Using an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill, thousands whose crime was simply being in a consensual same-sex relationship will be posthumously pardoned. Living cases will also receive a statutory pardon if the offenses were successfully deleted through the disregard process.
This comes as a result of the royal pardon given to mathematician Alan Turing in 2013, whose work breaking the Enigma code was said to have shortened World War II by two years. Turing took his own life in 1954, two years after being arrested for homosexual activity and subsequently convicted of gross indecency.
“The gross indecency law ruined peoples’ lives,” said Rachel Barnes, Turing’s great niece. “As Alan Turing received a pardon, it is absolutely right that those who were similarly convicted should receive a pardon as well.”
Many members of the LGBT community, like Adam Beral, think a pardon is “a very good thing.” Others, including Paul Coleshill, feel it may not be enough, but they still believe “it is, perhaps a good first step.”
“Whilst pardons are all well and good, it should be remembered that thousands of men not only lost their dignity and freedom, but also lost their jobs and careers,” said Richard Desmond, a volunteer for a London-based LGBT helpline. “Their health was weakened and, in many cases, their lives shortened by unnecessary therapies and treatments. Homophobia was state sponsored.”
“The apology is the important bit, a pardon for crime that should never have been one is window dressing,” he continued.
“I hope a full apology goes alongside it, that admits that these men should never have been charged in the first place and reaffirms the government commitment to LGBT+ people,” added David Ward of the UK LGBT group Stonewall.
People also feel that the amendment does not include the myriad of laws designed to persecute gay and bisexual men throughout the 20th century.
“Is it only applying pre-1967, what about the not ‘in private’ prosecutions between then and the Sexual Offenses Act 2003?” Desmond questioned.
Government minister thwarts House of Commons vote
This is why MP John Nicolson sponsored the Sexual Offenses (Pardons etc.) Bill, dubbed the “Alan Turing Bill.” It was debated in the House of Commons on Friday. The government did not support the measure, with Justice Minister Sam Gyimah speaking for 20 minutes using up all of its allocated time without being put to a parliamentary vote.
The bill was supported by many, including Stonewall and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. He is pressing for a public apology and pardon for the last 30 years.
“This bill is an important, valuable advance that would remedy the grave injustices suffered by many of the estimated 50,000 to 100,000 men who were convicted under discriminatory anti-gay laws between 1885 and 2003,” Tatchell said in a statement.
“I used to stand on Hyde Park Corner in the 80s and call for equal rights under the law,” Coleshill added. “A hotel room was not a ‘private place’ and sex between male consenting adults in that ‘public place’ was illegal, still after 67.”
Though this works to redeem a great wrong, people have also been quick to point out that the battle is still not over for the LGBT community in Britain today.
“The apologies for the mistakes of a previous generation is good faith, but the law should never have been there. Is a pardon the right thing, perhaps, but it won’t change anything?” Desmond said. “There are real issues; . . . the (potential) withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights . . . mental health services cuts that disproportionately impact sexual and gender minorities etc.”
“This is a case of something that never should have happened being rectified far too late,” Ward concluded. “Hate crimes have risen against us 147 percent since the Brexit vote and we need to know that we are being taken seriously as a community.”
Mark Cheese, another helpline volunteer, had this to say.
“One might see this as progress which is slow, but nonetheless slow progress is still progress, and on balance, it might only be a gesture, but it still paves a way further forward to normalizing the idea that people are people irrespective of sexual preference,” he said.