Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Leo Abse’

Remember 1967

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 30th June, 2017

Remember 1967Next month will see the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act, which decriminalised sex between males in the UK, though only for consenting men aged 21 or older and in private. It was a landmark achievement, bringing an end to an injustice that has endured since the Labouchere Amendment of 1885 led to many homosexuals and bisexual men in Britain being imprisoned, blackmailed or disgraced. But as Peter Tatchell pointed out in a speech to a commemorative event in the City last night, after the Act was passed, police actually became more active in pursuing cases against gay men and teenagers, and the definition of “private” was deemed to mean that no person could be in the same house or flat at the time, even if they were not involved. It was only in 2000 that the age of consent for gay sex was reduced to 16, in line with heterosexual sex, and in 2013 that the Equal Marriage Act gave gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. So it is fair to say that it took almost half a century for the aspirations of early parliamentary campaigners on LGBT+ rights, such as Leo Abse MP and Lord “Boofy” Arran, to reach fruition. During much of that time, Peter Tatchell has played a key role in championing gay rights and fighting injustice, not only in the UK but all over the world. In many Commonwealth countries of Africa and the Caribbean, for example, gay sex is still illegal, often the basis of British colonial laws. But last night’s commemoration, organised and hosted by the public artist Martin Firrell, rightly celebrated the positive achievements of the past half century, as well as setting some interesting challenges for those present. One of Martin’s current projects is Gender Tender, in which people are invited to enter imaginatively into a future where gender is regarded as something essentially private and intimate — a future where children are not assigned a gender at birth but society waits until children themselves are able – and wish – to choose a gender identity. Those of us who attended last night’s function were the first guinea pigs in a big gender think-in. But everyone can follow how things develop via

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Remembering Leo Abse

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 20th August, 2008

When the definitive history of the social liberalisation of 20th century Britain comes to be written, the name of my old friend Leo Abse, who has died aged 91, will be writ large. An indefatigable campaigner, both as a lawyer and as a South Wales Labour MP (of Polish Jewish extraction), he was largely responsible for changes such as the decriminalisation of attempted suicide, easier divorce in cases where a marriage had irretrievably broken down and homosexual law reform. His small size belied his immense vigour and his determination, but unlike many social reformers, he had a tremendous sense of humour. He was always somebody I was delighted to find myself sitting next to at lunch when we both members of the Savile Club, and the hospitality at his beautiful home on the riverfront at Chiswick — including at his 90th birthday party last year — was generous and warm.

Leo listed amongst his hobbies ‘psychobiography’, and among the various books he produced were three or four truly controversial probings into subjects such as Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and Daniel Defoe. He read widely in psychoanalysis and related fields, though some professionals thought his theories were a bit off the wall. One the most surreal evenings I ever spent was at the Freud Museum in Hampstead with Leo and Michael Foot, dissecting the personalities of Tony Blair and George Brown and the relationship between them.

Several years ago, after the death of his first wife Marjorie, Leo went into decline — so much so that he even sent out New Year cards bearing a drawing of the grim reaper. But a second marriage, to the Polish interior designer Ania Czepulkowska, 50 years his junior, literally gave him a new lease of life. He had always been fascinated by textiles and clothes — Marjorie designed several splendid outfits for him for Budget Days — and he was susceptible to human beauty in all its forms.

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