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18 January 2024

Martine O'Leary - gay liberation activist.

Original: May 2011.

Martine was a member of Leeds Gay Liberation Front and also of the International Marxist Group. In 1974 she was active at the Third Gay Marxist Conference in Leeds and also at the First National TV.TS Conference sponsered by Leeds GLF.

She was mentioned in The Guardian report on the Conference where she was described as
"a radical drag queen at Leeds, says that he buys old dresses from Oxfam shops, wears neither make-up nor substitute breasts, and tries to shake people out of their preconception of what a man is, a woman is, or more important, what he is."

At the conference those in attendence divided into separate discussion groups, but before they dispersed, two documents were handed to each delegate:  "Competition" by Martine O'Leary and "Attitudes to homosexuality" by N S Love (about the Beaument Society's exclusion of gay persons).  It was considered that the content of these documents was so thought provoking and so excellently set down that as time did not permit the use of them as 'Discussion Topics', they should be reproduced in their entirity in the Conference report.

O'Leary in her document wrote:

" The only way in which our society can cope with us is by treating us as products - as entertainers, as drag contest entrants. It has been frequently enough observed that once a transvestite has got past the stage of only being dressed at home and wants to go public, then practically the only possible outlet is some form of participation in a commercialised scene. This, ultimately, is disastrous. I do not say it is disastrous because I am opposed to commercialism. I say it is so precisely because the commercial situation frustrates and inhibits the essence of transvestism. The transvestite pushes out her feelings, and her public situation promptly pushes them back. In the ensuing conflict, humanity starts to flow away."


"Transsexuals, who by their very nature, are forced to break the magic circle of commercialism, find their lives full of harassment and difficulties. It is important to understand that those attacks are defences of the economic system and that defending the economic system entails such attacks.  Transvestites, on this understanding, face the appalling dilemma of 'Shall I stay in the trap or shall I sink in society's hate?' " 

O'Leary also published a 16-page pamphlet that was originally a paper for the London School of Economics Gay Culture Society the same year entitled, Gay Liberation, reformism and revolution.  It is mainly a call to reclaim the revolutionary impetus of GLF which was already in 1974 being replaced by reformist groups such as Gay News and the Campaign for Homosexual Equality(CHE):
"We have to reclalm our movement from the reformists. A large critically aware Gay Movement has to come in to being out of the shambles that is GLF. This aim needs to be energetically pursued both within the existing groups and outside them.  The sort of GLF needed must have a firm social base founded perhaps on discos and so forth.  Most importantly women must play a central, indeed a determining role.  Transvestism and transsexualsm are very much part of the issue whether we like to face up to it or not, and much heightening of consciousness over that could profitably be done."
*not the Montréal choreographer.
  • Michael Parkin. "Mixed Feelings". The Guardian, 4 March 1994. Reprinted as Appendix F(i) of Conference Report: First national TV/TS Conference, Leeds, 1974: 36
  • Conference Report: First national TV/TS Conference. Leeds 1974.  Online.
  • Martine O'Leary. "Competition" included in Conference Report: First national TV/TS Conference:26-8.
  • Martine O'Leary. Gay Liberation, reformism and revolution. LSE-Gay Culture Society. Isophile Pamphlets, 16pp 1974. Online.
  • Richard Ekins & Dave King. The Transgender Phenomenon. London: Thousand Oaks; California: Sage. 2006: 3.
  • Charles Smith.  The Evolution of the Gay Male Public Sphere in England and Wales, 1967-c.1983. PhD Thesis, Loughborough University, 2014: 154. Online.
  • Rob M. "Gay Marxist". Splits and Fusions, July 21, 2023.  Online.

A forgotten pioneer.  I wonder what happened to her?


  1. I organized the conference in 1974. It was held in the students' union of Leeds University and attracted more than 100 people


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