Our modern knowledge of classical Greek and Roman homosexuality is largely thanks to its popularity in Western high art and literature, which thwarted the efforts of 2000 years of Judaeo-Christian puritanism to suppress it. The fact that it was mainly studied by the aristocratic cognoscenti (or at least the very wealthy, which was almost as good) in the original Greek and Latin, or admired by them whilst on the Grand Tour, made it a gentlemanly pursuit and lent it an air of scholarly respectability (‘something for the cabinet of curiosities, milord?’). However, to my mind, modern queer history, in the British Isles and Ireland at least, begins in 1885 with the Criminal Law Amendment Act, and most particularly the pernicious Section 11 or Labouchere Amendment (named after the MP who introduced it) designed to prosecute male homosexuals for acts of ‘gross indecency’. It was this shabby piece of legislation which was used to such devastating effect to convict Oscar Wilde in a spectacular show trial and, almost 70 years later, Alan Turing – downhill all the way one might say. Here’s my list of memorable dates from 1885 to the present day (don’t worry, it picks up towards the end):
1885 – Criminal Law Amendment Act
Oscar Wilde convicted and imprisoned in Reading Gaol. Lesbianism not a crime as Queen Victoria allegedly refuses to believe it exists!
1916 – Sir Roger Casement hanged
by the British for treason following his support of Irish independence after case for leniency destroyed by public outrage at discovery of so-called ‘Black Diaries’, allegedly recording his homosexual adventures. A set-up? Whatever makes you think that?
1928 – Publication of The Well of Loneliness
by lesbian novelist Marguerite Radclyffe Hall (know as ‘John’), which was subjected to an obscenity trial and all copies destroyed. She created another scandal when she formed a relationship with married socialite, Lady Una Trowbridge. Ah well, at least they were posh!
1952 – Alan Turing ‘chemically castrated’
Turing, who helped shorten the Second World War by breaking the German’s ‘Enigma Code’ at Bletchley Park, is convicted of gross indecency and chooses ‘treatment’ to prison. A grateful nation? I don’t think so!
1953 – Lord Montagu of Beaulieu found guilty of ‘gross indecency’
and receives a 12-month prison sentence. He may have been posh, like dear Marguerite and Una but, gentle reader, he was a man and so surely should have known better!
1954 – Alan Turing found dead
of cyanide poisoning. A verdict of suicide is recorded. What can one say?
1967 – Sexual Offences Act
partially de-criminalises male homosexuality, making it legal for two consenting male adults (over the age of 21) to have consenting sex in private. Hets can still get laid (legally) at 16 though!
1969 – Stonewall Riots
a series of spontaneous violent demonstrations against a police raid on the gay Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York City. Bet NYC’s finest had to revise their view of ‘pansies’ after that one!
1971 – Gay Liberation Front established. Hurrah!
1971 – Publication of Maurice by EM Forster
a gay novel first written in 1913 but published posthumously due to public and legal attitudes. Better late than never I suppose!
1972 – UK Gay Pride Rally
first held in London. Cue rousing chorus of Noel Coward’s London Pride!
1977 – Harvey Milk elected
first out gay City Supervisor in San Francisco. Good start…
1978 – Harvey Milk murdered
in City Hall by ex-Supervisor, Dan White. …tragic end.
1981 – AIDS identified
in gay men in Los Angeles and dubbed in hysterical press and media reports as a ‘Gay Plague’ – millions subsequently die in Africa and globally through heterosexual transmission. Beyond irony!
1982 – Gay Games
instituted in San Francisco, repeated every four years internationally since. London is bidding for the right to host in 2018. Hope Olympics fatigue will have worn off by then!
1982 – Male homosexual sex decriminalised in Northern Ireland
after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Northern Ireland’s criminalisation of homosexual acts violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It appears the luck of the Irish took rather a long time to kick in here!
1983 – AIDS virus HIV identified
(Human Immunodeficiency Virus 1 and 2). Leading to…
1985 – HIV blood test developed. Leading to…
1987 – ‘AIDS: Don’t die of ignorance’
British government launches public health campaign. Including sombre images of icebergs and falling tombstones – what was that all about?
1988 – World AIDS Day
declared on 1st December. Lest we forget.
1988 – Section 28
of the Local Government Act prohibits the ‘promotion’ of gay relationships in schools, effectively outlawing any mention of it in lessons, including in sex education. Well, what a great idea that was!
1992 – Homosexuality de-criminalised in Isle of Man
The Isle of what again?
1993 – Campaign to equalise age of consent
begun by Stonewall charity launching legal challenge at the European Court of Human Rights. Your starter for ten – years that is.
1994 – Age of consent lowered
for gay men from 21 in 18. Whoop-de-doop!
1994 – LGBT History Month instituted
in the USA, taking place throughout February. Only took us another 11 years!
1998 – British Gay and Lesbian Sports Federation
supported by UK Sports Minister, Tony Banks, in taking part in Gay Games in Amsterdam. Ah, happy days!
1998 – George Michael acknowledges he is gay.
World’s worst-kept secret?
2000 – Gay Sports 2000
hosted by the London Borough of Waltham Forest. Sadly never seen or heard of again!
2000 – Section 28 repealed in Scotland. Scots wha-hae!
2001 – Age of consent lowered
for gay men to 16 – equalising it with that for heterosexuals. What took you so long?
2003 – Section 28 repealed
in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Lagging behind Scotland – as ever!
2003 – Sexual Offences Act
liberalises aspects of UK law relating to activities such as ‘cruising’ and ‘cottaging’. Ooh, bona!
2004 – Civil Partnership Act
gives same-sex couples rights and responsibilities identical to civil marriage (heterosexual couples not entitled to civil partnerships). Nobody said life was fair!
2005 – LGBT History Month adopted
in UK throughout February. See 1994!
2010 – Equality Act
in UK bans unfair treatment of people for their ‘protected characteristics’, amongst which are sexual orientation and gender reassignment. The outgoing Labour government left this as its gift to the incoming Tory-led Coalition. The words Trojan and Horse come to mind!
2012 – Government plans to legalise same-sex marriage
in UK condemned by Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu. Tell us the old, old story!