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Andrew Marr under fire after ‘arrogant’ article on LGBT history

Jess Glass April 21, 2018

(Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Television presenter Andrew Marr has been criticised after saying that many gay people were happy and “dignified” before the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality.

In a recent piece for the Evening Standard, Marr argued that while many gay people in Britain did suffer prior to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, it wasn’t entirely negative.

According to the piece, Marr is currently working on a social history of the 20th century and was surprised to discover multiple stories of happy gay people.

“I have been much struck by other ways in which gay men and women were able to live tolerable, even happy lives, long before gay liberation,” he wrote.

Marr is best known for his role as the host of BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show, where many prominent political figures have been interviewed on a range of LGBT issues.

Recently, Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn appeared on the show and expressed his support for trans women who self-identify amid a wider debate about the role of trans women in the party.

Andrew Marr interviewing Jeremy Corbyn (BBC)

In the piece, Marr praised the “rich, lively gay Britain” that existed prior to decriminalisation, though he did note that much of it occurred underground.

It’s important to note that while the 1967 decriminalisation of homosexuality was significant, it is often referred to as a partial decriminalisation, as it only said it was no longer illegal for two men to have sex in the privacy of their own home.

If another person was in the house, or if the men were in a hotel, sexual activity was still illegal between the pair.

Marr continued to say that while many gay men at the time were being ‘arrested in public toilets’ and sent to prison for being gay, this was not universal.

Marr uses the late composer Benjamin Britten and his partner, the tenor Peter Pears, who were highly praised and notably favoured by the Queen as examples of how gay men were sometimes accepted if they were “discreet.”

Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears (Photo: Britten-Pears Foundation)

The veteran broadcaster wrote: “Britten and Pears, like many gay people in the middle of the 20th century, were simply private, discreet and dignified. “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” as the American military would say. ”

Marr went on to praise the ‘dignity’ of actor John Gielgud after his arrest for indecency in 1953, saying “like Britten, he maintained a quiet, defiant dignity and was much admired for it.”

Related: The gay royals from history you aren’t taught about at school

The article has been condemned by many people, with several people taking to social media to criticise potentially problematic elements of the piece.

Several people criticised the use of Britten and Pears as examples of gay acceptance prior to decriminalisation, given that the couple was not able to be openly together during the majority of their relationship.

One reader told Marr to ‘stay in his lane.’

(Photo: @rockday / Twitter)

“Wow, the arrogance, the queen acknowledged two homosexuals therefore all queer people should be grateful for British tolerance, stay in your lane.”

Others addressed the entire aim of the article, stating that it would have been very difficult for any gay person to be happy under criminalisation, regardless of how discreet they were.

(Photo: @RachaelHasIdeas / Twitter)

“I really do not understand claims that gay people were happy living under laws that criminalised their love,” another reader wrote.

“A lot of that ‘dignity’ was fear.”

Several people expressed their disappointment with the Evening Standard for publishing the piece, with many interpreting the article as a criticism of people who were openly gay and punished for it prior to decriminalisation.

(Photo: @BenDilks / Twitter)

“Sad to see Andrew Marr suggest overt displays of homosexuality are not ‘dignified’ and imply that gay people could have lived happier lives if they were a bit more ‘quiet’ and ‘discreet.'”

Marr has also been criticised for writing the piece about gay history and homophobia as a heterosexual man.

(Photo: @fabsternation / Twitter)

One reader said on Twitter: “A straight man lamenting a romantic notion [that] gays were happier before liberation? …Give me a break. How about commission a gay person to write about our history?”

Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales, which was widely celebrated through a range of artistic and political events. 

More: Andrew Marr, benjamin britten, comment, LGBT history

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