Advert for Gay News | 14063
Personal advertisements from people trying to find partners gained popularity during and after the First World War, but it took some time for openly gay people to be allowed to place personal advertisements in gay or any other newspapers. Now, of course, the internet offers appropriate advertising services.
“Small ads” played a key role in the formation of the gay scene. Since 1921, the police had clamped down on any publication suspected of carrying ads for homosexuals. Advertisers were undeterred, however, using code words such as “artistic”, “musical” and “unconventional” even as early as the Edwardian period, to signify that they were gay.
By the 1950s there were correspondence clubs, pen friend clubs and tape-correspondence clubs (for people with tape recorders) which offered a “contact list” service for a small annual fee to members only. These organisations’ contact lists rapidly filled up with entries for single men.
By 1967, male homosexuality between consenting adults had been legalised but advertising for same-sex partners still carried some danger, as the editors of Exit and Way Out magazines discovered in 1968, when police decided their publications were obscene. The BBC notes that
they and their advertisers were eventually found guilty of conspiring to corrupt public morals.
The next attempt to run gay contact advertising was tried by the underground newspaper “International Times”. Duncan Campbell notes that
in 1970 it was prosecuted for conspiracy to corrupt public morals and conspiracy to outrage public decency by running gay contact adverts, even though homosexuality had been legalised three years previously. The publishers were convicted on both counts, although cleared of the latter on appeal, and the paper briefly closed down as a result.
Gay News was established in 1972 as a newspaper for the gay scene and by mid-1975, had a paid circulation of over 7,500, even though most news agents refused to stock it. In contravention of the House of Lords ruling that advertisements for sexual acts between men were illegal, Gay News also published personal ads, insisting not very convincingly that these were strictly non-sexual in intent. Gay News was prosecuted, eventually, but not for the advertising.
“International Times” was launched on 14 October 1966 and relaunched as a web journal in 2011.