This post is the first in what we hope will become a series of short articles with accompanying displays in the library, featuring prominent former members who have donated items to the College Library. Special thanks to Alexander Russell, our current JCR Equalities rep, for providing the inspiration and text for this post.
Magdalene’s LGBT+ History – Antony Grey and the 1967 Sexual Offences Act
Anthony Edgar Gartside Wright (Antony Grey in his activist work) was a gay rights campaigner for law reform to decriminalise homosexual relations in the UK. He played a large part in helping bring about the 1967 Sexual Offences Act (often summarised as the partial decriminalisation of Homosexuality in England & Wales) and was proud to have attended Magdalene College, Cambridge in the late 1940s, graduating in history.
He was arguably the most important British gay rights campaigner of the 20th century, as stated in his obituary in the Guardian in 2010.
Anthony’s main method of activism was through his role as secretary of the Homosexual Law Reform Society (HLRS) from 1962-1970, during which the success of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act was achieved.
Anthony’s success in this role as Sir Brian Harrison remarked in The New Oxford History of England 1951-1970, came from a “rare combination of high-serious commitment, shrewd political effectiveness, and total lack of self-advertisement” – The latter of which has led to him being rather under-celebrated as a figure in liberation history. However, in recent years his contribution has started to be recognised, in 1995 the Pink Paper awarded him a lifetime achievement award and in 2007 he was elected Stonewall’s hero of the year.
The 1967 Act was limited in how far of a legal step it took towards equality as many compromises had to be made to get the act through parliament (an age of consent of 21, the act being limited to England and Wales and not including the merchant navy or armed forces) – Issues that were first addressed legally in 1994.
However, the public discussion of these issues that ensued triggered the start of the LGBT+ rights movement in the UK, meaning this 50th anniversary year should be celebrated – For without people like Anthony and those that came after, we would still be trapped in the violently homophobic atmosphere that was present 50 years ago.
Anthony passed away in 2010 from bronchopneumonia and myelomonocytic leukaemia at the age of 82, and is survived by his civil partner Eric Thompson, whom he met in 1960 and was with for 50 years.
Article text and images courtesy of Alexander Russell (JCR Equalities Rep.)
Antony Grey supported the College Library by donating several of his publications through his lifetime. We are also very proud that he donated his memoir, which was circulated to only a small number of friends and family. The memoir has now been added to the College’s Archive alongside other significant publications by former members, to help ensure its preservation.
We hold the following works by Antony: Quest for Justice (9.B.33), Speaking of Sex (3.D.197), Speaking Out (3.D.222).
Inspired by the 50th Anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act we have also added a number of relevant books to the collection, recommended by the JCR, which are displayed below along with Antony’s works.