Bray was born in Hunslet, Leeds, to a working-class family. His mother died when he was 12, an event that profoundly affected his relationships. He attended secondary school in Leeds, where he met his lifelong partner Graham Wilson. He attended Bangor University and spent a year at an Anglican seminary before beginning a career in civil service.
Gay rights activism
He became involved with the Gay Liberation Front in the 1970s and actively campaigned for gay rights. His interest in sexual politics influenced his work on history, which culminated in two books. His second book, The Friend, was published posthumously.
The Roman Catholic Caucus of the Gay and Lesbian Christian Movement, of which Bray was a member, instituted a series of Alan Bray Memorial Lectures on Catholic theology and homosexuality. British historians Michael Hunter, Miri Rubin, and Laura Gowing co-edited the book Love, Friendship and Faith in Europe, 1300–1800 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), a collection of essays inspired by Bray's idea of finding some universal component of homosexuality within the experiences of intimacy and friendship without "locating a discourse that identifies persons as homosexual." Nick Rumens's Queer Company: The Role and Meaning of Friendship in Gay Men's Work Lives (Ashgate, 2011), is also inspired by Alan Bray's scholarship.
- Homosexuality in Renaissance England (Gay Men's Press, 1982)
- The Friend (University of Chicago Press, 2002)
- Aldrich, Robert (2000). Who's Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History: From World War II to the Present Day. Psychology Press.
- Gee, Stephen (18 December 2011). "Obituary: Alan Bray". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 July 2012.
- Gowing, Laura; Hunter, Michael; Rubin, Miri (2005). Love, Friendship and Faith in Europe, 1300-1800. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1-4039-9147-2.
- Nick Rumens, Queer Company: The Role and Meaning of Friendship in Gay Men's Work Lives, Ashgate, 2011, p. 29