I Beg Your Pardon? I Think You Owe Me An Apology!

Within living memory for most adults over 40 the British government committed human rights abuses against gay men. Many men are alive today who live with the shame and discrimination of a criminal record, based on historical offences that are no longer crimes. For their sakes’ the convictions need to be removed and it seems the only legal mechanism to do that is a ‘pardon.’ But for me it is not good enough. I want an apology. And let me tell you why and how the action of the government and the English and Scottish legal systems ruined my youth.
I was born in 1967. At that time it was still illegal to be gay, and within a short time the law was changed to allow two men to have sex if both were over 21. For men my age, men who reached the age of 16 in the mid eighties this law was deeply problematic as persecution of those under 21 and their partners actually intensified. I was 16 when I came out. I had to. I could not live my life in secret. But I was terrified of the law, of the police, of the criminal justice system. I was an outlaw. And I knew that I would need to wait for five years before I could finally be free of fear, stomach-churning fear that few can imagine now. I dreamt of escape, to a country where I could live within the law, and my options it seemed were limited to the Netherlands. I bought, and still own, a book called the Law and Sexuality. It terrified me. The under 21 law did not ‘protect’ me. It criminalised me, and I would have been sent to prison along with any partner I had. My youth would not have indemnified me. I had a partner at the time, a man from London. And my worst nightmare was to be arrested. I was thinking and feeling like a furtive criminal and I was just a sweet young man who had never hurt any other person in his life. I began to see the police as my enemy for they were my enemy. I went to a gay pub, a windowless place in Edinburgh and one day the police came in, arrogant and aggressive, wearing rubber gloves in case they caught AIDS. The law was detailed and perverse; it criminalised kissing in public, it deemed an offence had been committed, punishable with a custodial sentence, if two men had sex in a hotel room. It allowed the police to arrest us for holding hands, or wearing certain clothes. And these laws were implemented, often, and without mercy; they were not quaint, dusty anachronisms. I had a friend who was arrested for giving another man his telephone number, an event that took place in London in 80s, not Tehran or Nazi Germany. In my first job, at the London Tourist Office, I was warned never to book a double room for two men; it was illegal. Certain sexual acts increased the anger, and presumably erections, of vicious judges, with bottoms being a big no no. There was nowhere to go, no where to meet, and in desperation many men turned to public toilets, dangerous places of violence and hiding policemen, keen to make arrests, ruin lives, and drive us to suicide. It was a defence in law to murder a gay man if you thought he was coming onto you. It was not a defence in law for a man to claim he thought another man was over 21, but it was a defence to say he believed a girl under 16 to be over 16. This was the legal framework of the world I came out into. Then it got worse, and the Conservatives under the leadership of Thatcher, made it a crime to talk about being gay objectively at school, or for a library to even stock gay books. For this I will never forgive Thatcher, or her cabinet, and I will never vote Conservative, even now. The press crucified us; the Sun, a newspaper who once shared naked photographs of 16 year olds, now a criminal offence, called us Poofs on its front page. Any film, any soap opera I had the misfortune to watch in my childhood reinforced only vile stereotypes, making me like shit. So now, after all this, we need to ask for the government to pardon us. Pardon us? For what? For doing the same as everyone else? For being human and seeking out companionship. Pardon my arse! I want an apology; from the government, from the Conservative party, from the Sun and its ilk, from the police….an apology. Not a pardon.

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5 comments on “I Beg Your Pardon? I Think You Owe Me An Apology!

  1. My kids talk so openly about sexuality and gender, it’s easy to forget how recent this history is and how much we as a society owe to every single person who stood in the fire. Your courage is so underrated, even looking at the cover of that damn book scares the hell out of me.

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