Thursday, 24 May 2018

30 years ago today

Thirty years ago to this very day, Section (or Clause) 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 (which amended the Local Government Act 1986 by adding Section 2A) came into effect in England, Wales and Scotland.

It stated that a local authority "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship".

One of the most perniciously anti-LGBT pieces of legislation in recent UK history, it was repealed on 21 June 2000 in Scotland by the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Act 2000, one of the first pieces of legislation enacted by the new Scottish Parliament, and on 18 November 2003 in the rest of the UK by section 122 of the Local Government Act 2003.

The law's existence caused many groups to close or limit their activities or self-censor. For example, a number of lesbian, gay and bisexual student support groups in schools and colleges across Britain were closed owing to fears by council legal staff that they could breach the act. These fears were never tested in a court of law.

The LGBT communities realised the impact this law was likely to have on LGBT people, and in particular on young LGBT people, so they began to campaign against it. One of the most memorable events took place on 23rd May 1988, the night before Section 28 came into law, when a group of lesbian activists invaded a BBC TV News studio just as it began a broadcast. This links to a BBC World Service item about that:

Anti-Section 28 demonstration 1988

Deny Clause 28 banner London 1988
Repeal action in London c1998 - Bus painted pink
Theresa May in newspaper article pre-2003 affirming support for Section 28

This link includes links to the material I used for a presentation on the history of Section 28:
Sue Sanders's ex[erience as a lesbian teacher during the Section 28 years:

Thursday, 27 July 2017

A legislative landmark

Fifty years ago today the Sexual Offences Act 1967 received Royal Assent and it passed into UK law.

Despite its limitations, this was a legal landmark. While it only PARTIALLY decriminalised male-male sex, it did largely put a stop to the 'Blackmailer's Charter' that was the law up to that point. (The 1961 film, Victim, starring Dirk Bogarde, shows how that worked. It was also the first English language film to use the word 'homosexual'.)

It is important to make clear that decriminalisation was partial, because the new law imposed quite strong restrictions of sex between men. It had to take place between two consenting adults in private. That may at first sight seem logical, but most of that was different than for heterosexual sex.
  • 'Two' - and only two. Group sex for men only remained illegal in and of itself. In theory, group sex involving a mix of sexes was not a crime.
  • 'Consenting' - well, duh!
  • 'Adults' - here the bar was set high. Homosexual men were not considered capable of adulting until they reached 21, as compared to the heterosexual age of consent of 16.
  • 'In private' - section 1(2) of the Act made it clear that a homosexual act was not 'in private' if "more than two persons take part or are present". This is the provision that put a stop on gay orgies. The actual meaning of 'private' was quite tricky. For example, am I in private in my own bedroom in my own home, if a friend is staying over and using the spare room?
In addition to that, this Act only applied to England and Wales - UNLESS you were a member of the Armed Forces or were in the Merchant Navy, all of which were excluded.

The other parts of the UK took varying lengths of time to catch up - Scotland 1980, Northern Ireland 1982, Guernsey 1983, Jersey 1990, the Isle of Man 1992. Some overseas territories didn't catch up until 2001!

So, let's celebrate this landmark in UK LGBT history but remember also that it was an incomplete victory in 1967.


Previous posts:
Looks at the start of criminalisation -

"Not many badgers in the House of Lords."

This link is to an article from 2013 in The Warrington Guardian. It gives the response of then 81 year old James Daniels to the vote on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill - "I never thought I would see it in my lifetime." Then, perhaps more interestingly, he goes on to talk about his experience over 60 years ago as a young gay man who was arrested for being  homosexual.

In these posts there are links to slides and notes for my LGBT in Justice presentation which traces the main LGBT-related UK legislation:

And finally, from one of the poster sets I put together to help Merton LGBT+ Forum celebrate LGBT History Month this year:

Sunday, 23 July 2017

More on Polari

Yesterday (22nd July 2017), I gave a 20 minute presentation on Polari - a favourite topic - at the A Step Forward? event held by the National Archives to mark the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967.
Me in full flow

Speakers included:
  • Sammy Sturgess on the lives of gay men in the 1950s-60s;
  • Dr Caroline Derry on the invisible women of Wolfenden - gay women are barely mentioned in the Wolfenden Report but there's lots of evidence that they were consulted by the Committee in the National Archives;
  • Mark Dunstan on the impact of the Act;
  • Me (Chris Park) on Polari as a form of social camouflage;
  • Dan Glass on Queer Tours of London and modern activism; and last but definitely not least
  • Jeffrey Weeks on the legacy of the 1967 Act.
The feedback from the attendees was gratifying positive. :o)

Here are the slides and my speaking notes for my part:
We also got our friends at the National Archives to print out a few copies of my 'pocket dictionary of Polari', so here's that file too:

Feel free to share, if you know someone who would be interested.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

A History of UK LGBT Law

On Tuesday 11th July, I gave a presentation for South London Gays.

"LGBT in Justice" is a short talk, tracing the main changes to UK law, starting with Henry VIII in 1533 to the present day, that affect LGBT+ people. The main target has tended to be male-male same sex behaviour, but there are a few other interesting items along the way. For instance, did Queen Victoria really not believe in Lesbians? To be honest, I have no idea, However, look for the item from 1921...

If you're interested in reading a bit more, you can download my speaking notes from OneDrive here:!AmNn5dfpgGQng4d7EikjeYvoYkjMZg

This talk is based on a PowerPoint presentation. You can download the original slides here:!AmNn5dfpgGQng4d89u1RA37R2rmxGQ
The 1921 item is on on slide 7 and 8. 

I should also make a disclaimer at this point: The presentation does not pretend to include every possible law that affects LGBT+ people. It does try, however, to hit the lowlights and the highlights.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Worldwide Law

This post gives a (very!) brief overview of the present state of law world-wide with respect to LGBT people. To explore in more detail, see the links at the foot of the post.

Same sex acts are LEGAL in 121 States - that is, in 63% of UN States.

However, that sometimes needs a caveat. For example, there are no legal provisions in

Egypt that outlaw same-sex sexual activity. However, this is really just a technical distinction because such activity, and related expression, is outlawed under other laws. Also, there is a morality or ‘public decency’ law in place in Bahrain that could be interpreted to include LGB and trans persons: it states,
Every person who entices a male or a female to commit acts of immorality or prostitution or assists in such acts in any manner whatsoever shall be liable for a prison sentence.

On the other hand, in September 2015, a new Constitution of Nepal came into force that comprehensively includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

Same sex acts are ILLEGAL in 72 States - 37% of UN States. In about half of these States, the law applies equally to women.

Although Iraq’s Penal Code does not specify same-sex behaviour, Iraq is included here because the rule of law is in disarray and non-State actors (militias and local Sharia judges) target those known/perceived to be LGBT+ with extreme penalties.

Same sex relations have been considered by the Courts of India several times recently. In 2009, the Delhi High Court found that section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (which deals with same sex relations) violated an individual's fundamental rights to equality before the law. However in 2013, the Indian Supreme Court overturned the ruling. In 2015 and 2016, two private member's bills for decriminalisation were soundly rejected. In 2016, the Supreme Court agreed to reconsider its 2013 judgment; it said it would refer petitions to abolish Section 377 to a five-member constitutional bench, which would conduct a comprehensive hearing of the issue.

In Qatar, Sharia Law runs parallel with the Penal Code and its anti-LGBT provisions are applied.

The DEATH PENALTY is used or available in 13 States or parts thereof; 6% of UN States. It is invariably codified under Sharia.

  • It is available but not known to be implemented for same-sex behaviour specifically in Afghanistan, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
  • It is implemented country wide in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen.
  • It is implemented provincially in 12 northern states in Nigeria and the southern parts of Somalia.
  • It is implemented by local courts/vigilantes/ non-State actors in Asia: Iraq and Daesh/ISIS-held territories in northern Iraq and northern Syria.

Thanks to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA):
Carroll, A., State Sponsored Homophobia 2016: A world survey of sexual orientation laws: criminalisation, protection and recognition (Geneva; ILGA, May 2016).

ILGA also provides a set of downloadable maps showing this information at

See also

Friday, 24 February 2017

The Trans Effect

It has always interested me that the first people in the LGBT+ communities to benefit from positive legislation, rather than punitive, were trans* people.

The Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999 extended the protections of the Sex Discrimination Act to those trans people who were intending to live, or who were living permanently in their preferred gender role, though they had to be under medical supervision.

Later, the Sex Discrimination (Amendment of Legislation) Regulations 2008 extended protection against discrimination in the provision of goods, services, housing and facilities.

For the more geeky among us, you can see the text of the Regulations here:

These regulations, as well as the Act they amended, were eventually replaced by the Equality Act 2010.

And, of course, in the meantime the, admittedly flawed, Gender Recognition Act 2004 came into force. GIRES has a good explanation of the Act here:

However, by the Trans Effect, I refer to two cases that had an impact on case law long before 1999 and which affected the lives of many trans* people for years after.

THE FIRST CASE involves Sir Ewan Forbes (1912–1991), who was able in 1952 to legally
reassign as male, getting his birth certificate changed. Forbes referred to being assigned as female at birth as "a ghastly mistake". He also said, "I was carelessly registered as a girl in the first place, but of course, that was forty years ago ... the doctors in those days were mistaken, too ... I have been sacrificed to prudery, and the horror which our parents had about sex."

Craigievar Castle
This caused a huge family row about who would inherit the vast estate and title (Baronet of Craigievar). The estate could only be inherited by sons; as his three elder brothers had all died, the estate was due to go to a male cousin.

There was a bitter, but very private legal battle, which Sir Ewan eventually won, though it was appealed right to the then Home Secretary, James Callaghan. The details of the case were never fully known as the matter was kept highly secret, to avoid 'bringing the family name into disrepute', even though it was considered a major legal precedent.

Sir Ewan died in 1991, survived by his wife, Isabella, Lady Forbes. The estate and title passed to his cousin John, who had originally mounted the legal challenge in the 1960s.,_11th_Baronet
National Archives of Scotland, ref. CS258/1991/P892
Lady Forbes's obituary gives more information about their long and happy marriage:

THE SECOND CASE involves a somewhat more familiar name, April Ashley.

When she married the Honourable Arthur Corbett in 1963, it seems unlikely that she could have imagined that just over six years later, in February 1970, the judgment in her divorce hearing would impact on trans people for many years.

It must be said that Corbett was under no illusion about April’s history - she had sold her story to The News of the World in 1962. However, when her husband decided to divorce her and to avoid paying maintenance, suddenly her past was very important.
Mr Justice Ormrod determined that April was not legally a woman at the time of her marriage, which was therefore a nullity.

Prior to this, it was relatively easy for trans people to change their birth certificate (unofficially) and marry. Now the validity of every marriage involving a trans person became suspect and subject to nullification, and the ‘unofficial’ changing of a trans person’s birth certificate was ceased.

Only the Gender Recognition Act 2004 changed this - and then only for those who married in their true gender.

This part of the post is adapted from When is a marriage not a marriage?, Past2Present 2010, page 35; see:
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 poster for this topic here:
Feel free to use them, if you wish.

Also - this post is my 200th! Hurrah!!

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Lesbians and the Law

There is a widely held belief that the main reason that lesbians were never made subject to the criminal law in the way that homosexual men were is that Queen Victoria refused to believe that such things could occur between women.

In fact, we have been unable to find any evidence at all to substantiate that. However…

In 1921, Parliament considered the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, which proposed that the offence of Gross Indecency created by the now infamous Labouchere Amendment should be extended to cover same-sex behaviour between women:

The House of Commons passed the measure, but it failed in the House of Lords.

The Bill did not fail because their Lordships were stout defenders of lesbian rights - far from it…

“You are going to tell the whole world that there is such an offence, to bring it to the notice of women who have never heard of it, never thought of it, never dreamed of it.”  
Earl of Desart

The Earl of Malmesbury also had a great deal to say on the matter:
“My Lords, I am extremely sorry to raise a discussion upon what must be, to all of us, a most disgusting and polluting subject. ... this disgusting subject ... in passing a clause of this sort you are going to do a great deal more harm than good. You are going enormously to increase the chance of blackmail without in the slightest degree decreasing the amount of this vice. ... The more you advertise vice by prohibiting it the more you will increase it.”

He clearly knew that blackmail was a real problem for homosexual men, and therefore would likely be so for homosexual women, adding to crime rather than controlling it. He also realised that obtaining evidence to prove the offence would be 'so imperfect that no jury will convict'.

Indeed, some Members of the Commons had wanted to ignore it, in the hope that it would go away:

“There are only three ways of dealing with perverts.  The first is the death sentence… The second is to… lock them up… The third way is to leave them entirely alone, not notice them, not advertise them. That is the method that has been adopted in England for many hundred years, and I believe that is the best method now…”
Lieutenant-Colonel Moore-Brabazon

Colonel Josiah Wedgewood was horrified at the idea that the House would pass the Clause, because it was 'a beastly subject' and was 'being better advertised by the moving of this clause than in any other way'.

They were wrong, of course. Even though the Bill failed, it didn’t go away.

Rebecca Jennings, 2007, A Lesbian History of Britain
Oram & Turnbull (eds), Parliamentary Debates [House of Commons] Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 167


1. Labouchere Amendment - see for a brief description.

2. 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 poster for this topic here:
Feel free to use them, if you wish.