Tony Somerton 1941 – 2022
OneBodyOneFaith is sharing a summary of the eulogy written for Tony Somerton (1941-2022), written by John Carter. We are grateful to John for his permission, and for the life and achievements of Tony – whom many of our members will remember.
Tony was one of those sorts of people for whose passing one feels, I feel, a true sadness even though we were not closely acquainted. His niceness, his decency, the ease of communication shone out.
I cannot be the only person who has experienced getting older as becoming something of a museum, full of experiences like exhibits that not enough people get to see.Tony was by virtue of his age, his experience and his achievements, an important person-museum. He experienced the transition for LGBT people from oppression to liberation with the passing of the Sexual Offences Act of 1967. It was a moment when one can say that there was a melting of Evil.
This is particularly relevant to Tony not just as an individual given his age but because it was the moment that Tony and his collaborators recorded at the start of a book published in 2010 describing grassroots LGBT activism post-1967. Tony was not only an active member of the grassroots movement post-1967 but later a prime mover with these collaborators in recording and publishing what happened. The 2010 book was OUT OF THE SHADOWS and was one of three books edited and part-written by Tony under the pen-name Tony Walton, all dealing with LGBT experience. OUT OF THE SHADOWS was a serious attempt to document the explosion of local LGBT groups in London. There were 25 contributors under Tony’s editorship. The book ran to 240 pages with maps, photos, illustrations, a bibliography, abbreviations, websites and an exhaustive index. A foreword was provided by Michael Cashman, the East Enders actor playing Colin in ground-breaking scenes in the BBC Soap, also an activist, MEP, and now sitting in the House of Lords as Lord Cashman.
Specifically credited by Tony in his introduction are Rex Batton, Lisa Power and Jeffrey Weeks. Rex wrote a vivid account of the repression of gay life in an influential novel, Rid England of this Plague, a title that references words from the Home Secretary David Maxwell Fife in the Commons in 1953. Lisa Power is a continuing powerhouse of activism to this day. And Jeff Weeks, now retired professor of Sociology at London South Bank University, has been one of the most comprehensive documenters of the history of LGBT life in Great Britain. Two other collaborators should be mentioned: Ross Burgess who for many years has been involved in running the Croydon group now known as CAGS where Tony was a regular attender. And Terry Murphy who is currently travelling in Israel and who has for many years headed the group called South London Gays which started in the 70s as WAGS Wimbledon Area Gay Soc. It was Tony, a founder member of WAGS who, Terry told me, persuaded Terry to become involved in the group. I arrived in Wimbledon in 1980 and it was the weekly meetings that helped me and my partner to establish our social life when moving here.
Peter Tatchell, life-long, courageous campaigner on Human Rights of all dimensions globally also contributed to OUT OF THE SHADOWS. Tony subsequently in the space of a few years contributed to, edited and published two books on gay life in North Africa entitled ‘Up the Kasbah’ and ‘Agadir to my Heart’. Tony was also a founder member of 3F or the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. So, what emerges about Tony is his commitment to activism and to his Christian faith. Terry told me about Tony: “He tended to eschew a high-profile role and preferred to be in the background and provide full support.”
He was an early member in 1968 of SK which took its name from the Royal Foundation of St Katharine’s, possibly the first gay group. We should know that, as OUT OF THE SHADOWS records, many of the early spaces where gay women and men were able to meet were spaces associated with religious groups and enabled by people of faith, substantial individuals in their own right as the credits in Tony’s book testify.
Tony, like others, maintained his faith even when, given his intelligence and knowledge, he must have known the extent to which prejudice can be anchored in religious belief. We can hope he knew how many would gather to mark his passing in his 81st year. A modest, quiet, hard-working, committed man, co-ordinating, supporting, motivating but also doing.