50 Years of Decriminalizing Homosexuality
So 50 years ago, 27th July, the Sexual Offences Act 1967 received royal assent, partially decriminalizing homosexuality and starting a long a difficult journey to end discrimination and harassment of LGBT people.
Iwas 17 years old at the time and very much in the closet as a transwoman - and terrified at the thought that I might also be 'homosexual'.It's difficult I think now for people to grasp just how frightening lifewas for all LGBT people back then, in the "Summer of Love." The newsabout the change in law was definitely not received well in my house.
Mid1967 was an amazing time. The Labour Party under Harold Wilson'sLeadership had secured a significant majority in the previous year andwere now actively seeking to bring about social change. The Beatles hadjust released "Sgt. Peppers" heralding a new era in popular music andhippy flower power was transforming youth culture around the world.Britain had also officially applied to join the EEC, later to become theEU, which would become the catalyst for the positive changes in LGBTLaw we all now enjoy.
But before the positive changes in LGBT lawfollowing the election of New Labour, we would still have to experience asevere hardening of negative attitudes. First the Sexual Offences Actof 1976 did not decriminalise homosexuality. The offence of grossindecency, which had resulted in Oscar Wilde's imprisonment, remaineduntil 2003. In fact, as Peter Tatchell has shown, arrests for grossindecency increased by 400% by the mid seventies and remained at thatlevel into the 1990's.
The 1967 Act applied specifically toconsenting gay men, over the age of 21, who engaged in a sexualrelationship 'in private'. Courts interpreted 'in private' very strictlyas meaning 'no one else in the building.' As a result policeaggressively persecuted gay men if they met a partner in a hotel room,which was not considered to be in private. Even simple acts of holdinghands or winking at another man were likely to result in an arrest.
Infact between 1967 and 1997, legislation in the UK made lifeincreasingly difficult for all LGBT people. In 1970 the annulment ofApril Ashley's marriage meant that transpeople could not legally changegender, meaning that many trans women were now treated as men andcharged with gross indecency and sodemy.
During the 80's HIV andAIDs were seen my the conservative government as a 'gay plague' and in1988, motivated by moral panic they enacted Section 28 of the localGovernment Act to make it illegal for the public sector to treathomosexuality as normal. As a result all public education about same sexrelationships ceased until this was finally repealed in 2003.
Youcan perhaps understand from this why the LGBT community is celebratingthis 50th anniversary so enthusiastically. Its not just aboutcelebrating what happened 50 years ago - it is celebrating a 50 yearbattle. The offences of gross indecency and sodemy actually were stillapplicable in Scotland until 2013. Same sex marriage was finally allowedin the same year.
In 2015 over 7000 LGBT people reported hatecrimes. In fact research indicates that over 75% of LGBT people haveexperienced hate crime though 95% of those crimes were never reported.
Celebratingthis 50 year milestone as we have in Hull this past week is great and areminder that we have now won most of the legal battles for equality.However, while changing the law has been difficult, changing attitudesis a much more difficult challenge we still have to win.
About the Author
Founder of the Professional Speaking Association, Rikki Arundel is an Inspirational Keynote Speaker, Coach and Diversity Training Expert who speaks extensively about Sex, Gender