Thursday 27 July 2017

The UK: 50 Years since it was Against The Law - Consensual Homosexuality

Sometime ago
50 years ago, today, Sexual Offences Act 1967 received royal assent, bringing into law the decriminalisation of homosexual acts between men in private, as long as they had attained the age of 21.
I was born at a time of interesting changes in society when the worst form of abuse you could throw at anyone was the phrase, “You’re a bugger.” It carried the weight of disdain, disgust, condemnation and disgrace, there was no particular understanding of homosexuality apart from misconceptions that fed the idea they were acting against the law of nature, they were evil, they were paedophiles and possibly worse.
Yet, it was rarely the case that to that point in time, people who found themselves to be bequeathed with the burden of homosexuality were inclined to be anything but normal law-abiding human beings. Only that the law through moralisation and sententiousness or just the need to find those to persecute criminalised the nature of people who happened to be different.
Against the law
13 years before this, Alan Turing died of cyanide poisoning having been persecuted by the system for his sexuality, one of the pioneering brains of the computing age and to whom some of the successes to breaking the Nazi Germany encryption codes presaging the end of WWII is attributed. His profile saved him from jail, but it did not save him from the system that literally ruined him.
However, in all this, I celebrate three men, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, Peter Wildeblood and Michael Pitt-Rivers who were charged and convicted in 1954 for conspiracy to incite certain male persons to commit serious offences with male persons" (or "buggery"), for which they went to jail.
Despite the sensationalism of what became known as the Montagu Trial, Lord Montagu admitted to being bisexual and Peter Wildeblood was first to publicly admit his homosexuality. The police were involved in a widespread clampdown on homosexuality even acting as agent provocateurs to entrap unsuspecting homosexuals for a prosecution that there were at least 1,000 men sent to prison yearly for being homosexual in the 1950s.
Against bad law
The way the prosecution and trial was conducted led to an inquiry which submitted the Wolfenden Report in 1967 suggesting consensual homosexual acts between adults be decriminalised. 14 out of 15 members of this inquiry agreed to this.
Peter Wildeblood wrote about the trial in his book, Against The Law: The Classic Account of a Homosexual in 1950s Britain, which was adapted for television and shown last night. [BBC Two]
Finding myself different
I began to realise my own same sex attraction from around the age of 7, just about the time that I had my first sexual encounter with a much older girl who was twice my age. I did not know or understand what happened between us, but I know I was taken into the toilet, told to pull down my shorts and instructed to put my thing in her thing.
How that impacted my sense of sexuality, I would never know, but in that singular event, I lost my innocence and became sexualised. In the following years up to the time I was 10, I suppose male servants seeking a sexual outlet found easy prey in me, to which I somewhat acquiesced, none the wiser about what it meant.
In fear and loathing
Through secondary boarding school, there was a fondle, some frottage and consequently lots of fellatio with one friend who assuredly was not homosexual. In fact, I met no homosexuals in any sense in school, or at least never knew of any until I saw some of my schoolmates in the UK.
By my late teens, I was in great conflict between understanding my sexuality and embracing spirituality, I could never square the situation of being naturally attracted to men and yet feeling condemned for what I did not choose as a matter of cause or course.
Meanwhile, I found amenable and willing partners for sexual expression into my twenties. On one occasion, we were caught in the act and literally blackmailed into complying with some norms. At the eve of my departure from Nigeria, one such liaison had revealed the tryst to another party and they both schemed to blackmail me, I refused to budge, told them to do their worst as I was also about to leave Nigeria.
The journey to accepting myself
By then, I had become aware that there were much more people like me, even if I did not know where to meet them. Back in the UK, I sought out men like me, I found a bar in the West-End called the Brief Encounter, now defunct, and from the moment I stepped into the bar, I began to the journey to the acceptance of who I was.
There were still many battles to fight for being homosexual in 1990, the police still found opportunity to harass, coming out had grave consequences for life and well-being, Justin Fashanu had just come out as gay and there was a great backlash, gays were being queer-bashed without finding any recourse or redress, discrimination was tolerated everywhere against homosexuals with homophobia expressed from politics to pulpit without sanction, we existed in an underclass of secrecy finding community in minority and the persecuted.
We were also in the first decade of the AIDS epidemic, I watched friends and acquaintances grab each day as it came, them wasting away until they expired. It was scary, then there was Section 28 enacted in 1988, which stated that a local authority "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship." That’s Russia today and worse.
We’ve come a long way
Within this period, I found companionship and love, great tolerance and understand at work where my managers protected me from abuse from colleagues and much else. Many never understood homosexuality but accepted we existed and respected us for who we were. Our sexuality and sexual preferences do not define us, we are first human beings and there is much to us than labels.
In the West, in 50 years, we have come a long way, equality is the norm, discrimination is condemned, expression is free, gay marriage is legal in many countries, we’ve had gay heads of government in Iceland and Belgium, and currently in Luxembourg, Ireland and Serbia, coming out is not such a big deal anymore.
The spectre of AIDS that strafed the gay community is not so much the sentence of death it was some 20 or 30 years ago, because of new treatments that limit the debilitating effects of HIV.
Many battles remain
Yet, there is much to do for gay minorities, to tackle sexuality and status stigma, to address homophobic laws gaining traction in other countries where gays are abused, persecuted, prosecuted and murdered, just for being who they are.
Many are caught in that morass of being against the law – of nature to some when that is what they naturally are. Homosexuality is not a mental disorder, it is part of our humanity and human nature, but the journey to accepting, tolerating and respecting our varied and diverse humanity is still a long one.
Today, I must celebrate that where I live, my homosexuality is not against the law.

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