TED MCFADYEN was the first to go, followed by ANNE DEVESON, RABBI LIONEL BLUE and LORD JENKIN. Report by JOHN HARRIS.
Ted McFadyen was a former journalist and broadcaster who contributed reviews to Gay News and The Gay and Lesbian Humanist. In the 1970s and 1980s he worked for a number of organisations including CHE, the NUJ Lesbian and Gay Group and the National Council of Civil Liberties’ Gay Rights Committee. From 1993 to 1996 he was secretary of the Brighton Lesbian and Gay Switchboard.
McFadyen was also a long-time sponsor of the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra, which said on its website that there will be a gathering towards the end of January to remember and celebrate his life.
A couple of years before his death at the age of 88 on December 2 2016, McFadyen was interviewed by Queer in Brighton, a gay history organisation.
He pointed out that, back in the 1970s, Brighton was not always the tolerant city it is today. In 1975 kissing or hugging a friend in public was “quite a dangerous thing to do.”
He vowed to help change things and applied to join CHE (the Campaign for Homosexual Equality) which had a branch in Brighton . He then became involved with a group called Gay Rights at Work.
McFadyen recalled that, when he lived in London the 1950s, the city was not a pleasant place to be gay. “There was an evil Home Secretary called Maxwell Fife who gave instructions to police to be as tough as they possibly could and he really hounded gays. It was a terrible time . . . It affected lots of people psychologically. It was an awful period.”
He later joined the National Union of Journalists’ gay group and was involved in producing a couple of booklets. One was on HIV and Aids which was aimed at setting out the basic facts for journalists about HIV and Aids “because there was so much distortion and lies told about it at the time and we felt they needed to be told what was what.”
After he moved to Brighton in the early 1970s he became very actively involved with Brighton Gay Switchboard.
Shortly after his death, “Out in Perth” carried the news on December 13 that Australian journalist, documentarian and passionate LGBT and mental health advocate Anne Deveson had died at the age of 86. Deveson’s died just days after the loss of her daughter Georgia Blain, who lost her battle with brain cancer.
Deveson is perhaps best known for her account of her son’s real life struggle with schizophrenia, entitled Tell Me I’m Here. The memoir was awarded the 1992 Human Rights Award for Non-fiction, and later filmed as the documentary Spinning Out.
Between 1974 and 1977, Deveson sat on the Royal Commission on Human Relationships – a turning point for the gay community in Australia.
Established by the Whitlam Labor government, the commission was a catalyst for legislation that would establish protections for LGBT people, decriminalisation of homosexuality, women’s reproductive rights and other social changes. Deveson was honoured as a Member of the Order of Australia for her service to the media in 1983, and an Officer of the Order of Australia for her work in community health ten years later.
Rabbi Lionel Blue
On December 19, Lionel Blue, the gay rabbi who was one of the very few sensible contributors to BBC Radio 4’s ghastly god slot, Thought for the Day, died.
I remember some years back telling a co-member of the National Secular Society that if NSS were ever to award its Secularist of the Year prize to people attached to the world of faith, Blue and South Africa’s Desmond Tutu ought to be considered for the accolade because both were rare examples of humanism in action, despite their affiliation to Judaism on the one hand, and the Anglican Church on the other.
In 1994 Blue said: “I went on an oldies holiday to Portugal, I prayed in restored synagogues and meditated at shrines. But in a bar in Fatima, I had to admit in all honesty that the oomph had gone out of my prayers. My personal relationship with God had gone cold, but why? To be honest, perhaps I no longer needed a divine father to make up for the one I’d lost, nor a divine brother to replace the one I’d never had, or as a stand-in for the lover I longed for. I’d grown up and heaven no longer had to make up for any family deficiencies. Was anything religious left in me, I wondered? What would life be like as a humanist?”
Reporting on Blue’s passing, the BBC said that he was the first openly gay British rabbi and was known for his liberal teachings and supporting other gay members of his faith.
Representatives from the liberal synagogue Beit Klal Yisrael described him as “an inspirational man” and the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jonathan Arkush, said he was “a pioneer in many senses”.
Death didn’t put an end to that pioneering. The day after his death, Radio 4 broadcast Blue presenting his own obituary programme.
Blue had struggled with his sexuality through his teens, leading to a nervous breakdown that saw him leave the Army. But after attending university, he rediscovered his faith and became a rabbi in 1960.
Soon after, he came out publicly and throughout his life lent his support to organisations including Liberal Judaism UK and the World Congress of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Jews.
On December 20, 90-year-old Lord Jenkin of Roding, a former member of the Thatcher cabinet died. He won acclaim during the passage of same-sex marriage legislation in 2013 for a passionate speech in favour of equality.
In the speech he defended equality from critics, saying: “Last year, my wife and I celebrated our diamond wedding anniversary, and I have to say that it has been a marriage with mutual comfort and support. Is this Bill going to redefine that marriage? I cannot see how that could possibly happen.”
His backing was influential in winning support for the law among Conservative peers.
Lord Jenkin was nominated for Speech of the Year at the 2013 PinkNews Awards. His son Bernard Jenkin, himself a Tory MP, also voted in favour of equal marriage.
Writing for PinkNews at the time, the peer hailed the passage of same-sex marriage as a victory for common decency.
He wrote: “Perhaps the most important consequence will be that in the longer term we are seeing the end of discrimination against gays and lesbians in our society.
“In part, this is due to the leadership of the Prime Minister and of parliamentarians; but in part because it must also be accompanied by recognition of the gay and lesbian community that they must try to avoid provocative confrontations.
“There are still many people out there who will find it quite difficult to accept gay marriages; they must be given time to get used to it, so that they too come to regard it simply as part of a tolerant and civilised community.”