Monday, 13 February 2017

OUTing The Past

 My notes of an event at the National Archives on 11 February 2017

This year, The National Archives was one of the national hubs for the OUTing the Past: National LGBT History Festival. The speakers at this event were chosen to reflect the TNA’s vast collection (some 11-12 MILLION items are archived there).

Mark Dunton spoke first about the Sexual Offences Act, 1967, which came into force 50 years ago. This topic has been touched upon recently on this blog, but I was able to glean additional insights, thanks to Mark’s excellent talk.

He showed an article from The Sunday Pictorial on 25th May 1952 with a bold headline “Evil Men”. It was not talking about murderers or gangsters, but about homosexual men - whom the article equated with paedophiles, as was par for the course in those times.

The 1950s were a repressive time when homosexuals were at risk of blackmail and there were many high profile prosecutions, including that of Lord Montagu in 1954.

In 1958, the Homosexual Law Reform Society was set up, at least in part because it was clear that the Government had no intention of following the recommendations of the Wolfenden Report, published in September 1957.

In October 1965, an opinion poll (in The Daily Mail of all places) suggested that a large majority of respondents, while still of the view that homosexuals needed psychiatric or medical help, thought that they ought not to be made criminals.

The Sexual Offences Act 1967 was finally passed by a vote of 99-14 (at 5.44am, which may explain the low numbers) and received Royal Assent on 27th July 1967.

Mark noted that the requirement that homosexual acts should take place ‘in private’ was followed strictly by the Police and so prosecutions went on at similar rate as they had before that Act for some time.

In her talk, Sapphic Suffragettes: The key role of lesbians in the fight for Votes for Women, writer Hillary McCollum explored the impact and role of woman loving women in the Suffragette Movement. As always, lesbian history is even more difficult to uncover than gay male history, but she wove a fascinating story about the Pankhursts and their associates.

The Bodyguard were new to me, a group of women trained in jujitsu by Edith Garrud who provided security at rallies and helped suffragettes escape from difficult situations.

So too, Lilian Lenton who was repeatedly arrested for arson and underwent force feeding. Several times she escaped custody or arrest dressed as a man.

Dr Emma Vickers of Liverpool John Moores University spoke about the Dry Your Eyes, Princess exhibition shown last year at the Museum of Liverpool. It was based on her research into the experience of trans* veterans before, during and after life in the armed forces and photographs by Stephen King.

It was interesting to hear that, while the forces are currently very willing to show how supportive they now are, with a number of media-trained personnel able to tell their stories, they are much less willing to discuss previous, much less happy stories.

There followed a break, during which we were able to look at some of the LGBT relevant documents held at the Archive. Then there was a moving performance by some of the TNA’s staff based on the writings of Oscar Wilde during his imprisonment.

In Sex at Sea: Homosexuality and the Royal Navy in the Great War, Dr Laura Rowe of the University of Exeter discussed life at sea during the First World War, where men in the Navy in particular were in a very homosocial environment. She used the term ‘homosex’ to talk about same sex sexual activity between men in a confined environment who might well not be homosexual, but who had no other sexual outlet.

Much of her evidence is from a limited number of discipline cases and courts martial of what were effectively criminal offences. Interestingly, she had found that sexual activity between men of similar rank was frequently ignored, but where there was a large difference in rank or where Boy Seamen (who might be as young as 15) were involved matters were taken far more seriously. Indeed, in the latter instance, the Navy took a very paternalistic view and might treat the older participant very harshly.

She noted also that naval regulations in this area were extremely lengthy and complex and took the view that male rape was not possible. The idea was that no man would submit unwillingly to such disgusting practices.

The final talk was in many ways the most moving - so my notes are annoyingly scant. E-J Scott spoke about the Museum of Transology. This is an exhibition at the Fashion Space Gallery, running until 22nd April 2017. It is a display of trans artefacts of various kinds, provided by individual trans* people, who in some cases felt the exhibition was so important that they donated items of great personal significance.

E-J is hoping to find a place to hold this collection once the exhibition closes.

Queer City

Queer City: London club culture 1918-1967
March 2017

Police raid on a queer venue in Fitzroy Square, 1927; The National Archives, CRIM 1/387
Police raid on a queer venue in Fitzroy Square, 1927; The National Archives, CRIM 1/387
The National Archives and the National Trust have joined forces for a re-creation of The Caravan, a queer-friendly members club of 1934, at Freud Café-Bar, which is on almost the exact spot where the club originally stood..

They will also be running daytime tours of the Soho area, focussing on LGBTQ+ heritage and club culture. There will also be a programme of talks, debates and performances at the venue.

Cover of Past2Present magazine 2010
For more information about the events:

There is an article about The Caravan, based on a National Archives file (MEPOL 3/758), in the 2010 edition of our magazine, Past2Present:

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Gay Men and the Law

There is a long history in Britain of criminal legislation affecting men who have sex with men.

Henry VIII of England (c 1530-35) by
Joos van Cleve; The Royal Collection
1533 The first legislation against homosexuality in England was introduced during the reign of King Henry VIII. The Buggery Act defined the offence as “the detestable and abominable Vice ... committed with mankind or beast” and was the first criminalisation of homosexual activities in the UK. It provided for a maximum sentence of death.

Prior to this, same sex sexual behaviour had been dealt with in the ecclesiastical courts as a crime against the Will of God and against Nature. It was considered so appalling that it was only referred to obliquely, usually along the lines of "peccatum illud horribile, inter Christianos non nominandum", or "that horrible crime not to be named among Christians".

The Buggery Act allowed the death penalty, which meant that the property of anyone executed could be confiscated by the Crown.

The first execution for buggery, along with treason, was of Walter Hungerford, 1st Baron Hungerford of Heytesbury in 1540, although it was probably the treason that cost him his life. Nicholas Udall, a cleric, playwright and Headmaster of Eton College, was the first to be charged with violation of the Act alone in 1541, for sexually abusing his pupils. In his case, the sentence was commuted to imprisonment and he was released in less than a year.

The last execution, on 17 November 1835, was of James Pratt and John Smith, two poor, married men caught in the act in a run-down boarding house in Southwark. Their appeals for clemency were rejected and they were hanged together before a crowd that was ‘excessive, but exceedingly decorous’, according to The Times.

1861 The Offences against the Person Act 1861 (under section 61, ‘Unnatural Offences’) dropped the death penalty. However, you still risked penal servitude for between 10 years to life.

1891 The Penal Servitude Act abolished the minimum penalty for sodomy.

Even then, the social consequences could be so appalling that:-
On 21 November 1891, at Newcastle Assizes (now the Crown Court), George Canham (28) and M Baker (31) were convicted of sodomy with each other and both sentenced by a Judge Wills to 10 years penal servitude. Baker committed suicide by taking poison in the police cell passage immediately after being sentenced.

1885 A late night amendment to the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 (referred to as the Labouchere Amendment, after Henry Labouchere, the man who put it forward) introduced the offence of "gross indecency", which made any remotely sexual act between men a crime. It ensured prosecutions might succeed where sodomy (in this case, specifically anal sex) could not be proved.

Most famously, it was used against Oscar Wilde, who was sentenced to two years' hard labour in 1895, and Alan Turing, who in 1952 agreed to have oestrogen injections (chemical castration) as an alternative to prison.

Oscar Wilde, one of the English language’s literary giants
Alan Turing, genius, mathematician, code
breaker, father of modern computing.

John Wolfenden, later Baron Wolfenden
1954 saw the first meeting of the Wolfenden Committee, commissioned to look into the laws on homosexual offences and prostitution. John Wolfenden, CBE, the chairman, suggested they spare the blushes of the ladies on the committee by referring to homosexuals as ‘Huntleys’ and prostitutes as ‘Palmers’, after the biscuit manufacturers.

Despite some difficulty, the Wolfenden Committee were able to call three homosexual men to give evidence. What they said about the impact of the law on their lives affected the Committee’s recommendations.

1957 The Wolfenden Report, published on 4th September, recommended that "homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence". It said that, "homosexuality cannot legitimately be regarded as a disease, because in many cases it is the only symptom and is compatible with full mental health in other respects." And, "The law's function is to preserve public order and decency, to protect the citizen from what is offensive or injurious, and to provide sufficient safeguards against exploitation and corruption of others... It is not, in our view, the function of the law to intervene in the private life of citizens, or to seek to enforce any particular pattern of behaviour."

It may also have helped that Wolfenden’s son, Jeremy, was homosexual.

1961 The film, Victim, starring Dirk Bogarde as a married, homosexual lawyer, was the first English language film to use the word "homosexual". Even before its release in the US, a news report in The New York Times described it as a political work: "the movie is a dramatized condemnation, based on the Wolfenden Report, of Britain's laws on homosexuality."

Victim became a highly sociologically significant film; many believe it played an influential role in liberalising British attitudes towards homosexuality and made decriminalisation more likely. In retrospect, it is even more remarkable in that several of the actors were either themselves homosexual or closely connected to men who were. Among them were:

  • Dirk Bogarde, who never came out but lived most of his adult life with Anthony Forwood.
  • Alan McNaughton, who was a friend of actor Alec McCowen, who was homosexual.
  • Hilton Edwards, who was partnered to the Irish actor, Micheál Mac Liammóir.
1967 A decade after the publication of the Wolfenden Report, its recommendations were implemented in the Sexual Offences Act 1967. However, it applied only to England and Wales. It is important to note that, to comply with the law, sex had to be between two consenting men aged over 21 and in private. (What constituted ‘private’ was a contentious issue.)

And finally...
2004 The Sexual Offences Act 2003 came into force, removing gay-specific offences and making all sexual offences gender neutral.

This post is based on a set of four posters created on behalf of Merton LGBT+ Forum for a display at Merton Civic Centre and Wimbledon Library during LGBT History Month 2017.

You can download the posters here:
Feel free to use them, if you wish.

Monday, 6 February 2017

LGBT History Month 2017

We're now almost a week into LGBT History Month and, to my shame, this is my first post.

I plan, however, to remedy that by making a number of posts over the next few weeks to celebrate the 2017 theme, PSHE: Citizenship & Law - with special interest in the Law aspect.

There are a number of anniversaries to be celebrated this year. The most salient of them being the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexual acts between men by the Sexual Offences Act 1967 - so long as they were consenting adults, over 21 and in private, obviously.

Coincidentally, in September, 2017 also sees the 60th anniversary of the publication of the Wolfenden Report, whose recommendations were - after 10 long years - adopted in the Sexual Offences Act.

Both anniversaries are splendidly celebrated by the coming into effect of the Policing and Crime Act 2017, which received Royal Assent on 31 January 2017. The Act includes a posthumous pardon for all gay and bi men who were convicted under pernicious laws in the last century that enabled the police to criminalise people for being who they are. This is an important milestone, which will help draw a line under the damage caused to many thousands of lives.

As always, a real fount of information is to be found at
Find them on Facebook: and follow them on Twitter: @LGBTHM.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

LGBT History for Beginners

Last night (10th January), as a taster for LGBT History Month, I presented LGBT History for Beginners to a (thankfully) appreciative audience, who were so engaged that we had a half hour conversation after the presentation finished. Very enjoyable.

As promised, here are links to the slides and my presentation notes:
The slides -
The notes -

Please feel free to use this material and to pass it on to anyone who may be interested.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Past2Present 2016

At last! Much later than we had hoped for, due to ailing IT at the Park household, here is the 2016 edition of Past2Present - the LGBT History Project's annual magazine.

Past2Present 2016 - image of front cover

PLEASE feel free to pass it on to anyone you think might enjoy it. (NB: it's a 12Mb download.)

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Movie Nights

This is a little bit late for tonight's offering, I'm afraid, but there are more to come...

Sutton LGBT Forum, in association with Sutton Central Library, is screening a movie each Thursday evening throughout February to celebrate LGBT History Month.
Each film has been selected for its (admittedly, sometimes quite slender) connection to the 2016 LGBT History Month theme  - Religion, Belief and Philosophy.

Merton LGBT+ Forum is also showing these films on each Friday of February at Mitcham Library.
All are welcome to join us. We may even provide...