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The Evolution of Gay Rights in the UK


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Rainbow Sydney Hotel

Let’s transport ourselves back to a nice summer’s morning in 1533. You’ve just woken up, cheery as one can be, knowing you live under the rule of the one and only mighty King Henry VIII. Chuck on your wonderful Tudor-esque clothes, and walk down the poorly drained road to the local shop, as happy as ever. Only to find out, firstly from the disapproving glares, and then the sheer anger and disgust from those around you; that somebody, who has had it in for you for the last few months, decided to spread a lovely rumour about you and one of the local boys from the village. The punishment for this rumour, thanks to the wonderful Tudor justice system, and the brand new Buggery Act passed by the government, is a public hanging – so that all your friends, family and neighbours know what a disgusting person you truly are.

…tut tut!

Now let’s jump 328 years into the future, because this time you’re a real lucky duckling. It’s 1861, Queen Victoria is sitting not so chirpily on the throne after the death of Prince Albert in December; yet your pride for all things empire and cucumber sandwiches never falters. The same kind of rumours have been spread; but this time the police have come knocking on your door. They waltz into your house and find you – SHOCK! HORROR! – In bed with a man! (You have just had the most enjoyable and most romantic night of your life, albeit perhaps a bit sore as you had to make the most of these infrequent occasions.) However: a nosy neighbour told the old bill, and now those policemen waltz right back out, after throwing a few courtesy “buggers” and “faggots” around, and drag you now embarrassed and crying through the streets to a dark cell. You’ll spend the rest of your life in this cell, as although you luckily cannot be hung, you are condemned to at least 10 years of dirt and rot, all the way up to a lifetime. I can tell you one thing – you were not amused!

However, surely this all isn’t that bad. You’re only whining about being physically punished for being born the way you were. Maybe keeping it under control down below, you pesky sexual deviant, would just be better for everyone.

Now reborn for a third time in the 1950s, you find the oppression carries on. Your parents and friends cheered with joy as you married your wife, knowing very little about those deep dark urges you feel every time you pick up a health & fitness magazine with a nice hunky man on the front cover. After 20 years of containment and throwing insults at news stories as one by one the 1,069 gay men arrested in 1954 for sexual indecency are being thrown away, you walk into a bar with a slightly odd reputation, making sure nobody saw you enter. Your life now transformed after a series of “conversations” sees you descend into a world of cottaging (!!!!) and handkerchief codes; a life where, yes, you have to be secret – but boy, is it worth it! – then again your wife is getting worried about your recent lack of interest, so you might just have to take one for the team every few weeks.

1957 though will bring you happiness that you’ve never thought possible after 96 years of unchanged legislation, as although the rules don’t differ, the Wolfendon Report, launched after public uproar at the recent Peter Wildeblood (a gay Daily Mail journalist caught having relations with some army guy) court case – confirmed to the nation that “homosexuality cannot legitimately be regarded as a disease, because in many cases it is the only symptom and is compatible with full mental health in other respects”. Now that really makes you a lucky duckling indeed. You wonderful un-diseased specimen.

Rainbow London Eye

All of this of course mounts up to an even better day, when 10 years later in 1967, the Sexual Offences Act is introduced which legalises homosexual acts for those over the age of 21. Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy! Now your existence is no longer a crime. But don’t go being yourself until you’re 21…

It will take another 37 years before you’re allowed to have a relationship recognised by the state – Civil Partnership Act (2004), and that’s after the government was forced to acknowledge your existence as AIDS killed off your friends and lovers like flies during the 1980’s once your heterosexual counterparts caught the disease too. And it wouldn’t be until 2000 that the pesky gays would have 16 as the age of consent, or until 2013 for same-sex marriages to come into force. But you should be grateful and stop whinging, you high-pitched snowflake. Learn your place. Because you should be happy and consider yourself lucky. Even if you do face social pressures on a constant basis!

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