Exploring the Law
Photo: David Martin
From the very beginning of the project it became apparent that participants and volunteers wanted to know more about the legal status of LGBTQ+ people over time. We commissioned solicitor Joshua Dawson to make a presentation that covered the laws concerning homosexuality from 1533 to the present day. The majority of this legislation was designed to criminalise the activities of men only.
Dawson gave his talk twice during the Legacy of '67 project: once at the LGBT Foundation in August 2022 and again at the closing Symposium in June 2023.
The talk discussed the Buggery Act of 1533, brought in under the reign of king Henry VIII that outlawed male sexual activity and where convictions were punishable by death. It covered the Labouchere Amendment of 1885, where gay men could be sentenced to two years hard labour for acts of 'Gross Indecency' - the law that both Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing were found guilty of breaking - convictions that ultimately led to the death of both men through ill health and suicide respectively.
It outlined the Wolfenden Report (1957) and subsequent partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967 and, paradoxically, the subsequent increase in legal discrimination, as prosecutions for Gross Indecency trebled...
"I ask those [homosexuals] to show their thanks by comporting themselves quietly and with dignity… any form of ostentatious behaviour now or in the future or any form of public flaunting would be utterly distasteful… [And] make the sponsors of this bill regret that they had done what they had done”.
Lord Arran, sponsor of the bill in the lords
It considered the effect of Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 that limited access to information, banning local authorities and schools from intentionally promoting homosexuality, and the effect that this legislation had on young LGBTQ+ people at the time
However, the talk also considered recent progress: it discussed the gradual equalising of there age of consent between men who had sex with men and the rest of the population (1994 & 2000), the introduction of adoption rights (2002) and both Civil Partnerships and then uniform marriage rights (2004 & 2013 respectively).
Dawson finished his lecture by reflecting on the discrimination currently faced by transgender people and the lack of equal rights for this part of our community. Wolfenden recommended, in 1957, that the law did not have role in the consenting sexual activity of consenting adults; he asked:
What - fundamentally - is the role of the state in the private lives of its citizens today?