The Church of England, Homosexual Law Reform, and the Shaping of the Permissive Society, 1957–1979
HIV and AIDS in the United Kingdom
Section 28: What was Margaret Thatcher's controversial law and how did it affect the lives of LGBT+ people?
The Terror and Prejudice of the 1980s Aids Crisis Remembered by a Gay Man who Lived Through It
A timeline of LGBTQ communities in the UK
The AIDS epidemic’s lasting impact on gay men
Miners and LGBT activists who inspired hit film Pride reunite
Roland Emmerich: gay rights drama Stonewall needed 'straight-acting' hero
All the anti-gay and lesbian stances Theresa May has taken in her political career
CHRISTANIA: Hello, I’m Christania, the girl with the big hair
ALEXIS: I’m Alexis, lost in the middle, too old to be a twink, too young for daddy status - and welcome back to Qmmunity...in today’s episode, we are going to be doing a Cher, turning back time and looking at our history
CHRISTANIA: History was not my favourite subjects at school but maybe that’s because learning about World War Two was not my idea of stimulating. But as I’ve got older I’ve learnt the importance of knowing about the past to light the way for the future. History teaches us that we as human beings have come along way and made great strides.
ALEXIS: I on the other hand was a total nerd and loved history - I think it’s important for us to look back, to understand where we’ve come from, it might just tell us a bit about who we are.
The 1950s - the second world war was over and with it rationing was coming to an end. This saw the nation’s pallets change, but it wasn’t all peace. Britain was defeated in their fight over the Suez Canal as its empire slowly faded away, and The Cold War gripped both sides of the Atlantic, threatening nuclear war. On our shores, the Windrush generation not only started to build their lives in Britain but also helped rebuild the post-war destruction the UK still bore. In 1953, a 25 year old Queen Elizabeth the Second was coronated. The 50s, were the last years of black & white before the booming technicolour revolution of the swinging 60s.
CHRISTANIA: It was never illegal for two women to engage in same-sex acts - rumoured to be because of Queen Victoria’s refusal to believe that any women would engage in “such unladylike behaviour”. But not all of us were this fortunate. In the 1950s, being trans was cruelly classed as a mental illness and it was still illegal to be gay and break anti-sodomy laws- punishable by a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
ALEXIS: What was then known as The Buggery Act, was an archaic law brought in by Henry VIII in 1533, as a way of targeting the Catholic Church, stealing its wealth and breaking its hold over Britain as he sought to form his own church. It made sexual acts between consenting men punishable by death until 1861 in England and Wales, and 1887 in Scotland. But it wasn’t decriminalised, punishment was downgraded to imprisonment. Oscar Wilde’s trial for homosexual acts, then referred to as gross indecency, is one of the most famous cases, as he was jailed and sentenced to two years’ forced hard labour - eventually lead to his death. Persecution for homosexual acts increased after the end of the second world war and into the 50s. In 1954, there over 1,000 men across England and Wales, serving an average 37 years imprisonment for having engaged in same-sex acts. But the tide, slowly, began to turn.
CHRISTANIA: After a string of high profile men, including Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, were convicted of homosexual offences, the government commissioned The Report of the Department Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution...better known as The Wolfenden report, named after its chairman Sir John Wolfenden. the next voice you’ll hear is Dr Benno Gammerl, lecturer at Goldsmiths University on the world’s only Masters in Queer History...here, he describes how the political tide began to turn and LGBTQ rights first came through...
BENNO: There was a parliamentary committee to discuss how to reform the law on sexual behaviour, um, the penal law on prostitution and on homosexuality specifically that started in the 1950s already. So the famous Wolfenden committee and the report, and there was connections to actually to the Anglican church played an important role yet, right? I mean, you find unexpected allies. From a Christian position, it would be wrong to punish if you accept that same sex desire is not something that you kind of proves your morally wrong or you took a wrong decision, but it's just something you're born with. Then it would be wrong to marginalised stigmatised people from a Christian position. And then of course, middle class, same sex desiring man who had been gathering, who had kind of the homosexual law reform society who kind of tried to act as a kind of a lobby group, a pressure group, and then prepared material to go into that parliamentary committee discussion. So it's not that it's completely secret. It's kind of. I always liked that notion of something that was visible, but not everybody saw it. Right? It's not that it was not there, but there was often very sophisticated codes that made sure that those people who were supposed to see it, were able to see it. One thing of course is they would not publicly admit it was important for them to state again and again that they take an interest in these questions but not because it concerns them personally, but because you know, kind of the Christian argument or the legal argument about that illiberal stage should not interfere into what people do in their bedrooms. But very few of those people would publicly admit that they nourished same sex desires or that they live together with the same sex partner.
ALEXIS: As Dr Gammerl mentioned, one difficulty that the Wolfenden Report encountered was finding people to speak on its behalf, and to give evidence. Eventually, three gay men, two of which had their identities anonymised and protected, gave evidence to the committee. Their testimony was fundamental to the eventual recommendations of the report which was that “homosexual behaviour between consenting adults, in private, should no longer be a criminal offence” - for the first time a government body was on our side, and the report added “homosexuality cannot legitimately be regarded as a disease, because in many cases it is the only symptom and is compatible with full mental health”. For the first time in British public life, a government body had spoken out on our side...years later, it was revealed that Sir John Wolfenden’s son, Jeremy Wolfenden, was gay...perhaps the love that one father felt for his son, was behind the start of our civil rights.
CHRISTANIA: That was 1957, and it still took a decade for the findings of the report to be enacted. But in 1967, the Labour Government took action and brought the Sexual Offences Act to the statute book. Earlier, Dr Gammerl mentioned the support of the Anglican Church being fundamental in this change. At the time, the church still held a lot of political and social power, it was considered to be the moral guardian of the nation, and to what might surprise many listeners now, they were in fact vocal supporters. Their allieship, allowed British politicians to openly support the Sexual Offences Act and the Labour Government to push through this act of equality, the bill finally received royal assent on 27th of July, 1967. Homosexual acts, were no longer illegal in England and Wales...Scotland followed in 1980, and Northern Ireland in 1982.
A: I don’t know about you...but my mind was slightly blown that the church was an important ally and lobbied for this to happen. As with all things...the history books and dates of legislation don’t tell the full story. As legendary LGBTQ rights campaigner Peter Tatchell points out, after the partial-decriminalisation of homosexuality, an estimated 15,000-20,000 gay and bisexual men were convicted of crimes related to homosexuality, because 1967 was only the partial decriminalisation. The anti-gay laws that remained were policed more aggressively and police and state persecution followed.
The journey from oppression to emancipation is always a long process - the change in law in 1967 was progress, but it wasn’t perfect. Gay sex remained prosecutable unless it took place in strict privacy, which meant in a person’s own home, behind locked doors and windows, with the curtains drawn and with no other person present in any part of the house. This meant it continued to be a crime if more than two men had sex together - which, side note obviously, leaves out a whole load of potential for fun - it was also illegal if other people were anywhere else in the same house, and banned the photography and filming by a third person. People were still prosecuted and convicted up until the late 1990s.
CHRISTANIA: Elsewhere in the world, The Mattachine Society, a collective formed to improve and protect the rights of gay men and women had begun to affect change. It was this movement, started by a collection of Communist activists that eventually spread across the United States, this began the organisation of queer civil rights in America. On June 28th, 1969, as patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village, danced and drank - they were forcibly raided by the New York Police Department.
ALEXIS: You could say...the NYPD tried to shut down the party…and it backfired.
CHRISTANIA: The Stonewall Inn, then owned by the mafia, was home to many at the fringes of society - its gay and lesbian patrons rubbed shoulders with drag queens, and trans people. It’s worth noting that unlike many other places throughout America at the time, it was racially integrated and served a multi-ethnic clientele. The most famous of these, the legendary Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans woman, is renowned as being the first to fight back - throwing her high heel at a police officer.
BENNO: Great significance is of course that moment in the late sixties, early seventies when the gay liberation movement started and significant for one because it's remembered the stone wall as that watershed. Gay Pride as commemorating this event, and there's nothing wrong with commemorating heroic moments.So if you look at Stonewall, one thing for example that's interesting is that it's not the first protest, it's not really. People think it's the first time that gay stood up against police harassment. It happened before, but it's this particular moment that got so much attention and that's very, very good reason because it's a protest that dragged on for a couple of days and that kind of drew protests from other groups as well. It's also a moment when there was other movements around, where solidarity happened, the feminist movement, the civil rights movement, the black movement where different groups came together and shared that protest and that gave stone wall that importance that it has. And another fact, which is often overlooked, is the presence of transgender people and Lesbians in that event. Right? It's often commemorated as a gay event, but it was a much more diverse group of people who gathered the courage to resist police violence.
CHRISTANIA: As Dr Gammerl points out, Stonewall wasn’t the first protest or riot for LGBTQ rights...but the way that it sparked solidarity from other groups, who stood together, was what made it different this time. The fact that the Stonewall Inn had catered to a vast variety of different people, from different backgrounds, ethnicities and walks of life, meant that they found a greater range of allies to support them.
ALEXIS: In 2015 a film about the stonewall riots was released...and quickly panned by *everybody*. Outrageously, it had entirely re-written the events of the night and erased queer people of colour, relegating the Marsha P. Johnson to a background character, and replacing her with a masc4masc straight acting white lead because, to quote the director Roland Emmerich “heterosexual audiences would struggle to empathise”. No surprise...the central character was even played by a straight actor.
CHRISTANIA: Sounds like Hollywood to be honest. Queer people of colour have always been erased from the history books. Heroes like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera should be celebrated, respected and thanked.
ALEXIS: In November of 1970, the first London gay march was held with 150 gay men marching. But it was 1972, on the 1st of July - so chosen because it was the nearest Saturday to the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, some 2,000 people marched through the streets of London for the first UK Gay Pride Rally. Demonstrators lined the streets, with the public heckling those first brave Pride marchers, and the police were not there as protectors...but as oppressors. In Sydney Australia, the first pride parade took place in 1978 and similarly, the LGBTQ people who took to the street were beaten and harassed by police, their names printed in the morning press to shame them.
CHRISTANIA: It was the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), who were the radical new face of queer civil rights campaigning - publishing its manifesto that called on, and challenged, gay people to come out of the closet and begin to address on mass the ways that the LGBTQ population was repressed. In 1972 it successfully launched the Gay News - a bi-weekly newspaper that reported on discrimination and campaigned for civil change. Unfortunately...the GLF was disbanded in 1973, after different fighting factions, each striving for its own voice to be heard, meant that consensus was impossible and it fell short of achieving its aims. However, it left a lasting impact and other groups sprung up as it fell. One such group to come from the GLF, was The Gay Black Group, who met regularly at former GLF headquarters, iconic home of British Civil Rights - Gays The Word Bookshop. Here, the GBG regularly met, and in 1985 they received funding from the Greater London Council to open a community centre for QPOC, which remained active until the 1990s.
ALEXIS: But before we skip too far ahead - let’s quickly round off the 1970s.
1972 also saw the first issue of Sappho magazine published, its aim was the educate about the true facts of lesbianism and women’s causes & feminism. Side note...in case you hadn’t clocked it...the magazine is named after Sapphos, she was an ancient greek poet who lived around 570 BC, yeah, almost 3,000 years ago. She was famed for her romantic and erotic poetic compositions about women...she came from the island of Lesbos, and this is where the terms sapphic and lesbian are derived from. Sadly...because history is homophobic and patriarchal, not much of her writing has survived as much of it was destroyed.
CHRISTANIA: In 1977 the first gay and lesbian Trades Union Congress was formed, and they held a conference to discuss workplace rights for lesbian and gay men and women, and the ways to secure these rights. Remember, at this time, anybody could be fired - or not hired - because of their sexuality. It wasn’t until 2003 that the Employment Equality Regulation came in, which was the first time that LGBTQ members of staff were protected from discrimination in the workplace.
In the first steps towards trans visibility, 1979 saw a bold new documentary, A Change of Sex, aired on BBC2. It followed the transition and journey of Julia Grant, who talked candidly about being a Transwoman, her life and experiences. This was the first time for many people in Britain that they would have seen a trans person telling their story.
ALEXIS: And then it happened. In 1981, a man in his late forties was admitted to Brompton Hospital, London, suffering from a mysterious new illness that doctors did not understand. Ten days later, he died. Not that is was known then, but the HIV and AIDS crisis was starting. It’s hard for those of us born after to quite comprehend what it must have been like. Originally...it was known as GRID...Gay Related Immune Disease. With the labelling of the illness as a “gay plague” - new homophobia ran riot in politics, on the streets and in the media raged for most of the decade. Gay men report at the time medical professionals refusing to touch them or even be in the same room as them, people would refuse to drink out of a glass if a gay man had used it. Instead of the wider, heterosexual society extending compassion and understanding...gay men were treated as plague carriers, shunned and targeted. Famously Princess Diana was pictured shaking the hands of AIDS patients without gloves - a move that helped to slowly started to change attitudes.
BENNO: I mean, I can think about it in terms of a huge potential forequeer history that was just cut off at that moment and I can say that it was such a tremendous personal tragedy for people and it must have been a huge challenge. Some of those people were themselves HIV positive and back then they didn't know why they survived. They survived and saw that more and more of their friends were dying, dying, dying, dying. I think that's one of the reasons why it's also still impossible to really get our heads around what happened there. I think that is a tremendously important, a moment, and in a way it's also, you can say that in almost a perverse way it contributed to more visibility and in the end when it was clear that there would be kind of possibilities to deal with um, aids, HIV, that there is also kind of act now I can't say positive effects, right? But there is definitely a part of queer history, important, crucial and difficult if not impossible to understand moment.
ALEXIS: So you said that she thought that the HIV and AIDS crisis has had a big impact on our modern queer identity. What does that impact?
BENNO: Things seem to be changing for the better and there was so much going on going forward and that is the moment when HIV aids hits. So there is this unavoidability of the thought that it's not that easy. And then of course it came also with a lot of homophobia. So all kinds of, you know, the, the not quite forgotten yet memories of stigmatisation, marginalisation, pathologisation, gay people were, again, they were the sick ones, the ones you have to avoid, the ones he didn't want to have in the family. All these stories about what happened in hospitals that people were not allowed to visit their friends, you know, kind of really dreadful things. It was all back and worse than before, but then at the same time it also shows, and I think that's probably then my third level that if you find political allies, if you find strategies to deal with an issue, you can find ways even with such difficult things to make them at least a bit more bearable to live through them, to survive them. And that can strengthen the movement. It can strengthen activism. Actually the forms of activism we still employ today, date back to exactly that period, to that kind of crucial death or life struggle against HIV and aids.
CHRISTANIA: While the HIV & AIDS crisis was beyond a doubt a horrifying and tragic experience for those alive at the time, and a memory that our community must always pay respect to - it did bring with it a new sense of urgency, solidarity, power and outrage for our civil rights movement and organisation. We were radicalised, and went on the offensive. The brave men and women who lived through this time refused to give up, and queer life exploded and took off in many positive ways. Marc Thompson touched on this during our second live panel.
MARC: It's been peaks and troughs in the early days of the epidemic. We live in a time of absolute fear and terror, so I completely understand why people freaked out, but I also understand that again, it unified our community in an amazing way and we were talking earlier how many of gay men's lesbian sisters came along the nurse, the sick and the dying and made sure that we had good, decent healthcare and we fought together. That led to the fight for, against clause 28 where we came together as a community.
ALEXIS: In 2014, a brilliant British film named Pride came out. It told the story of how a group of queer activists, named Lesbians and Gays Support The Miners raised money, in an act of solidarity, to support a small welsh mining town as they took part in the 1984 national miners strike. They did so realising that just as LGBTQ people were being targeted by the Thatcher lead government and harassed by police, so too were working class mining communities around the country. It’s an important part in our history, often overlooked, because in in the midst of the AIDS crisis, 1985’s gay pride was lead by a large group of Welsh Miners, in thanks and return of the solidarity extended by LGSM. The same year, LGBTQ rights were enshrined in the Labour Party manifesto thanks to the approval of one key union...the national union of mineworkers. Sadly, of the original seventeen members of LGSM...8 had died of AIDS before seeing this result. As mentioned, this important story in our history is available in film - its funny, beautiful and touching, and available on DVD or for streaming on Netflix - watch it...but have some tissues handy, because I bawl every time I watch it.
CHRISTANIA: A progressive piece of children’s literature, Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin - written by Danish author Susanne Bosche, was the first piece of english language literature to discuss same-sex parenting...and it did so in a positive light. True to its fashion...the Daily Mail launched a national campaign against it, after one local library had stocked the book on its shelves. The Daily Mail used this as another way to attack LGBTQ people, and its campaign lead to the imposition of the infamous Section 28 clause. Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative government enacted the ban that forbade local councils from supporting LGBTQ people, providing them services, and education materials were censored of any content relating to the LGBTQ identity. But with every move against us...there was a counter protest movement by the now highly active & political queer populace. In direct response to section 28, actor Sir Ian McKellen came out on national radio during a debate on the issue, and along with others, in 1989 he founded Stonewall, along with Lisa Power and Lord Michael Cashman.
ALEXIS: The nineties arrived, and with it a new era of LGBTQ identity, politics and culture. Medications had finally begun to work and HIV was no longer an imminent death sentence. The first Lesbian and Gay Police association was formed, and began to change the working of a formerly homophobic body. The age of consent for gay men was reduced from 21 to 18...slowly fighting the prejudiced notion that all gay men were sexual predators. Again, no mention of sexual relations between women made it to the statute books. Tired of being erased and invisible, the London Lesbian Avengers were founded who rallied against lesbian invisibility and campaigned for Sandi Toksvig who had been dropped from work after publicly coming out in 1994. 1994 saw the ground breaking and eye opening Queer As Folk hit screens in the UK - its candid and emotional portrayal of gay and lesbian men & women beamed into homes around the country. It was around the same time that the term “pink pound” was coined, and gay men and women were first seen as an audience worth marketing towards. Years of fear changed, a new government came into power, and it didn’t only feel like things could only get better...but that they were.
CHRISTANIA: A new Millennium arrives, and in October 2000 the Scottish government abolished the destructive Section 28 with a landslide vote of 99 to 17 (and two abstentions). The same was attempted by Tony Blair’s government, but was sadly defeated and it wasn’t until 2003 that they were successful in their campaigning. It’s undeniable that the Iraq War was a shameful stain on the Blair years of government, but in this time LGBTQ rights progressed at a rate never seen before as Labour pushed forward LGBTQ equality. In 2001 the ban on LGB people serving in the armed forces was overthrown, and the age of consent was finally equalised for gay and bisexual men, reaching equality with their heterosexual counterparts. 2002 brought equal adoption rights for same sex couples...it’s worth noting that our current Prime Minister, Theresa May, voted against this bill.
ALEXIS: In one of his final acts as Prime Minister, Tony Blair brought in our first steps towards Equal Marriage with the introduction of the Civil Partnership act of 2004. We weren’t allowed equal marriage yet, as the church and conservative party claimed the state did not have the right to “redefine marriage” - and so, we were given our own version. While it was a step forward, it firmly labelled us as other as it was then not available for heterosexual people.
CHRISTANIA: As the noughties came to a close, a change of prime minister from Blair to Brown and the global financial crisis loomed, but amidst all this, in 2008 same-sex couples were legally recognised as the parents of children conceived through the use of donated sperm, eggs or embryos.
ALEXIS: Austerity gripped Britain, 2010 started a hard new decade as spending cuts affected LGBTQ service providers and charities harder than any other sector or specialist group, and saw the closure of vital support networks and withdrawal of services. However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Under David Cameron’s premiership, who made a public apology for the damage and harm caused by Section 28, the Conservative party attempted to catch up on LGBTQ rights. They brought in the Equality Act in 2010, which was the widest ranging piece of anti-harassment legislation to date - it enshrined equal treatment to public and private services, as well as employment, regardless of age, disability, gender, race, religion and sexual orientation….two loop holes though...religious institutions were still allowed to refuse same-sex marriages, and the act sadly does not apply in Northern Ireland.
CHRISTANIA: The number of LGB people entering into civil partnerships far out-stripped forecasted numbers, and in 2013 the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act was heard before parliament. When the votes came, it was passed with a vote of 400 in favour, and 175 against. Awkwardly for David Cameron, who had introduced it to parliament to show his Conservative party had progressed and moved with the times, that they were no longer the “nasty party” - more conservative MPs voted against the bill than in favour of our equal rights.
ALEXIS: In 2017, the Alan Turing Law was heard and implemented - it was a formal pardon for historic criminal convictions related to anti-gay laws in England and Wales, and thousands of wrongly criminalised gay men had their criminal convictions overturned. It was so named after Alan Turing, god father of modern computing, breaker of the enigma code, and gay man who had been convicted of ‘gross indecency’ - aka sexual intercourse with another man - and was forcibly chemically castrated as punishment, he received a posthumous royal pardon in 2013.
CHRISTANIA: And where are we now? As we approach 2019, and with it another decade draws to an end, we enter into a time of uncertainty in national and global politics. Brexit looms, nobody knows what it will entail, but Amnesty International are already warning that it poses a threat to LGBTQ rights in Britain.
ALEXIS: And that, at speed, is a very rough approximation of some of the last 51 years of our queer history. Obviously, each of these topics that we’ve touched on could spawn its own separate podcast - and we really recommend you to get reading, get watching and talk about our history. Christania - what’re you going to learn more about?
CHRISTANIA: I have recently made it my personal mission to learn everything there is about black LGBTQ history as it relates to the UK. I actually tweeted this thought a few days ago and received some incredible responses. I’m holding myself accountable by putting it out into the universe. I really want to learn about the black LGBTQ movements in the UK and how those pioneers affected change in the UK. How about you Lex?
ALEXIS: Because I’m a history nerd...I want to take it way back, to the classical era of the celts, vikings, romans and greeks and learn more about same sex desire and relationships from those eras. Also...as much as I am a nerd...we might have missed some things out, or gotten something a bit wrong, this is a learning process for us as much as it is for you, so please - get involved with the conversation and tell us - what do you find most interesting about queer history?
CHRISTANIA: For transcripts, full episodes and our ever expanding Get Involved section, you can get in touch with us with on the socials @QMMUNITYPOD by using the hashtag Q M M U N I T Y P O D or by emailing us email@example.com
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See you next time.