gay pogrom

The History of Homosexuality: Blackmail and Espionage

Guy Burgess. Wikimedia Commons

Ever since the law criminalised homosexual acts and identities, it has been open to abuse from blackmailers. When I examined the Burney Collection, almost a quarter of complaints concerning sodomy related to blackmail, the threat of “swearing sodomy” against an innocent party. If discovered, the blackmailer was subject to the same punishment as somebody convicted of the crime they claimed (generally standing in the pillory up to three times, and paying a fine of 50l, or £10,000/$15,000 in today’s money).

While obviously a serious problem for those who found themselves blackmailed, or convicted of blackmailing others, these were private dramas; tragedies for individual families, but not nations. Following the Second World War, all that was to change. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging

The History of Homosexuality: Post-Legalisation

Homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales in July 1967 with the passing of the Sexual Offences Act. At least, that’s the common perception. Actually what this Act did was define an exemption from prosecution for private, consensual sexual contact between two males over the age of 21, excluding army and merchant navy personnel. Anything else covered by the Sexual Offences Act 1956 which criminalised buggery and “gross indecency between men” remained illegal. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging

The History of Homosexuality: The Gay Pogrom

London1950s

London in the 1950s. Wikimedia Commons

The 1950s was a dark decade for queer Englishmen. Between 1945 and 1955, arrests for “gross indecency” soared to over 2,500 a year, with an average of 1,000 men being incarcerated annually. It was a marked increase, seen by many as a targeted persecution, and became known as the “gay pogrom.” Those who believe that narrative trace the cause to the huge number of servicemen, freshly discharged from the war with nowhere to go, unable to find work. The big cities, and especially London, teemed with them. England was proud of its returned heroes, but didn’t know what to do with them and worried that, left without a purpose, they would fall into corruption and vice. The pogrom was, in the eyes of many, a desperate battle to preserve the innocence of men freshly returned from war. To compound matters, the Home Secretary, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, had promised “a new drive against male vice” that would “rid England of this plague.” Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging