Homosexual acts between two men aged over 21 years of age taking place in private in England and Wales were decriminalised in 1967 (following the 1957 Wolfenden report) but remained illegal for men aged under 21. This therefore affected the majority of students at the Polytechnic of Central London (PCL).
In 1973 the NUS was the first national body to pass policy in favour of gay rights, including supporting the creation of ‘Gay Socs’ at its member institutions.
McGarel, the newspaper of the Polytechnic of Central London Students’ Union [PCLSU] carried an advert for a formation of a Gay Soc in November 1973, and again in October 1974.
There are occasional reports of the new Gay Soc’s activities in McGarel. In December 1974 they reported on a protest against Larry Grayson, a camp comedian then hosting the TV show ‘Shut That Door!’.
Throughout 1975 the Gay Soc were holding Disco/Party events, as well as informal social gatherings and one-to-one chats. However the events are rarely advertised in McGarel so we have very little archival record of the Society during this period, or of responses to it from the student body.
By 1978, the mood had become more militant. A report from the NUS Gay Rights conference demonstrated how the increased visibility of gay people in everyday life had led to verbal and physical attacks from individuals in the media and groups such as the National Front. The conference debated changing its name from the Gay Rights Campaign to the Gay Liberation Campaign – “Gay Rights connotates a legal reform, apologetic cup in hand attitude...whereas Gay Liberation implies a much more broad-based self-confident, proud and active campaigning body.”
The same year the PCLSU’s handbook mentioned the rise in attacks but also that there had been no active Gay Soc at PCL the previous year.
In 1980 the mood had changed again, the Gay Soc promoting itself as being relevant to ‘everyone intent on coming to terms with their awakening/evolving sexuality’.
In 1984, Labour MP Chris Smith becomes the first openly gay member of Parliament; three years later the Conservative government introduces ‘Section 28’ which forbids local authorities from ‘intentionally promoting homosexuality’.
Although PCL was a very politically aware place in the 1980s, there are few mentions of PCLSU’s Gay Soc in the Archive for this period.
However with the growing awareness of HIV, PCL adopted a policy on AIDS in June 1987. This confirmed that ‘infected staff and students [would]… be treated in the same way as other staff and students’, and ‘the fact that certain members of the Polytechnic appear to be in a particular risk group will not be used to discriminate against them in any way’.
In 1990 a revitalised PCLSU GaySoc started organising an Awareness week and a Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual Film week. The President of the society, Adrian Ferrero became PCLSU’s first Lesbian and Gay Officer the following year.
In 1991, the ‘Pop Against Homophobia’ campaign was launched from within PCLSU.
The 1990s saw an increase in the visibility of the gay rights movements, after the formation of campaign group Stonewall. In 1994, the age of consent for homosexual men was lowered to 18 (it was finally lowered to 16 in 2001).
Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual students at PCL (and the University of Westminster from 1992) were well-represented within their Union. The focus was more on socialising than campaigning, although the society supported both LGBT and AIDS awareness weeks.
With the re-launch of the Students’ Union in 2011, the LGBT Society – now known as the LGBTI+ society - continues to play a large role in the lives of University of Westminster students. The Society organises socials and seminars, and surveys its members about on-campus safety. In 2015 the University of Wesminster hosted daytime events for the tenth annual National Student Pride festival at its Marylebone Campus. The festival returned to the University in February 2016. For University staff, the LGBT Staff Network seek to ensure that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer staff experience a safe workplace that celebrates diversity and actively encourages inclusion.