With the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales – note not Scotland or Northern Ireland – it is worth looking at a/ how far we have come in equal rights and b/ how limited the changes in 1967 actually were.
Firstly, if you were lesbian this law did not effect you – lesbian relationships had never been criminalised because authority did not consider it possible for women to have such unconventional liaison’s – this was famously believed by Queen Victoria.
It is also not representative to say that homosexual relationships were not able to be had before ’67 – they were clandestine but so too were those after the change in legislation. Specific clubs and safe houses were available to those who knew where to find them. 1967’s legislation did little to change the situation as those with the ‘condition’ were only allowed to have sex in private – i.e: an empty house – so no hotels, and if consenting and over the age of 21.
Furthermore, policemen upped their efforts to catch men out or planted plain clothes officers in public toilets – a popular spot for cottaging and other secret acts of intimacy.
Throughout the years of criminalisation art provided a method of coded visual communication for the LGBT community, along with a more permissive liberal environment in the theatres and music halls of the early 20th century, not forgetting the bohemian movement of the Bloomsbury group which included artist’s such as Duncan Grant.
It is only in recent years that gay geniuses such as Alan Turing have been pardoned of their sentences relating to their sexuality.
The Tate’s exhibition in London of Queer Art through the 20th century reveals the aforementioned language of a wrongly persecuted people. It shows the protest of the age and how far we’ve come – whilst still showing that we have further to go within our own generation.
(photo: couple in a Photo Booth in 1953 – careful lads!)