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The scene comments on 50 years of legal gay sex

To coincide with the anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality we asked a selection of people from the scene why they think it’s important to remember this date and what they know of the time before 1967.

Jeremy Joseph – G-A-Y

The decriminalisation of homosexuality is important to mark because it’s remembering a time when our community couldn’t be who they are, hiding who they were and living a lie. Like so many dates in history, it needs to be remembered so that the younger generation understand how we got the freedoms we have today – and you would hope our political leaders can learn from those mistakes.

Every day since decriminalisation leads to where we are now. So many people take for granted walking down the street holding hands with someone of the same sex, let alone being allowed to marry. LGBT human rights have been fought for by people who didn’t have the same freedoms that we have today.

Organisations like Stonewall and Outrage were born out of the fight against Section 28, but before that battle people fought just to be allowed to be gay legally. The thought that in my own parent’s lifetime, anyone in my family couldn’t have been legally gay.

I remember telling my aunty I was gay I thought I was going to shock her, but she turned it round for me to be the speechless one by telling me my uncle had left her for another man. He had lived his life a lie because he was born in a time he couldn’t be gay and although they loved each other, it was only in his later life he could live his life truly as himself. I should have guessed when I was 12 years old watching him as a panto dame in the Croydon amateur dramatic society!

It’s so important for people to look at every ounce of freedom you have, look at the rights you have to be who you are, to love who you want, then imagine 50 years ago, when all of what you have now was illegal and you could be serving a prison sentence – and all of this is not that long ago.

Remembering this date is important because it’s our way of saying thank you to everyone who campaigned to give us the freedom we now have but more importantly remembering this date 50 years ago serves as a reminder to us that what has been fought for here, isn’t the same in other countries.

We should remember this day and use it to attempt to help LGBT communities around the world where it is still illegal to be gay and where it carries a death sentence. Mark this occasion by doing something, even if it’s simply signing Amnesty International’s petition to stop the abduction and killing of gay men in Chechnya at amnesty.org.uk/actions/stop-abducting-and-killing-gay-men-chechnya.

Fifty years on, don’t take for granted the freedom we now have.

Rose Garden

It is important to remember and mark this anniversary. Gay men were jailed, put into mental institutions, disowned by their families, sacked from their jobs and in sham marriages. I also think it’s important to thank the people who engineered the change in the law and to those who are still fighting for our equality. I’m from Belfast where it was illegal to be gay until 1982. So although we have come so far in 50 years, we still have a lot of work to do, getting marriage equality in Northern Ireland, for example.

Mark Ames – XXL

Marking the anniversary is important because it affected so many lives. Many people were forced to live a life of lies or even take their own life. What happened to Alan Turing will echo for centuries to come – it was backward and barbaric.

Ripley

It’s vital that younger LGBTQs – particularly my generation – take a moment to reflect on this particular date. Much like Stonewall in the US, the repeal of legislation in 1967 marked a huge turning point for the community. But it didn’t put a stop to bigotry and it’s taken 50 years to get to the point where we can legally marry. If anything, this day should remind us all that we can’t be complacent and we need to stand tall and keep fighting for equality.

Gary Henshaw – Ku Group

The partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK 50 years ago was a huge advance, a massive first step towards the freedoms we take for granted today.

As an Irishman, I left Dublin back in 1985 when we had yet to have decriminalisation. I lobbied as member of the International Gay and Lesbian Youth Organisation for Irish decriminalisation as well as to have the World Health Organisation take homosexuality off their list of mental illnesses. It all seems so long ago and another world away. I am so happy that my younger friends and staff, today’s generation of young LGBT people, have such equality and supportive legal rights. I hope they appreciate the trials and hardships suffered by the previous generations of LGBT people to get us to this point. It saddens me to hear that some are still suffering prejudice, bullying and hatred and that we are still seeing young LGBT people resort to suicide.

The Western world is a better place today to be LGBT and we should celebrate the legal change 50 years ago. We should also now celebrate the social acceptance and changing attitudes towards our community, but there is still so much more to do and to achieve around the globe. Here’s to the next 50 years, when our sexual orientation and identity should be as relevant as if we are left or right handed and nothing more.

Son of a Tutu

To me, to not mark 50 years of the decriminalisation of homosexuality is tantamount to not observing VE Day, the 4th of July in America or the abolishment of slavery. All of these anniversaries and their like remind of us dark periods in our history; its victims, the warriors who fought for and achieved change, and the transgression and injustices and consequent lessons which must never be repeated.

I asked my gay mother, the legendary cabaret artist Michael Topping of Topping & Butch fame, what it was like before the passing of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 and this is what he had to say: “It was a terrifying time where everyone lived in deep closets and to be found out could result in arrests, jail sentences, career and/or social annihilation and violence, all very reminiscent of what you hear is in Nigeria, Chechnya and other places nowadays.

“I personally was ostracised by the people who I shared residence with in our block whilst at teacher training college and in 1963 a college friend came very close to being lynched by members of the school rugby team. So palpable was this terror that I dreaded the prospect of getting sick and in need of an operation in hospital for fear I might give away my sexual identity whilst under anaesthetic and consequently be lead away by the police in handcuffs on resuscitation.

“There was no gay scene as we now know it, but instead an underground of secret venues for those brave enough existed. Places like The Merry-Go-Round in Piccadilly, which was presided over by a fabulous drag queen called Jungle, and The Chepstow Arms in Notting Hill Gate where I first met George Logan, aka Dr Evadne Hinge, with whom I did my first double, act and shortly thereafter Patrick Fyffe (Dame Hilda Bracket) my second double-act. Conflicting schedules with a third double-act meant I had to pull out of a number of engagements with Bracket and suggested Dr Hinge as my replacement. The rest, as they say, is history!

Peter Bull – Above The Stag Theatre 

It is important to mark this anniversary and remember that prior to 1967 a theatre like Above The Stag, and indeed a magazine like Boyz, would have been underground and most likely shut down. We have made great leaps in 50 years but still have a long way to go. We might be protected by law but we are not protected from bigotry and hatred from a hopefully dwindling minority.

There are fascinating stories I am told by some of our older patrons who were teenagers and 20-somethings prior to decriminalisation. I grew up in Brisbane, Australia where decriminalisation happened much more recently – gay marriage is still not legal in Australia. They remember the fun but also the danger of gay life back then. There was always the possibility that a bar would get raided by the police. We mustn’t take our freedom for granted.

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