January 31, 2017 at 6:10 pm EST | by Maximilian Sycamore
UK pardons thousands of men convicted under anti-gay laws

Alan Turing, gay news, Washington Blade

Alan Turing is credited with helping to end World War II by cracking the German Enigma code. (Photo courtesy of King’s College Library)

A law that contains a posthumous pardon for the thousands of gay and bisexual men convicted under anti-gay laws in the U.K. between 1885-2003 received royal assent on Tuesday.

“This is an important milestone, and will help draw a line under the damage caused to many thousands of lives,” said Stonewall, a British LGBT advocacy group, in a statement on the Policing and Crime Act 2017.

The law only applies to England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own legislative bodies.

Stonewall had originally called for all gay and bisexual men, alive or dead, to be pardoned, though the British government refused. Instead, those still living can request their convictions for crimes based on behavior that is no longer illegal are physically deleted from records.

Though this process has been available since 2012, it didn’t consider many of the laws used to persecute gay men.

Peter Tatchell, a human rights campaigner, in a statement explains the problems faced after the 1967 decriminalization of same-sex sexual acts.

“The four main crimes that penalized gay and bisexual men were: Buggery (anal sex), gross indecency (all non-anal sex acts between men, including mere touching and kissing), procuring (facilitating, aiding and abetting) and importuning (chatting up, cruising),” he said. “These crimes were not repealed until 2003.”

Though these were not included in the bill back in October 2016, since then the “Alan Turing Law” has gone through many changes.

Turing was a mathematician who helped break Germany’s secret Enigma code during World War II.

He was charged with gross indecency in 1952 for having a relationship with another man. He committed suicide two years later at the age of 41 after undergoing chemical castration as an alternative to serving a prison sentence.

Queen Elizabeth II in 2013 posthumously pardoned Turing.

“Thanks to amendments made by Lord [Michael] Cashman in December [2016], which were supported by the government, the law passed today also paves the way for ensuring that everyone unfairly prosecuted for being gay and bi will soon be able to have these ‘crimes’ deleted from their record,” explained Stonewall.

Tatchell points out, however, that for many, getting a pardon for a crime not directly pardoned by the bill is still far from easy.

“Many convicted men were rejected and disowned by their families,” he said. “The government should make it clear that any concerned person, including personal friends, can apply for a pardon for a deceased person.”

Though he believes a pardon is an “important, valuable advance,” Tatchell, who is director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, is quick to remind people what it means.

“A pardon has connotations of forgiveness for a wrong done,” he said. “These men and the wider LGBT community believe they did no wrong.”

“This is a truly momentous day,” said Justice Minister Sam Gyimah in a statement. “We can never undo the hurt caused, but we have apologized and taken action to right these wrongs.”

Brandon Lewis, minister of state at the Ministry of Justice, released a formal apology on behalf of the British government on Jan. 11.

“I want to take the opportunity to apologize unreservedly, on behalf of the government, to all those men who will receive a pardon,” he said.

Though Tatchell said there is still much work to do, he is still feeling positive about the new bill.

“Since the Sexual Offenses Act 2003, for the first time in over 500 years, we have a criminal code that does not discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation,” he said. “Progress at last!”

Peter Tatchell in D.C. on Aug. 25, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Peter Tatchell in D.C. on Aug. 25, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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