One of the UK’s leading auction houses is set to sell off a special piece of gay history to the highest bidder.
A complete set of the first 150 editions of Gay News which belonged to its editor, Denis Lemon, is coming up for auction at Bonhams in London on 22 March.
Gay News first appeared in June 1972. Founded by ex-members of the Gay Liberation Front and the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, it provided a forum for debate as well as campaigning journalism, information on cultural issues and personal contact ads which were, at the time, unlawful.
The paper courted controversy. In 1974 it successfully fought off a charge of obscenity for publishing a photograph of two men kissing on the cover (issue 35).
A more serious prosecution followed in 1976. The morality campaigner, Mary Whitehouse, successfully brought a private action for blasphemy – the first of its kind in 50 years – against Denis Lemon for publishing James Kirkup’s poem ‘The Love that Dares to Speak its Name’, which attributed homo-erotic thoughts to Jesus on the Cross (issue 96).
Lemon was fined and given a suspended nine month prison sentence. The stress affected his health and he stepped down as editor in 1982.
Gay News pitched itself consciously as a campaigning paper with roots in the counter-culture of the 1960s and ‘70s. By the early 1980s, however, demand was growing for gay publications with less overt political content and more life-style appeal. Gay News was purchased by Millivres in 1984 and subsequently incorporated into Gay Times.
Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world’s oldest and largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques.