U.K. Policing and Crime Bill 2017: A Gay Man’s Response.

A Letter to My Friend David:

 

U.K. Policing and Crime Bill 2017  

(Note this Act does not apply to Scotland or Northern Ireland)

 

(Thousands of gay and bisexual men found guilty of decades-old sexual offences in England and Wales have been posthumously pardoned. Statutory pardons will also be granted to people still living who apply to have their convictions removed.)

 

Yes I suppose it is (cheerful news). I am strangely unmoved by it. Let me try to explain why.

Peter Tatchell, who I saw on TV yesterday talking about it, made the first point which is that it is a pardon not an apology for a gross (let’s use the word in this context) interference with ones human rights and dignity. I feel one should say “thank you your Majesty you’re so kind”.

Secondly, it just does not seem sufficient recompense for the evil that those laws caused i.e. chemical castration, depression, destroyed lives and suicide. Its OK now you have been posthumously pardoned! Who has been f****** pardoned excuse me!

My last reason is somewhat more technical but I think very interesting and something I wonder if Peter Tatchell is fully aware of.[1]

I have to ask for clarification here: The Sexual Offences Act that I remember (in the 60ties) decriminalized homosexual acts in certain circumstances i.e. there was consent, there were only two persons present both over 21 and it was done in “private”. Now I know the age of consent was lowered to 16 during Tony Blair’s time as prime minister but was anything else changed? Can gay “married” couples legally have threesomes and what about sex in “back rooms” of bars and clubs etc.? Has “sodomy” that is “gross indecency” been removed from the statute book?[2] Even if it has it is my contention that in some ways that was only a pretext for persecuting homosexual men.

The above withstanding, I want to point out that on the occasions I was arrested and charged the real offence that the police were trying to prohibit was not the act of “sodomy” but the physical presence of men cruising for sex on the street: by on the street I mean “on the street” in its full sense of “out of the closet”, political and metaphorical. I mean the park, the graveyard, the shopping mall, the High Street shopping centre, outside the pub or club, the supermarket and yes the toilet. This flamboyant behaviour (totally common amongst heterosexuals in some form or another) was found to be offensive to “straight” society and possibly corrupting to young heterosexual males who may find themselves being cruised and (God forbid) approached by homosexual men. Even in liberal Amsterdam in the 60ties such behaviour was frowned upon and if too flamboyant the gays would be picked up by “nice ” policemen and taken and dumped at the Gay Community Centre where they were told that sort of behaviour was more appropriate! (The name of that organization in Dutch escapes me.) This cruising was often in the 60ties termed “importuning” equating it with prostitution. “Importuning” was very commonly used with reference to men arrested in toilets. It is obvious if you think about it and very important to note that very little if any physical touching occurred in these cases and (with the possible exceptions of dark nights in the middle of nowhere and yes lockups in toilets) no sodomy or “gross indecency” occurred or could have done so. Yet that did not stop the charge being under the label of “gross indecency.” So you have to ask what was being prohibited?

In the case of my arrest with another man on Clapham Common circa 1976 the Crown Court Jury encouraged by a liberal judge found the act in question to be “indecent” but not “grossly indecent” and so we were found not guilty of a crime; which I think emphasizes the above point about the ambiguity of the offence. The police car with its lights out crossing the green lawns of Clapham Common in South London was seeking homosexuals out there cruising and was then obliged to use a clumsy law to charge them with which they knew in most cases would not be questioned. In fact being Gay and cruising was tantamount in fact to fucking in public even if it wasn’t that! On a subsequent occasion, a judge, who was actually letting me off with costs, said to me,

“You are not here because of what you are” (a faggot?) “but because you were being a nuisance.”

Had any one complained? No. Was there a witness that was offended? No. Only two cops secretly concealed and watching me importuning and therefore encouraging another man to commit an indecent offence.

This raises the question for me: “what behaviour is being pardoned under the 2017 Act?” Certainly some men in relationships in private were prosecuted and Alan Turing (The Imitation Game) was one of these unfortunate men but many of us from the 60 ties on were not in this situation; we were on the streets cruising. What is not being pardoned is what might be considered “bad behaviour”. If bad behaviour was an offence Thatcher would have been given a life sentence.

If I apply to have my offences pardoned and, as in the case of Tatchell in Canterbury Cathedral[3], I reveal that in West Brompton Cemetery, circa 1981, I was charged under “The 1860 Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act”, having revealed my penis to the cop who had been cruising me for over an hour (and I assumed wanted to see it) will I be pardoned? It couldn’t be gross indecency for by then some realism had crept into the courts and surely no one was suggesting that the straight cop actually touched me, so they had to find another Act that would serve. And I should add here the answer is no since this Act, i.e. “The Ecclesiastical Courts Act, 1860”, is of course, not covered by the “pardon“!

It is in this context that I will have no truck with “gay marriage”. I am not popular with the Gay Community in this respect and Peter Tatchell would probably disagree with me. But I see the legitimizing of gay sex in “marriage” by society, for make no mistake, that is what it is, as a further patronizing interference with my life. I do not need “marriage” to sanctify or legitimize my sexual relationship or relationships in the plural. I find marriage as an institution oppressive and too solidly rooted in Christian morality to be acceptable. In fact the freedom asked for and in my opinion yes…you have every right to this freedom…is given with the comfortable feelings of straight liberal society because they see it as regularizing gay people and their behavior; it ultimately gets us off the streets.

More importantly it “de-radicalises” us and makes us like everyone else. You have now lost your right (if you partake of it) to be yes, a contra-cultural force in society. I believe being such a contra-cultural force, and I emphasize force, is one of my defining features. I am in the age of Trump still very much “on the streets”!

A.J.H. Celtic Feast of Imbolc or Brigit’s Day, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

[1] I sent this to Peter Tatchell who kindly replied with a “bravo” and thought I made some interesting points.

[2] Yes apparently it has been.

[3] Peter Tatchell was arrested in Canterbury Cathedral under the “The 1860 Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act” for disturbing a service while demonstrating against the Church’s attitude to homosexuality.

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