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50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality... 1967-2017

50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality... 1967-2017

posted 30 Jan 2017

This year marks fifty years since the decriminilisation of homosexuality in the United Kingdom, and as a result, organisers of Birmingham Pride have announced that that this year’s festival will adopt the theme Love & Pride, in recognition of this momentous anniversary.

Back in 1967, the Sexual Offences Act decriminalised homosexual acts between two men in private. The move was a first step on the long road towards the equality that the LGBT community enjoys today. Since that landmark year, laws have been challenged, rights have been won, stigmas broken and lives changed.

So how did we get to that landmark moment in LGBT history? Rewind to the 1960s, when Member of Parliament Leo Abse and House of Lords peer Lord Arran offered proposals to amend the law for homosexual men, changing the way they were treated by introducing the Sexual Offences Bill. They saw the Bill as a way to make attitudes towards gays more liberal, a change which they felt was much needed following a staggering rise in the number of prosecutions of homosexual men.

The 1965 Sexual Offences Bill used findings from the 1957 Wolfenden Report, which suggested that certain homosexual offences should be decriminalised; ‘offences’ at which you wouldn’t even bat an eyelid these days.

The committee which oversaw the report was set up to investigate prostitution and homosexuality in the 1950s. As a result, they found that criminal law couldn’t intervene in the ‘private sexual affairs of consenting adults’ behind closed doors.

In short, the Wolfenden committee said that: “Unless a deliberate attempt be made by society through the agency of the law to equate the sphere of crime with that of sin, there must remain a realm of private that is, in brief, not the law's business.”

Following the publication of this report, the government of the time showed support for Lord Arran’s liberal thinking and put the Bill through parliament. It was considered that the law should not penalise gay men, already subject to much ‘ridicule and derision’.

Roy Jenkins, the home secretary in 1967, commented that gay men “suffer from this disability” and “carry a great weight of shame”. His remarks essentially summed up the government’s perspective on homosexuality.

The Bill received royal assent on 27 July 1967 after a late-night debate in the House of Commons. Once it had become law, decriminalising homosexuality, the age of consent was set at 21. It wasn’t until 1994 that this was reduced to 18, and only in the year 2000 was it reduced to 16 - the same age as the heterosexual age of consent.

So what does all of this mean for us today? Well, freedom for one thing. And whilst LGBT communities across the world still don’t enjoy many of the freedoms that we do here in Britain, the Love & Pride-themed Birmingham Pride festival, taking place over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend in May, will use the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality to celebrate, educate, inspire and fund-raise.

Commenting on the two-day event’s 2017 theme, Lawrence Barton, Birmingham Pride's festival director, said: “Love & Pride is an important message that highlights the history which the LGBT community has been through - most importantly, the decriminalisation of homosexuality 50 years ago.

“We've got a lot planned for Birmingham Pride 2017, making it bigger and better than in previous years. The festival will look to educate, celebrate and, most of all, to raise lots of money for local LGBT charities and causes.” 

Birmingham Pride 2017 takes place on Saturday 27 and Sunday 28 May in the heart of the city's gay village. If you're interested in joining the iconic Carnival Parade or helping out at the festival as a volunteer, email peter@birminghampride.com.