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Highlights from the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality

Bea Mitchell December 30, 2017
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2017 marked the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales, a landmark change to legislation which was passed by Parliament on July 27, 1967.

The act made homosexual acts that took place in private between two men over the age of 21 legal.

In order to mark this milestone, various places, people and media outlets celebrated with a look at the cultural impact and history of the LGBTQ community in Britain.

Here are some of this year’s 50th anniversary highlights – before we make our way into 2018.

Gay Britannia on the BBC

Olly Alexander - BBC Three - Growing Up Gay

A host of TV shows, documentaries and films were shown on the BBC, including Against the Law – which follows the infamous Montagu Trial of the 1950s, and Ollie Alexander: Growing up Gay, Queers – a series of monologues.

Other programmes aired were Prejudice and Pride: The People’s History of LGBTQ Britain – presented by Susan Calman, Is it Safe to be Gay in the UK?, Man in an Orange Shirt, Gluck, and What Gay Did for Art.

Find out more about the BBC Gay Britannia programmes over here.

50 Shades of Gay on Channel 4

Kieron Richardson and husband and babies

Channel 4 also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in a series of programmes.

The broadcaster’s lineup included Pop, Pride and Prejudice, Epidemic, Raised by Queers – featuring Hollyoaks’ Kieron Richardson, Convicted for Love – which explores the persecution gay men faced long after the Sexual Offences Act was passed, and Britain’s Great Gay Buildings – presented by Stephen Fry.

Find out more about Channel 4’s 50 Shades of Gay series right here,

Living British Prime Ministers speak out on PinkNews

David Cameron, John Major, Theresa May, Queen Elizabeth II, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown

Theresa May, David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and Sir John Major all hailed the 50th anniversary of landmark gay reforms.

In an extraordinary show of unity, the living British PMs wrote for PinkNews as they marked five decades of LGBT progress.

“I am proud of the role my Party has played in recent years in advocating a Britain which seeks to end discrimination on the grounds of sexuality or gender identity, but I acknowledge where we have been wrong on these issues in the past,” wrote Theresa May.

“For my part, one of my proudest achievements in government was passing the UK’s Same Sex Marriage Act – the latest legislative advancement on the journey to full LGBT equality,” David Cameron shared.

“The rigid prejudice of the past caused many people, who harmed no-one, to live in fear and isolation. No-one should be forced to live their lives in this fashion due to their personal life choices,” Sir John Major penned.

Tony Blair wrote: “The Labour Government championed equality and fought the pernicious prejudice which caused so much misery and made people hide their sexuality through fear.”

While Gordon Brown said: “I was brought up to treat people equally and my whole political life has been a fight for equality and a fairer society. No-one should ever feel unable to fulfil their potential whatever their race, religion or sexuality.”

Exploring LGBTQ history at the National Trust

Prejudice and Pride national trust

The National Trust explored its LGBTQ heritage with a programme called Prejudice and Pride, holding events, special exhibitions and more – all to mark the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Related: 50 years after partial decriminalisation – Are you bona enough for our Polari quiz? 

Jeremy Corbyn on PinkNews: the struggle for equality is not over

To mark the Sexual Offences Act’s 50th anniversary, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also penned an article for PinkNews, writing that “the struggle for equality is not over”.

“Today’s YouGov poll for PinkNews shows that much more needs to be done to tackle homophobia in our society. Homophobic hate crime must be treated as seriously as hate crime based on race and faith, by being made an aggravated offence,” Corbyn added.

Pinknews exclusive: Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable

Vince Cable

As well as Corbyn, Sir Vince Cable wrote for PinkNews on the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Act.

We were the first party to commit to equalising the age of consent, to have LGBT people serving in the military and to legalise same-sex marriage,” Cable said of the Lib Dems.

“Even in this country, bigotry is still well and truly will us,” he wrote, later adding: “We live in a Britain that is fairer, kinder and more accepting than the one I returned to half a century ago – but be under no illusions, there is much more work to do.”

Queer British Art 1861 – 1967 at Tate Britain

Featuring works relating to LGBTQ people, this Tate Britain show marked the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Act, with works from artists such as John Singer Sargent, Dora Carrington, David Hockney and Duncan Grant.

Peter Tatchell: Gay men prosecuted after ‘decriminalisation’

On the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking 1967 Sexual Offences Act, LGBT campaigner Peter Tatchell took a sceptical look at its impact on Britain’s gay communities in BBC Radio 4 documentary The Myth of Homosexual Decriminalisation, which is available to listen to on iPlayer.

The 1967 Act did not mean full decriminalisation. It only covered acts in private, between two men over the age of 21. It also not cover the Merchant Navy or the Armed Forces.

Tatchell has long underlined the partial nature of decriminalisation and, just as importantly, how the law facilitated an increase in prosecutions against gay men.

“What is perhaps surprising, and indeed outrageous, is that the number of arrests of gay and bisexual men rocketed after 1967,” Tatchell says in the programme.

Tatchell notes that 420 men were convicted of gross indecency in 1966, the year before partial decriminalisation, but this figure rose to over 1,700 by 1974 – “nailing the myth of decriminalisation”.

Archbishop of Canterbury: Gay people are not more sinful than anyone else

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and The Archbishop of York John Sentamu also marked the 50th anniversary since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales.

“Sin is not a characteristic of a particular group of people. Sin is the same for all of us. And the challenge to take onto ourselves the obligation to be yoked with Christ, to bear the load he gives us, is the same for all of us.

“This day of anniversary of the 1967 Act is one when the Church in this land should be conscious of the need to turn away from condemnation of people as its first response,” the Archbishops wrote on PinkNews.

“When we rightly celebrate what happened 50 years ago today, we do so best by turning to him and saying, ‘Yes, we take your yoke on our shoulders with you.’”

BFI marks 50th anniversary with film and TV programme

The BFI programme included a major two-month film and TV season, Gross Indecency, and a one-month Joe Orton season at BFI Southbank, a new online BFI Player collection LGBT Britain on Film, a UK-wide touring programme of archive film kicking off at Pride in London, an international touring programme of classic LGBT shorts from directors including Derek Jarman, Isaac Julien and Terence Davies and a new BFI release of Stephen Frears’ and My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) on Blu-ray for the first time.

Related topics: 50th anniversary, Sexual Offences Act 1967

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