Gay News was a pioneering fortnightly newspaper in the United Kingdom founded in June 1972 in a collaboration between former members of the Gay Liberation Front and members of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE). At the newspaper's height, circulation was 18,000 to 19,000 copies.
The original editorial collective included Denis Lemon (editor), Martin Corbett - who later was an active member of ACT UP, David Seligman, a founder member of the London Gay Switchboard collective, Ian Dunn of the Scottish Minorities Group, Glenys Parry (national chair of CHE), Suki J. Pitcher, and Doug Pollard, who later went on to launch the weekly gay newspaper, Gay Week (affectionately known as Gweek) (he is now a presenter on Joy Melbourne 94.9FM, Australia's first full-time GLBTI radio station, and was for a time editor of Melbourne Star, the city's fortnightly gay newspaper). Amongst Gay News's early "Special Friends" were Graham Chapman of Monty Python's Flying Circus, his partner David Sherlock, and Antony Grey, secretary of the UK Homosexual Law Reform Society from 1962 to 1970.
Sex between men had been partially decriminalised for males over the age of 21 in England and Wales with the passage of the Sexual Offences Act in 1967. After the Stonewall Riots in New York in 1969, the Gay Liberation Front spread from the United States to London in 1970. Gay News was the response to a nationwide demand by lesbians and gay men for news of the burgeoning liberation movement.
The paper played a pivotal role in the struggle for gay rights in the 1970s in the UK. It was described by Alison Hennegan (who joined the newspaper as Assistant Features Editor and Literary Editor in June 1977) as the movement's "debating chamber". Although essentially a newspaper, reporting alike on discrimination and political and social advances, it also campaigned for further law reform, including parity with the heterosexual age of consent of sixteen, against the hostility of the church which treated homosexuality as a sin, and the medical profession which treated homosexuality as a pathology. It campaigned for equal rights in employment (notably in the controversial area of the teaching profession) and the trades union movement at a time when left politics in the United Kingdom was still historically influenced by its non-conformist roots in its hostility to homosexuality. But under the influence of its features editors, Howes and Hennegan, it also excavated the lesbian and cultural history of past decades as well as presenting new developments in the arts. Keith Howes later published the encyclopaedic reference, Broadcasting It, ostensibly dealing with homosexuality in film, radio and TV from 1923 to 1993 but amounting to a cultural review of British homosexuality in the twentieth century.
Two of the paper's news staff, Michael Mason and Graham McKerrow, later founded the London weekly newspaper Capital Gay which was launched in June 1981.
Gay News challenged the authorities from the outset by publishing personal contact ads, in defiance of the law — in early editions this section was always headlined "Love knoweth no laws."
In the first year of publication, editor Denis Lemon was charged and fined for obstruction, for taking photographs of police behaviour outside the popular leather bar in Earls Court, the Coleherne pub.
In 1974, Gay News was charged with obscenity, having published an issue with a cover photograph of two men kissing. It won the court case.
The newspaper was featured in the 1975 movie Tommy.
In 1976-1977, Mary Whitehouse brought a private prosecution of blasphemy (Whitehouse v. Lemon) against both the newspaper and its editor, Denis Lemon, over the publication of James Kirkup's poem The Love that Dares to Speak its Name in the issue dated 3 June 1976. Denis Lemon was found guilty and sentenced to a suspended 18-month prison sentence and personally fined ₤1,000. When all totalled up, fines and court costs awarded against Lemon and Gay News amounted to nearly ₤10,000. After a campaign and several appeals the suspended prison sentence was dropped. The case drew enormous media coverage at the time. In 2002 BBC Radio 4 made a play about the trial.
Gay News Ltd ceased trading on 15 April 1983.
Campaign against W.H. Smith Edit
One of the biggest problems the newspaper faced was that, although it was not an obscene publication, sale outlets were hard to find. W.H. Smith then controlled much of the newspaper and magazine distribution in the UK through a wholly-owned subsidiary and they refused to sell it or allow their distribution company to distribute it to other suppliers. Various campaigns organised by the gay community to shame W.H. Smith into carrying the paper met with success.