The Coalition Government is currently carrying out an enquiry into the operation of the Public Service Equality Duty [PSED] under the last Labour Government’s 2010 Equalities Act. The Act had the goals of eliminating all forms of discrimination, harassment and victimisation of various named groups and also being pro-active in advancing equality amd promoting good relations in the public services. It seeks to protect and advance the well-being of people in the following groups based on their:

We are in a very real danger of losing the gains we have already made and of sacrificing possible future ones.




Gender Reassignment

Pregnancy and maternity


Religion or belief, and;

Sexual Orientation

So in fact, it protected the interests of a large segment of the population. In brief, the PSED requires public bodies,such as the NHS, to ‘pay due regard’ to equalities in everything they do. Thus a disabled person and a gay man, for example, could equally expect that the NHS would try to meet their needs.

The recent Stonewall Survey on the NHS and Gay Mens’ Health showed how lamentably the NHS was failing to meet their needs, but under these provisions the NHS would have to make a better effort to do so. As such, of course there is nothing wrong with reviewing the effectiveness of the legislation and seeing what improvements need to be made. After all, however welcome a declaration that we are all equal, especially in view of past discrimination, this does NOT mean that we magically BECOME equal.
What gives real concern here is the MOTIVATION of the Coalition Government in undertaking this review. It has been undertaken, almost unbelievably, as part of Theresa Mays ‘combatting red tape’ initiative, not one of promoting equality. The very real danger is that the government will be looking for excuses to scrap the duty on the grounds that equality is too expensive – ignoring the fact that the ultimate cost of inequality can be far higher. There is also ideological opposition to it in that it means governments being too proactive and indeed interfering in the sacred ‘free’ market’.

The TUC in its evidence to the review points to the positive difference that the duty has ALREADY made in promoting greater equality, but showed how things still need to be improved. Here are some of their points:

(1) It has enabled the gathering of equality information and greater accountability as a basis for future action.
(2) There has better engagement with protected groups such as ours although the recent Stonewall Survey has shown how far we still have to go
(3) It has improved employment outcomes for protected groups such as women,the disabled and LGBT people. Despite this there is mounting evidence that protected groups are suffering disproportionally under the coalitions austerity programme.
(4) Started to improve service delivery outcomes so that they more nearly meet peoples actual needs. This has particularly been the case for disabled groups although many of these have been negated by the governments overall economic policy. Scrapping the PSED would mean simply that the most vulnerable would be thrown to the wolves first.

The Fawcett Society, which has for so long championed women’s rights, have expressed their fears about what they think the Coalition is up to. They have accused the government of ‘a systematic assault on measures designed to protect women and minorities’ and expressed their fear that the government could well scrap the PSED completely. They have accused the government of ‘weakening the legal and institutional measures concerned with equality.’ Ceri Goddard, the society’s chief executive, said ‘over the past 40 years we have seen progress in equality laws, albeit quite slow. At the end of two years of the coalition government we have seen a reversal and dismantling of these laws.’ She went on to say that any attempt by the government to abandon the PSED ‘would be a systematic dismantling of the states role in tackling inequality.’
That indeed is the true nature of the threat we face. By its very nature a free market economy increases inequalities That is why state action is needed. The purpose of any review should be to enable the Act to meet its laudable objectives. Sadly the coalition has, backing up the points made by the Fawcett Society, already nibbled away at the effective operation of the Act by such means as:

(1) The watering down of specific duties
(2) Refusal to use legal enforcement
(3) A rollback on NATIONAL delivery standards
(4) A lack of political leadership in favour of it
(5) Cuts in staffing and funding for equality.

And of course, all of this has taken place against the background of austerity and in particular cuts in public services.
If there are weaknesses in the Act, they should be set right and NOT be used as an excuse to scrap a measure that the Tories never supported in the first place. The PSED has brought us limited gains but to scrap it would be a disaster. We must do what we can to stop this happening and work together with other threatened groups.


(1) Get yor MP to sign EDM 220 tabled by Sandra Osborne MP [who also tabled EDM 219 against Conversion Therapy which still needs more signatures] it reads:
‘That this House notes the review of the Public Sector Equality Duty now in progress; believes the Duty,albeit only recently introduced, has considerable potential to achieving the goals of eliminating all forms of discrimination, harassment or victimisation, advancing equality of opportunity and fostering good relations; recognises the value placed on the Duty by public bodies, non-governmental organisations and others; and calls on Ministers to reaffirm their commitment to the Duty and to support public bodies in implementing it effectively.’



(2) If you are a member of the Labour Party get your CLP to pass resolutions in defence of the PSED, possibly including a resolution to Annual Conference. This is an example, recently passed unanimously by Hull North CLP:
‘This CLP reaffirms its support for the Public Sector Equality Duty of the Equalities Act 2010. It believes that the only purpse of the ccurrent government enquiry into the operation of the Act should be to improve its implementation and not to find excuses for watering down any of the duties of the Act. We consequently call upon the Labour Party to support the recommendations made by the TUC to improve implementation made in its submission of evidence to the Enquiry. We further believe that it is dangerous to assume that because we have a welcome Equalities Act enacted by the last Labour Government that we thereby HAVE equality or that such gains as have been made are safe from the attentions of the coalition government.’



It is also vitally important to ensure that local councillors are kept up to the mark in implementing the act There is widespread evidnce of the operation of a ‘Post Code Lottery’ whereby there are wide variations in how effectively the Act is being implemented.

(3) Do all you can in any organisations that you belong to to defend the PSED

WE ARE IN VERY REAL DANGER OF LOSING THE GAINS THAT WE HAVE ALREADY MADE AND OF SACRIFICING POSSIBLE FUTURE ONES. Please take action to persuade the government of the folly of such action. After all, all these minorities added together make a majority, and there will be an election in less than two years.

By Colin Livett


A recent report on how well public services in Manchester meet the needs of LGBT people in the city underlines that there is a low level of expectation from many LGBT people of the standard of service they will get.There is a widespread belief that they will receive discrimination because of their sexuality. Therefor many of them—not feeling able to stand up to this either do not access needed services at all or not disclosing their sexual orientation. This in turn means that the services concerned continue to be unaware of their real needs and as a result do not address them. As a result of that of course LGBT people will not only not get the services they need, but will be discouraged from accessing them again and most likely discourage others as well. That the services do not meet the needs of LGBT people will thus become a self fulfilling prophecy—-be it as a result of prejudice or of the public services not knowing. Or of course both.
The public service duty of the Equalities Act ought to be able to help here. One of its main duties is to gather data and assess and act on the actual needs of the various groups within its remit. Thus although there may have been limited advances on reporting and dealing with hate crimes, there are huge gaps in knowledge in other areas, such as homelessness ,domestic violence and sexual exploitation. AS a result of this LGBT peoples needs are not known and therefor adequately addressed

So we have a vicious circle. Because LGBT people have low expectations of services they either do not access them or hide their sexual orientation because they fear they will be discriminated against. Therefore—-even when not deliberately they are—-because the services concerned do not know what their needs are.
Services tailored to meet the particular needs of a group was at the heart of the Equalities Act

We must ensure that Labour strengthens the act . The potential good —not just for LGBT—but women ,disabled , BAME groups is immense.And our Party must help bring about its realisation. On a local level Labour should make sure that it has a voice in all of these groups and that they have a voice in the Labour Party.It ought not to be too difficult—–after all it is the most vulnerable that have suffered under the coalition government
Please help ensure that Labour commits —indeed strengthens it commitment to the PSED

Colin Livett 24th April 2014

I’m pleased to announce that all the sheets for our petition against gay-to-straight conversion therapy have finally been gathered together and added up, and we’ve collected some 2037 signatures. We’ve also received messages of support from individuals and organisations across the country.

Diana Johnson MP will formally submit the petition on Monday 15th July. Because of unforeseen circumstances Diana’s had to move the date back from the planned date of tomorrow. This is completely beyond our control, but this does mean that any late petition sheets CAN still be submitted to her Parliamentary address, which is simply Diana Johnson MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA.

This certainly isn’t the end of our campaign. Our Early Day Motion against conversion therapy will remain available for MPs to sign, and has already attracted support from over forty MPs. If you haven’t already, please do lobby your MP to sign this EDM using our draft letter.

In the coming parliamentary year, there’s also the prospect of a backbench business debate and/or a Westminster Hall debate on conversion, and there is a small chance next year that a friendly MP will win the ballot to table a Private Members Bill on gay-to-straight conversion therapy. The Coalition Government will also be conducting a public consultation on the future for LGBT equality after the gay marriage act and we’ll certainly use this to draw their attention to gay conversion therapy amongst many other issues, such as homophobic bullying.

Last but not least, next year, this network will campaign for better LGBT-friendly mental and physical health treatment, tackling some of the atrocious inequities which are reflected in Stonewall’s recent Gay and Bisexual Men’s Health Survey. For us, this seems to follow on neatly from gay conversion therapy. Indeed, in many ways conversion therapy is just a reflection of this wider issue. It’s easy to forget that there are still, in the medical and therapy professions, individuals practicing who received their training when homosexuality was considered a mental illness. Certainly the majority were trained in the era of Section 28 and the unequal age of consent.

Forgive us the indulgence, but we think it’s appropriate to end this with a quote from a local hero, the Hull-born gay poet and author, Dan Billany (1913-c. 1943). A gay man in an unaccommodating world, Dan underwent years of struggle over his sexuality, as recorded by Colin Livett in an excellent write-up on our website for LGBT History Month. Sometimes, this struggle saw him undergo his very own “conversion therapy,” believing in vain that marriage would change his sexual preference.

Whilst a Prisoner of War in Italy, Dan found true love in a fellow POW, David Dowie. Yet when he declared his love to Dowie he was rejected, and the two became momentarily estranged. In an effort to preserve his friendship with Dowie, he wrote him an emotional poem. It was here that Dan boldly came to understand and affirm his own sexuality:

“When nature carved my limbs, was I consulted?
Do I control the movement of my blood?
Could I reject the nose so oft consulted?
(An organ I would barter if I could)
Just so, I can’t be cancelled by degree
And love not you because you love not me.”

The poem was enough for David to resume his friendship with Dan, but it’s unknown whether the relationship went any further than this. Neither returned to Britain. They disappeared in 1943, having escaped the POW camp together. No trace has ever been found of their bodies.

If David Dowie did not indeed fall in love with Dan Billany, we can at least rest assured that Dan died alongside a man who, having read that poem, was willing to accept him for who he was. The same was not true for so many others in Britain in subsequent decades. Sadly, for a smaller but still significant portion of the LGBT community, the same is also not true today. As one modern-day sufferer of conversion therapy told our network at Hull Pride last year after he signed our petition,

“I simply want to be happy being who I am.”

This quote, and Dan’s poem, sums up what our campaign has always been about. Far from an illiberal attempt to restrict people’s “choice” to change their sexuality, it’s simply sought to foster wellbeing by moving against a practice which tell people their sexuality is an illness.

When the idea for a campaign on conversion therapy was drawn up over a year ago, we didn’t expect anything like the level of support we’ve received. We just had modest aims for a small, local petition with a few signatures from the local Labour parties. But thanks to press coverage and an immense amount of attention from local non-partisan LGBT groups, this campaign has mushroomed beyond our wildest hopes. On behalf of everyone at the Network: thank you for making this possible.


I’m pleased to announce that yesterday, Sandra Osborne MP (Lab), alongside a cross-party group of sponsors, including Crispin Blunt (Con) and Stephen Gilbert (LD), tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM) against the practice of gay-to-straight conversion therapy.

This EDM will remain available for MPs to sign for the rest of the Parliamentary year. To really raise the profile of the issue of gay conversion in Britain, it’s vital that we get as many MPs as possible to add their names to this.

That’s where we could use your help. Please write to your MP, asking him/her to support EDM #219 on “Gay-to-Straight Conversion Therapy in the UK”. We’ve provided a draft letter for you to use for this purpose at the bottom of this post. Feel free to copy and paste it into an email or letter. If you’re unsure of who your MP is, please click here

If you have any other questions, please do get back to us.


Draft Letter to MPs:

Re:  Gay-to-Straight Conversion Therapy in Britain – Please Sign EDM #219


I am writing as a constituent to raise concern about the practice of gay-to-straight conversion therapy in Britain. Conversion or reparative therapy is the attempt by individuals, often posing as learned professionals, to alter the sexuality of homosexual patients, who frequently approach conversion therapists in desperation, having been led through abuse from peers to believe that their sexuality is an illness.

Despite being condemned by virtually every professional medical organisation as both ineffective and psychologically damaging to LGBT patients, with Health Minister Norman Lamb having acknowledged that the practice “may well cause significant harm,”[1] conversion therapists are permitted to practice freely in the UK, most notably in the under-regulated psychotherapy sector. Indeed, a 2009 survey of 1300 British therapists revealed over 200 had attempted to change at least one patient’s sexuality, whilst an undercover investigation for the Independent found one conversion therapist claimed most of her clients were forwarded to her from her local GP’s surgery. In the wake of these findings, the BMA called on the Department of Health to investigate whether NHS money had been used to fund conversion therapy.[2]

Despite this, however, there hasn’t been a single Select Committee investigation, House of Commons Library publication, Westminster Hall Debate nor even the most cursory government assessment of the scope of the issue in Britain. I believe this has to change. I thus write to ask if you would be willing to:

  • Support the Early Day Motion against Conversion Therapy, lodged by Sandra Osborne MP (Lab) and co-sponsored by a cross-party group of MPs, including Crispin Blunt (Con) and Stephen Gilbert (LD).[3] It calls for the practice to be banned for under-18s and for any links between trained professionals and conversion therapists to be investigated.
  • Raise my concerns about conversion therapy to the relevant bodies, noting particularly its unfettered practice by some psychotherapists and the allegations of NHS links with conversion therapists, with a view to igniting a long-overdue debate on the problem in Parliament.

Thank you for your time in reading this letter. I hope you are able to sign EDM #219 and make representations on this issue on my behalf.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours Sincerely,



[1] Hansard HC Deb 8 Nov 2012, Vol 552, Col 686W.

[2] For further information, please see Diana Johnson MP, “It’s Now Time for Parliament to Tackle the Issue of Gay Conversion Therapy”, Pink News, 25 May 2013.

[3] EDM #219, “Gay-to-Straight Conversion Therapy in the UK”, tabled Tuesday 11 June 2013.


The moment I met Chris, I realised he wasn’t like any politician I had met before. Within 30 seconds, he was asking me questions about the buildings and campus; even jokingly pointed to the roof of Robert Blackburn suggesting that it was some sort of Air Traffic Control tower. He instantly struck me as different but highly intelligent.

Continue reading

Following our last meeting in March, it was decided that we should have a campaign day, where we make as much noise about this conversion therapy nonsense as possible… But in public.


We need to take to the streets of Hull before the end of May, and we need as many people there as possible. We’ll no doubt have some good fun, and it will be a day to remember, and it will be fantastic to bring this evil to the attention of the public (even if it’s only locally), so that we get some more allies on board. The more the merrier… So whose with us???

Stonewall vs Core Issues
TFL’s decision not to allow Core Issues to run their pro-conversion bus advert has been ruled lawful by the High Court.

High Court Judge, Mrs. Justice Laing has ruled that the ban on the “Gay Conversion’ advert on London Buses by the Core Issues Trust was legal.She ruled that it would give grave offence to those who were gay and was perceived as homophobic. The slogan ”Not Gay,Ex-Gay, Post- Gay and Proud’ increased the risk of prejudice and homophobic attack. It would interfere with the rights of gay people to respect and was ‘not a contribution to a reasoned debate’ Under the 2010 Equality Act [introduced in the dying days of the last Labour  Government in 2010] Transport For London [TFL] had a duty to eliminate  discrimination and harassment against gays and to foster good relations,tackle prejudice and promote understanding. Display of the advert would have been in clear breach of the law.

No clearer statement on the evil effects of the advocacy of gay conversion therapy could have been given It does not work,it exploits those struggling to cope with their sexuality and it fuels prejudice against LGBT people At a time when hate crimes and homophobic crime are endemic it incites more crimes by the false suggestion that sexuality is a matter of choice and can be ‘cured’

We congratulate Mrs. Justice Laing in her ruling. But surely the logical next step must be to ban not only gay conversion adverts but the practice itself.The government should protect vulnerale people fro m the harm ,exploitation and hate fuelling cused by this quackery condemned as it is by every single medical organisation recognised by the NHS

Colin Livett


The Claim by Core Issues Trust that London Mayor,Boris Johnson acted improperly in imposing the ban on London buses has today been dismissed by the High Court.Transport For London acted legally in banning the ‘ex-gay’ ban on London buses because of its offensiveness to the LGBT community. CIT have since claimed ‘that the British establishment is no longer a guardian of freedom of speech nor of conscience’Or .put another way, impose their bigoted views on others and treat LGBT people as second class citizens. Director of CIT Trust Mike Davidson has not had his freedom of speech curtailed. But less people are listening to the bigoted nonsense that over the decades has caused so much harm to LGBT people.
Colin Livett 30th July 2014

On Friday 15th March, our group had a discussion about where to take the campaign in the next few months in the run-up to the presentation of the petition on 4 June. Thanks to everyone who made the effort to attend. The wide variety of people present – both Labour and non-Labour members – made for a fruitful discussion, and hopefully in the coming months we can use the different skills we all have to make for a packed final stage to the campaign. Some of the key ideas discussed were:


  • A street protest in Hull, using links with community groups in the city.


  • Asking if sixth form colleges and schools could generate some interest + using college newspapers.


  • Production of flyers, leaflets and banners to inform people of conversion therapy.


  • Ways to promote positive therapy and counselling for those who are experiencing sexuality issues.


  • Using the Labour Students motion against conversion therapy as a template for resolutions in Trade Unions and other branches of the Labour Party.


  • Meeting of Chris Bryant MP on 10 May – ideas for turning it into a big, headline event.


It’s probably worth going into some detail on our wider campaign thus far. We’ve had incredible support from local organisations such as the Warren, Cornerhouse and everyone else in the LGBT Forum in Hull. The LGBT+ Society at Hull University have also been extremely supportive, as have a network of seven other LGBT-related community groups across the country, who have been promoting our petition in their localities.

On a national level, Pink News have been fantastic in creating national interest in our group, and are about to publish a comment piece promoting our campaign even further. have also been very supportive and took the initiative in contacting our little group once we made headlines in Pink News. Their network of members will be vital once we come to the later stages of the campaign, and start to lobby the Department of Health hard.

In Parliament, we’ve had fantastic support from Diana Johnson MP, and Steve Reed MP has also kindly agreed to sponsor our Early Day Motion against gay-to-straight conversion therapy. We’ve also just made contact with the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on HIV and AIDS – believe it or not, there isn’t a purely LGBT-related APPG in Parliament, so the HIV and AIDS group was the next-best option. Early signs are we might be able to work with this group to get the issue of gay-to-straight conversion noticed by a number of sympathetic MPs.

The issue, of course, is how we use these links – local and national – to ensure that Parliament finally starts talking about the problem of gay-to-straight conversion therapy in Britain. So we’re making an appeal. If anyone reading this has any ideas, don’t hesitate to comment on this page, or email us at

The Department of Health has now given answers to three written questions Diana Johnson has tabled about NHS involvement in gay conversion therapy. What follows are the government’s statements, and our interpretations of them after a lengthy private discussion. Please bear with us! Negotiate your way through the enigma of the Parliamentary Language, and you just might find their answers interesting.

First, some background. Diana asked these questions after an excellent Bradford-based group, Equity Partnership, contacted us. They told us of their success in securing a joint-statement against conversion therapy from all four of the NHS Trusts based in Bradford and Airedale in May last year. As far as we know, no other NHS Trusts have made statements against conversion, and no suggestions have been made that the new Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) coming in will be any less reticent over the issue of gay conversion in the NHS. In fact, the new structure of NHS Commissioning could make things much worse as far as conversion therapy goes. 

Considering, on top of this, the evidence from Patrick Strudwick in an undercover investigation in 2010 that conversion therapists were getting patients and funding from the NHS – with one accredited psychotherapist receiving most of her patients from GPs’ surgeries – we thus felt it appropriate ask the government about NHS involvement in gay conversion. Three separate questions were tabled, and Norman Lamb, responding for the Department for Health, has now answered them all. Here’s the first one [142315]:

Q: “To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps his Department has taken to ensure that the NHS does not commission any services from groups who engage in or promote conversion therapy.

A: “The Department does not recommend the use of conversion therapy and it is not a National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recommended treatment. It is for commissioners of NHS services to ensure that treatment and care, including therapy, is provided to every patient without any form of discrimination. Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) will in future commission the majority of health care services. As public sector organisations, they will be subject to the specific duties of the public sector Equality Duty under the Equality Act 2010. Therefore CCGs must, in the exercise of their functions, have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other conduct prohibited under the Act.”

Moving on, two later questions [142816 & 142817], answered today, ask the Secretary of State “if he will make it his policy to prohibit the commissioning of conversion therapy by (a) clinical commissioning groups, (b) GP commissioning and (c) the National Commissioning Board” and “what recent representations he has received on conversion therapy.” The answer to the last question was a rather blunt “we have had no other representations on this issue”, so no meat there. Answer three is exactly the same as answer one, except for a crucial additional sentence:

“I do not believe it would be appropriate to commission conversion therapy using public funds.

In asking these questions, we were hoping that the Department of Health would be forced to encourage NHS groups and CCGs to go down the route of the Bradford and Airedale NHS Trusts. The highlighted passage above is, I think, a significant statement which might make headlines. But the general picture seems clear from the thrust of the government’s answers, and frankly we’re all disappointed by their stance here.

Lamb’s answer here seems to carry on in the same vein as their answers to a different set of PQs tabled by Diana Johnson in November 2012. Back then, he said the DoH did “not condone” conversion therapy, but they were completely unwilling to regulate the psychotherapy sector to stop gay conversion from happening. Now he “does not recommend” conversion, but he has not committed to anything to ensure that the NHS didn’t commission any services from groups engaging in the practice he ostensibly finds inappropriate.

Indeed, Danny Norton aptly pointed out in our private discussions: the issue isn’t just about discrimination and the Equalities Act 2010, which the Minister for Health is so willing to emphasise (twice!). One passage Danny wrote really gets to the heart of the matter:

… “we are not talking about any form of discrimination against gay people. We are trying to ensure that people who are having ‘orientation struggles’ get the help they need, and don’t resort to crackpot therapies that will only go on to make them hate themselves and make matters much, much worse.

“Surely, the state has a responsibility to ensure that only legitimate care is given to individuals who seek it, and that witchcraft and hollow miracles aren’t used? It seems that the government is totally clueless about this issue. I think they know it needs to be tackled, they just don’t know how to do it … It just gets swept under the carpet as a result.”

Really, I can only offer a less succinct re-wording of Danny’s excellent point. Nothing in the government’s answers talks about what a GP should do if a patient comes to their clinic uneasy about their sexuality. If someone did that, it might not be discrimination for a GP to forward the patient on to a conversion therapist, operating outside the NHS. But, when the evidence is clear that conversion doesn’t work and harms patients, we think it would still be immoral for any so-called “professional” to in any way encourage their patient towards the idea that their sexuality can, or should, be changed.

Nothing the government has said touches on this, even though there has been evidence that this kind of thing happens. It’s absolutely discraceful that no government has investigated Studwick’s allegations, which emerged back in February 2010.

We feel the government’s statements show just how important and relevant our anti-conversion campaign still is.  

The following is an edited version of the statement issued by the British Psychological Society on 15th January 2013:

“[We] oppose any psychological, psychotherapeutic or counselling treatments or interventions…that view same-sex orientations…as diagnosable illnesses.

We believe that people of sexual orientations should be regarded as equal members of society with the same rights and responsibilities.

This includes freedom from harassment or discrimination in any sphere and a right to protection from therapies that are potentially damaging, particularly those that purport to change or ‘convert’ sexual orientation.

We believe that people of all genders and identities should be regarded as equal members of society and protected from potentially damaging therapies and pathologising.” 


Publicity still from the previous production.
Dan Billany (1913-c. 1943), born to a working-class family in Hull, was an acclaimed writer, a resolute socialist and a war hero. But throughout his life he always struggled with his identity as a gay man in an unaccommodating world. At the centenary of Billany’s birth, Colin Livett celebrates his legacy not just to Hull but to the LGBT movement as a whole.

Over recent years the immense contributions made by Dan Billany to the city of Hull have become better known, especially after the publication of a biography by local authors Valerie Reeves and Valerie Showan in 1999. Subsequent research has shown that Billany was indeed a ‘lost hero’, but in a number of different ways. Billany’s place in getting himself to University after leaving school at 14 by studying at the ‘Tec’ in the evening was an achievement in itself. As a tireless socialist campaigner, a war hero and a literary giant, there were enough heroes for several lives. But perhaps Dan’s greatest battle, it has emerged, was with his own sexuality, which in an age of cruel repression and lack of understanding took him until his mid twenties even to admit to himself. Eventually he fell hopelessly in love, unrequited as far as we know, with David Dowie, a fellow inmate of a couple of the Italian POW Camps in which he was interned from 1942-3. He then died, together with his beloved David, trying to reach the allied lines before the occupying Germans seized them. Their bodies have never been found, and Dan Billany – who had spent his early life fighting Fascism on the streets of Hull – was to end his time fighting it on the mountains of Italy. To us he was a hero. Here is his story.

He was born a hundred years ago in a small terraced house in Devon Street, off Hull’s famous Hessle Road, into a large working class family of strong socialist convictions. His great grandfather had stood as a Radical candidate in the 1885 election for Hull Central. Dan was to inherit those socialist convictions. Throughout his brief life, he always fought on the side of the underdog against the oppressors. Before fighting Fascism in Hull and then North Africa and Italy, he was to fight his way to University, get a degree, and qualify as a teacher.            

But perhaps his biggest fight of all was to be with himself, over the growing realization of his homosexuality in a society where it was illegal and treated as a perversion. Dan left school at the age of 14 having hated the authoritarian, mind-0numbing education that was imposed there. He started his working life as an errand boy, delivering goods from a high class grocer to better off households. This reinforced his view of the inequality in society, and he was soon on his soapbox on street corners preaching socialism and the cause of the underprivileged. He was later to write that he would die of shame if ever he stopped feeling angry at the injustices of society and try to do something about them. He became for a while an apprentice electrician, but that was not for him either. He faced a period of unemployment, had his benefits stopped (because his sister was working), joined the National Unemployed Workers Movement and was part of a massive protest against the Means Test at Hull’s Corporation Fields in 1932, which hit he headlines in the Hull Daily Mail.

Then he decided to ‘get himself an education’ for which he needed money and family support. He attended free classes for the unemployed at the City’s Technical College in Park Street, later enrolling in day and evening classes so that he could obtain his matriculation (the equivalent of A levels). By 1934, against massive odds, Dan had qualified to study for a BA in English Literature at what was then the University College of Hull. During all this time Dan had continued his socialist activities and begun to write. At the University, he became for a while Secretary of the Socialist Group which was the forerunner of the later Socialist and Labour Clubs. He graduated in 1937 and then spent a further year qualifying to become a teacher.

Dan got a job at Chiltern Street School where he was much influenced by the educational ideas of A. S. Neil, revolutionary for the time, about child-based learning. Dan’s teaching methods were notably informal and did not always endear him to his headmaster. It seems that it was about this time that Dan began to realize his homosexuality, even if he was not yet capable of accepting it. The taboos against it and his own lack of understanding of it, together with his desire not to alienate himself from his family, all militated against it. Even so, in one of his short stories he wrote that “it was a sort of love which, in the world as we know it, could not be made public. One might say rather ‘commit suicide’; some have done.” Or ,as another writer put it , “the love which dare not speak its name.” Dan also published a highly successful childrens’ and detective novel.

 In the autumn of 1940, Dan volunteered to join the Army to help defeat the Fascism which he had always hated. After his basic training, he joined the East Yorkshire Regiment in 1941 and was soon shipped to North Africa via the long route round the Cape of Good Hope and across the Egyptian Desert. Unfortunately, this was the time of a successful German counter-offensive, and in June 1942 Dan was captured by the Germans, although for a while he was officially listed as missing – much to the concern of his family back home.

Dan’s deep struggle with his love for David Dowie was simply the reality of the day, and men such as Dan were heroes for somehow managing to live with it.

 He was shipped across the Mediterranean and held in a series of Italian POW Camps. In September 1942 he was sent to camp 17 where he was to meet the love of his life, fellow author David Dowie, eight years younger than himself. At first Dan tried to deny to himself that he was physically attracted to David. Indeed he even suggested to his sister back home that David would make her an ideal husband. This was despite the fact that both she and David were already engaged to be married (but not to each other!). The friendship between David and Dan grew deeper. They worked together on “The Cage” , a thinly disguised account of their life in a POW camp which was later to be praised as one of the finest pieces of literature to come out of the war. Dan realized that he had fallen head-over-heels in love with David, and eventually plucked up his courage and declared his love.

David was shocked and broke off his friendship with Dan. Dan was devastated for now he did not even have his beloved David’s friendship. Dan wrote in his Diary that he supposed that when he returned to England he would “have to get married”. He said that he had no desire to be a “spinster” nor upset his beloved family. In this respect, Dan was a true child of his age. “Gay marriage’’ then meant gay men getting married in desperation to “escape” their true nature. Some genuinely believed that this would convert them to heterosexuality. Others merely wanted to quieten wagging tongues. This version of ‘gay conversion’ was every bit as cruel and unsuccessful as today’s quack therapy, or “praying the gay away.” In this Dan was just like so many thousands of gay men of his time, forced to deny their true nature and chance of finding happiness. That was simply the reality of the day, and men such as Dan were heroes for somehow managing to live with it.

Dan and David were then moved to Camp 49 at Fontanellato. In July 1943 there were ecstatic celebrations in the camp as news seeped through of the fall of the Italian Fascist Dictator, Benito Mussolini. Dan in particular was exultant that after 20 years, the new Fascist World Order that Mussolini had predicted had collapsed. A month or so later the Italians sued for peace, and Dan and the other prisoners were set free. Danger, however, was not gone. The Germans moved in to the North of the country and Dan and David, together with a couple of others, tried to reach the advancing allied armies tortuously approaching from the south. Along the way they were sheltered by Italian peasant families. The last heard of them was on 23rdNovember 1943, when in a freezing winter they set off again over the mountains. No-one knows for certain what became of them. There has been much speculation. The version I would like to believe is that the bodies of two English soldiers,found frozen to death, huddled together in a last desperate effort to keep warm, or perhaps in a last act of love, were those of Dan and his beloved David.

Within his short life Dan never lived to see a world more understanding of his true nature. Had he done so, I believe that he would, in his writings, been as great a champion of Gay Rights as he had been of other oppressed groups. Because of the harsh times that he lived in, however, he ended up fighting for everybody but himself.

Had Dan lived a few months longer he might have been one of the allied soldiers in Italy ignorantly dubbed by the Tory MP, Lady Astor, ‘D Day Dodgers’. The last verse of the song about that could equally have applied to them. They too missed D-Day because they were dead:

Look around the mountains,

In the mud and rain,

You’ll see the scattered crosses

There are some which have no name

Heartbreak and toil and suffering gone,

The boys beneath them slumber on

They are the D Day Dodgers

Who will stay in Italy”

Had Dan returned to England it would have been another quarter-of-a-century before the passing of the Homosexual Law Reform Act started the long, still incomplete search for equality and dignity. In other words, he would have been faced with exactly the same problems as before. Dan is a hero to us because he fought against ALL injustice and prejudice, but within his short life he never lived to see a world more understanding of his true nature. Had he done so I believe that he would, in his writings, been as great a champion of Gay Rights as he had been of other oppressed groups. Because of the harsh times that he lived in, however, he ended up fighting for everybody but himself. In different circumstances, we believe he would have promoted gay rights with the same inspirational fervour. But like so many of his, and later, generations, it took him a while to come to terms with the injustice that society was imposing on him simply because of his sexuality. Like thousands of others of his generation known and unknown he was a true hero just by living day by day

in a hostile world.

Following a feature by Danny Norton on his local Loud and Proud programme on West Hull FM, there have been renewed demwnds for a revial of ‘Hero’ a play about the last months of Dan’s life by local writer Barrie Wheatley
We think this would be a fitting tribute to Dan especially were it to be mounted for LGBT History Month ,in February 2017 when Hul will be celebrating its status as city of culture. Dan is still a largely forgotten local hero—and not just to the LGBT Community and we hope the organisers take notice of this.

By Colin Livett.