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Last Updated: Friday, 27 July 2007, 05:45 GMT 06:45 UK
Gay 'ordeal' before and after law
Howard Llewellyn
Howard Llewellyn became a gay rights campaigner
Gay men in Wales have recalled their experiences, on the 40th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Leo Abse, who was MP for Pontypool at the time, says he piloted through the 1967 Sexual Offences Act to end the "cruel and savage" laws of the day.

The law decriminalised homosexual acts between two men over 21 years and in private, but only in England and Wales.

Campaigner Howard Llewellyn said that, despite the law, attitudes towards gay people had remained slow to change.

The 62-year-old from the south Wales valleys village of Abercynon said he felt isolated growing up in the '50s and '60s because homosexuality was not discussed or tolerated.

"You led a secret life and you kept hidden a large part of your personality - this had a terrible effect on me," said Mr Llewellyn.

"The stress of not being able to reveal your complete personality to your friends made life difficult.

"It was an indictment of those times that it was so difficult to meet gay people because you did not know where they were. My first gay relationship was with someone in Holland at the age of 26.

Colin Davies
You were told you were a freak, it wasn't natural, it wasn't supposed to be
Colin Davies

"That helped me to bring my sexual identity into focus. Most people by the age of 26 are married, they have got kids, they could be divorced and married again.

"But I was waiting all that time to have a relationship with another human being."

Mr Llewellyn, secretary of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights committee for Trades Union Congress (TUC) Wales, said anger over the loss of his gay youth because of prejudice pushed him to become politically active.

But he insisted the 1967 act did not make much of a difference to his life because at the time he did not realise his strengthening feelings meant he was gay.

Holding hands

He said more recent legislation including employment laws and civil partnerships had made being gay more acceptable in society, but changing overall attitudes was a very slow process.

Before the law was passed, gay men could be arrested for holding hands in the street or for kissing.

Mr Llewellyn said many convicted for these and similar crimes were offered electric shock treatment instead of jail terms to attempt to "cure" their homosexuality, but this led to mental health problems.

Matt Lucas and his partner Kevin McGee
Little Britain star Matt Lucas and Kevin McGee are civil partners
Mr Abse said he was sent human excrement as he stepped up his campaign to get the Sexual Offences Act through the Commons, which he eventually achieved by just one vote on 5 July 1967.

"Part of my agenda was to end the cruelty and the savagery of the existing homosexual laws which insisted that all homosexual acts were criminal," he said.

Colin Davies, 61, of Caerphilly said "queer-bashing" was a regular occurrence as he was growing up and as a result he found it impossible to "come out of the closet".

He said it was easier and safer to be "one of the boys" than be honest about his sexuality and the only place he could truly be gay in his 20s was in a secret private members club in Cardiff called Sirs.

"You had to be very careful about what you did and who you spoke to. You could not let yourself be yourself," said Mr Davies.

"There were always jokes about gays, poofs and faggots and a lot of people were disgusted with it. You were told you were a freak, it wasn't natural, it wasn't supposed to be."

Mr Davies was never attacked because he kept quiet about his sexuality. He even married a woman he fell in love with and they had two sons together before they split and he went back to his gay lifestyle.

"I think I did feel pressured into relationships with women in those days," he said

"Nowadays it is so open and so easy going - people don't care and it's lovely. They have the law backing them up too.

"I'm glad that people can be themselves and not be in the shadow like we were when we were kids."

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