Amidst the celebratory coverage of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act’s fiftieth anniversary, it is certainly worth being reminded precisely how limiting the freedoms contained within the ‘consenting adults in private’ law actually were, and how these limitations made it easily open to abuse by the powers-that-be. After the Act was passed, it’s surprising to realise that more gay men were prosecuted than before it. Perhaps the understandable precautions that had been crucial prior to 1967 were perceived to be unnecessary once decriminalisation came into force; the illusion of legality blinded many to the numerous areas in which homosexuality remained criminal; it also forced the police and politicians to focus on those areas with renewed crusading vigour in the years thereafter.
A timely reminder of this uncomfortable truth came via Peter Tatchell’s excellent and eye (or ear)-opening Radio 4 documentary, ‘The Myth of Homosexual Decriminalisation’, broadcast on Saturday evening; it documented how 1967 was not so much an end as a beginning, the start of the long road to abolishing discrimination, altering attitudes and achieving an equal age of consent with heterosexuals – none of which were dealt with in the imperfect Act that came into being half-a-century ago.
Scotland, Northern Ireland, the armed forces and the merchant navy – all exempt from decriminalisation in 1967; much anti-homosexual legislation remained on the statue book for decades after 1967 and queer-bashing was a legitimate police pastime well into the 1980s. For out and proud young men today, barely old enough to even remember the last century, all of this must seem insane. The prejudices openly unleashed upon gay men and largely unchallenged by the majority of society combined with the AIDS hysteria (AKA ‘The Gay Plague’) and Clause 28 to create a climate of moral panic that would unthinkable to anyone under, say, 30 in 2017. Perhaps the inability to comprehend how we used to live has played its part in a lack of perspective where those too young to remember are concerned.
The sins of their forefathers for allowing this state of affairs to linger for so long without challenge has undoubtedly fuelled a militant bullishness amongst the young; this reaction demands the law and society in general adopt the consensus they’ve developed to serve as a severe redress to the past. It comes partly from retrospective guilt and is not unlike America’s similar response to historical racism via the slave trade and segregation. At its most extreme, the new consensus is imposed with the same level of illogical fanaticism once employed by those who upheld and endorsed the previous prejudices this consensus reacts against, portraying anyone who is white as inherently racist and anyone who is heterosexual as inherently homophobic.
But the ironic outcome can often seem like less of a striving for genuine equality between the different sexual demographics – which is surely what should be aimed for – and more of a determined campaign to ensure the poacher is elevated to gamekeeper and vice-versa. The new consensus cannot alter the past, but the slightest sign of any attitude bearing a passing resemblance to the past – however mild in comparison – dumps the wrongs of the past on the doorstep of the present. The ‘gay cake’ saga in Northern Ireland a couple of years ago seemed indicative of this mindset; a refusal to countenance that there are many out there for whom homosexuality remains a difficult concept has created a climate of intolerance that excludes debate. If you don’t embrace this consensus, you are a homophobic bigot – end of. ‘Inclusivity’ does not include those who deviate from the script.
The clamour to be seen as endorsing the consensus by political parties and other establishment organisations that maybe weren’t viewed as so gay-friendly in the past resulted in the virtue signalling of the National Trust edict stating volunteers dealing with the public at Norfolk’s Felbrigg Hall (whose last resident, Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer was recently posthumously ‘outed’) must wear rainbow gay pride badges. Those who weren’t comfortable with wearing them were to be relegated to the backrooms of the property. The case was taken up by certain Fleet Street tabloids and predictably labelled a right-wing cause célèbre by the likes of the Grauniad; but the sudden reversal of the edict so that wearing the badges is now optional rather than compulsory seems a more sensible compromise that recognises inclusivity should mean what it says.
Many of the archive recordings of attitudes towards homosexuality excavated for Peter Tatchell’s Radio 4 retrospective were as gobsmacking to hear as similar excerpts of unashamedly racist language from the same era; but whilst these attitudes survive on a smaller scale in private, the cheerleaders for our liberated society still turn a blind eye to one publically vocal section of it. Some of the vilest and most bigoted opinions on homosexuality expressed today emanate from Islam, yet the ultra-liberal left gives Islam the kind of leeway it won’t tolerate in any other faith, let alone secular discourse. Why? Perhaps it’s due to the fact that Muslims have been designated the left’s persecuted pets; they are above and beyond the kind of criticism others are fair game for.
Of course, not every Muslim is virulently anti-gay any more than every Christian or every person without any religion whatsoever; I think most people aren’t really that bothered, to be honest. It’s just a shame the person who retains a problem with the notion of homosexuality – usually down to simple ignorance and lack of education – is lumped in with the genuinely homophobic in a rainbow that has no shades of grey.
© The Editor