Humanists UK mourns the loss of Derek Lennard, who has died aged 70. A longtime member and former Chair of LGBT Humanists, then known as the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Group (GALHA), Derek was responsible for bringing the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) to the UK – nowadays the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT). He will be sorely missed.
Born in London in 1952, Derek attended Hove Grammar School and the University of Kent. From a Jewish family, Derek recalled his journey towards humanism beginning as a teenager, frustrated at being told not to question what he read in the Torah. The attitudes of his parents also led Derek to conceal his sexuality as a young man.
Derek met the love of his life, Malcolm, in 1990. Raised as a Catholic, Malcolm shared Derek’s experiences of – in Derek’s words – religion’s influence on ‘his ability to be happy and be himself’. Both recognised themselves in humanism. They were pointed in the direction of GALHA by a friend and quickly became active members. Drawn especially by the issues GALHA campaigned on, including fighting the notorious Section 28, it wasn’t long before Derek joined the committee.
Becoming GALHA’s events organiser, Derek combined a love of history with one of culture and performance. Through Fire and Brimstone Productions, he staged shows about famous freethinkers of the past, from Thomas Paine to T.H. Huxley. He was especially drawn to ‘the Great Agnostic’ Robert Ingersoll, around whom he based a number of plays. In a book review for the Gay and Lesbian Humanist in 2000, he quoted Ingersoll approvingly, his philosophy well-reflecting Derek’s own.
I think I had better remain as I am. I had better follow the light of my reason, be true to myself, express my honest thoughts, and do the little I can for the destruction of superstition, the little I can for the development of the brain, for the increase of intellectual hospitality and the happiness of my fellow-beings. One world at a time.
‘Amen to that!’, Derek concluded.
Rightly proud of the rich and varied programme of talks, debates, performances and meetings they held over the years, Derek revelled in the community built through GALHA, and maintained close friendships with many fellow members. This he described as ‘a sort of comradeship of humanism’.
As the first UK coordinator for the International Day Against Homophobia (now the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia), Derek pioneered a commemoration now marked in over 130 countries across the world. In 2006, he and Malcolm travelled to Moscow to attend its first Pride event, co-organised by IDAHO and GayRussia.
Derek and Malcolm celebrated 30 years together in 2020, and Malcolm’s death last year was a devastating loss. Derek devoted many years of his life to championing human rights and fostering a community of inclusiveness and joy. His loss will be keenly felt by many.
Commenting on his death, Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:
‘I worked with Derek on the first IDAHO in the UK and I can truthfully say that when you see the rainbow flag flying now from Government buildings in May of each year, it’s because of him. He never gave up whether in the face of prejudice or indifference, and it was a pleasure to work alongside such a determined activist and to count him a friend. He and Malcolm were widely loved in the humanist movement and all who worked with Derek will feel his loss acutely, but always be grateful for having known him. His name will sit proudly and justifiably on the long and distinguished roll of honour of humanist activists for freedom and equality.’
For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.
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