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.