Friday, 27 July 2007

Gay Lives Transformed

Guest Blogger ANTONY GREY writes:

Forty years ago today, on 27 July 1967, the Sexual Offences Act received the Royal Assent, and a ten-year campaign, in which I had been closely involved from the outset, to decriminalise male homosexual behaviour in accordance with the recommendations of the 1957 Wolfenden Report achieved its first significant success.

The Act was a limited one – in my view, too limited. It did not bring the law on homosexual behaviour into line with that regulating heterosexual behaviour, and it did not even fully implement Wolfenden’s proposals. There was a cluster of reasons for this. Far less was understood in those days about the sheer ordinariness of gay people. Homosexuality was widely regarded, even by professional people who should have known better, as a sick degeneracy or perversion, as well as a vice, practised by a few sick psychopaths but liable, if let loose, to spread like wildfire. So the Home Office, who – despite the Bill’s nominally backbench sponsorship – had effective control over its detailed drafting, erred on the side of extreme caution. And the Bill’s Parliamentary sponsors, Lord Arran in the Lords and Leo Abse in the Commons, deemed it prudent to play the ‘pity these sad misfits’ card heavily, whereas the Homosexual Law Reform Society, of which I was Secretary, would have preferred – I believe rightly – to lay most emphasis on the blatant injustice of the unreformed law. Arran and Abse paternalistically deplored any attempts by gay people to organise themselves either politically to socially, and expected them – indeed, exhorted them – to ‘put up and shut up’ once the 1967 reform was achieved. It was an unrealistic attitude: within a few years, not only conventional bodies such as the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, but also the flamboyantly radical Gay Liberation Front, were out and proud.

What the 1967 Act, flawed though it was, did achieve, however, was of great significance: for the first time in over 80 years, it was no longer a crime for two consenting men aged over 21 to enjoy physical sexual relations with each other in private in England and Wales. [Scotland had to wait until 1980 and Northern Ireland until 1982 to be brought into line]. Of course, men had never stopped behaving homosexually, and never will, whatever the law says. In its attempts to regulate peoples’ desires on ‘moral’ grounds, the law is always an ass. But what this law did do was to signal that it was now possible to behave in this way without being a criminal; and this removed a nightmarish burden of secrecy and blackmail from the lives of many thousands of men.

Looking back over the 40 years since the Act was passed, much surprises me and quite a lot still disappoints me. While I am gratified that the sex laws have at last been equalised for men and women, and for homosexual and heterosexual behaviour, I am surprised – and dismayed – that this has been done in such a way that much sexual activity that is in fact consenting is still a crime, especially between teenagers. This strikes me as mistakenly over-protective. People of all ages should be safeguarded from rape and other sexual assaults, and empowered to say an effective ‘No’ to unwanted advances. But to punish those who do in fact agree to consensual behaviour diminishes their responsibility rather than enhancing it. I regard the notion that early sexual experiences willingly embarked upon are inevitably ‘harmful’ to those concerned as unfounded, and a malign fiction stemming from the grotesque ‘paedophile panic’ that has disfigured sensible debate around teenage sexuality for the past twenty years.

I am surprised, and of course pleased, that civil partnerships are now available to gay couples as well as to unmarried heterosexual ones. This is something I didn’t expect to see in my lifetime, and augurs well for the greater social acceptance of single-sex relations as just another unremarkable facet of personality. I don’t, though, go as far as some gay commentators, such as Matthew Parris in yesterday’s Times, who believe that the need for any more gay rights campaigning is finally over. Despite the vulgar cavortings of the stinking-rich Gay Glitterati [no names, but you know who I mean!], there is still abundant ignorance, prejudice, and homophobic bullying out in the sticks, and even witch-hunting prosecutions continue for trivial episodes – some allegedly committed years before they are brought to court. The reinstatement of a time limit on stale prosecutions is just one of several urgently needed further reforms.

I am also dismayed by the widespread ignorance of many younger people – including gay ones – of what life was like for us before 1967, and even that behaviour which they now take for granted was a crime until so recently. Some of the articles, broadcast programmes, and discussions of the 1967 reform have been poorly researched and factually inaccurate. All this serves as a warning that those who forget their history may be condemned to repeat it. Lord Arran, who was the chief sponsor of the reform Bill in the House of Lords, once said to me that there is no tradition of reaction in British politics. I disagreed with him then, and still do. Only remember that in the 1920s and early ‘30s, Berlin under the Weimar Republic was the freest place in the world for gay people. But soon after the Nazis came to power in 1933, homosexuals started being sent to the death camps for elimination as the lowest of the low – despised even more than Jews. Even today, there are countries where homosexuals are being stoned to death on religious grounds. Such bigoted cruelty must never be allowed to happen here. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

*Antony Grey was Secretary of the Homosexual Law Reform Society and its successor, the Sexual Law Reform Society, for most of the period between 1962 and 1977. He is the author of Quest for Justice [1992], Speaking of Sex [1993], and Speaking Out [1997].

Saturday, 14 July 2007

'Cifilis rots the brain'

The above comment is purloined from one of two or three very amusing recent threads at Harry's Place mercilessly dissecting the hapless Guardian's ludicrously named "Comment is Free" site and canvassing such fascinating questions as 'how come mad Maddie Bunting rules the roost?', 'what makes Georgina Henry tick?' and is 'the deeply weird' Berchmans a Muslim as well as anti-Semitic?

Well worth a few minutes' perusal for the odd belly laugh.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Just this once!

I’ve been tagged by Peter [Pela68] to do the following:

  1. Post the rules for the meme at the beginning of your post.
  2. This meme consists of the blogger listing eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  3. People who are tagged in this post are to write their own post listing their own eight random items and list the rules.
  4. At the end of the post/meme, list the folks you are tagging and leave them notice of such in their comments.

Peter being a good friend, I’m obeying just this once – but for the reason given in my first item, I won’t be tagging anyone else.

  1. Being an instinctive draft-dodger, I prefer to volunteer for this kind of task, rather than being nominated.
  2. I find chronic illness, and all the restrictions it imposes on mobility, as well as low energy levels, very boring and, on occasion, depressing.
  3. I blog for therapy, and find the contact with internet friends worldwide a comforting reassurance that there’s still a world “out there” and intelligent people to talk with.
  4. As I grow older, memories become increasingly important and recalling better times and places, and people I have known and sometimes loved, is even more pleasurable than reading and listening to music. Blogging about some of these events is enjoyable too.
  5. I have a very soft spot for anticant’s burrow, and for my stalwart supporters ben and the beadle, who keep the place up to scratch for the entertainment of our regular and occasional visitors in the Snug.
  6. Looking forward to, and planning for, my too-rare holidays in Italy or the Iberian peninsula breaks the monotony of invalidism and frequent hospital visits.
  7. I still enjoy good food and decent wine, thank goodness.
  8. My life would be unliveable - and indeed would have ended long ago - without my wonderful Civil Partner of 47 years and our adorable cat, Tiggy.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Why is the US anti-war movement so feeble?

One possible explanation here. Some interesting comments, too.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Friday, 6 July 2007

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Leave your mind behind!

Hope you all enjoy this. Thank goodness it's Independence Day.