchester he recruited in local gay bars and involved bar owners. It was clear that what lesbians and gay men needed was not social workers but social facilities. Esquire Clubs answered this need. Modelled on working men's clubs, they would be co-owned by members and offer a mixture of social, cultural and self-help facilities. For three years Horsfall and his lifelong friend, the journalist Ray Gosling, battled to get at least one club off the ground; but becoming a member of Esquire was the equivalent of outing yourself, and few signed up. In several places, licences were refused.

In Burnley in 1971, CHE, at Horsfall's instigation set up a public meeting to confront the Christian alliance that opposed a local club. In a packed and heated gathering Allan invited all the homosexuals present to stand up. Over a hundred did so; it was one of the first mass coming-out demonstrations in the UK, certainly the first outside London. The skinheads who lined the wall (whom the police had deprived of their bovver boots and umbrellas as they arrived) were cowed. It was a symbolic coming-of-age moment.

Horsfall had suffered a severe heart attack in 1970, and increasingly took a back seat, becoming in 1974 President for Life of CHE. However, part of his genius lay in recruiting the right people. A resolutely uncharismatic man of shining integrity, he held together his star performers and his often-fractious troops through the respect he inspired.

Horsfall was also chairman of his local CND, and a prodigious letter-writer to The Guardian, The Independent and local papers. Those who nursed him during his last illness described him as 'a gentleman', a word which attached itself to him all his adult life. He will remain a crucial figure in British LGBT history.


Allan Horsfall, gay rights activist: born 20 October 1927; partner to Harold Pollard (died 1995); died Bolton 27 August 2012.

people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are currently...

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering