Barry Duke

On this date in 1947, journalist/editor and gay rights activist Barry Duke was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, the eldest child of middle-class parents Sybil and Abe Duke. He grew up in two small towns, and from an early age showed “a strong antipathy toward religion, especially the Calvinist form of Christianity that was used to justify the country’s horrific persecution of people of color during the Apartheid era,” Duke commented in 2022.

He was expelled from the first high school he attended for condemning racial injustices, refusing to sing the national anthem and for sharing anti-religious publications with classmates. He started working as a newspaper journalist in his late teens and several years later landed a job with The Star, a leading daily.

Duke’s left-leaning, anti-Apartheid activism, coupled with censorship battles, led to him being declared a “dangerous undesirable.” Alerted that an arrest warrant was being issued, he left South Africa in 1973 for the UK, where he was granted asylum. A militant atheist, he joined the National Secular Society and was a co-founder in 1979 of the Gay Humanist Group, which changed its name to the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association in 1987.

He started writing in 1974 for The Freethinker, the venerable publication founded by G.W. Foote in 1881, and rose to editor in 1997. He held the position until January 2022, when differences with the editorial board led to his departure. He continued his decade-long writing and editing association with the Pink Humanist and started writing on OnlySky, a secular platform that launched in 2020.

In 2017 Duke was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Secular Society for his “spirited opposition to religious intolerance and irrationality.” He married Marcus Robinson, his longtime partner, in 2017 in Gibraltar and they live in Benidorm, a town along Spain’s seaside Costa Blanca.

Freedom From Religion Foundation