The Black Flamingo Open Studio

Collaborate with an artist and poet as they make new works exploring queer identity

3 May – 11 June 2017 at 10.00–18.00

Poet Dean Atta and visual artist Ben Connors take The Black Flamingo, a metaphor used within Atta’s work to explore identities of queer people of colour, as the starting point for this collaboration.

Responding to both their own conversations and those with visitors, they will create new work in the space on a couple of days per week over the course of the project, exploring identity through poetry and visual art.

Through the duration of the open studio, an expanding mural will populate the walls and Connors will illustrate Atta’s poems which will be compiled into a zine including contributions from audience members.

On days when the pair are not present in the space, audiences will still be encouraged to interact by responding to a series of creative prompts. A number of live events and performances will further animate the conversation.

Read more.

Image: Illustration by Ben Connors, 2016 © Ben Connors

Queer British Art 1861–1967

Presenting the first exhibition dedicated to queer British art

5 April – 1 October 2017

Featuring works from 1861–1967 relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) identities, the show marks the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England. Queer British Art explores how artists expressed themselves in a time when established assumptions about gender and sexuality were being questioned and transformed.

Deeply personal and intimate works are presented alongside pieces aimed at a wider public, which helped to forge a sense of community when modern terminology of ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’, ‘bisexual’ and ‘trans’ were unrecognised. Together, they reveal a remarkable range of identities and stories, from the playful to the political and from the erotic to the domestic.

With paintings, drawings, personal photographs and film from artists such as John Singer Sargent, Dora Carrington, Duncan Grant and David Hockney the diversity of queer British art is celebrated as never before.

Read more here.

Image: Simeon Solomon, Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene 1864

Summer Of Love – Invitation To Participate

As I’m sure you are aware, 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality for men in England and Wales.

For more than eighty years this Victorian piece of legislation forced gay men to live their lives closeted and in the shadows. Meeting potential partners or even just meeting with friends socially was fraught with danger, as vigilante queer bashers or the risk of prosecution and imprisonment by the police posed a constant threat.

In 1967, thanks to the Wolfenden Report and campaigning by the Homosexual Law Reform Society, the law was finally repealed and the Gay Liberation Front and Gay Pride movement were established.  Finally gay men emerged from the shadows and began the long journey to acceptance and full equality for the LGBT+ community.

To celebrate this landmark anniversary, we are looking for a few good men to take part in our Summer Of Love exhibition.

Curated by well known photographer Chris Jepson MA ARPS, working alongside researcher and co-curator Kate Wildblood, the exhibition will feature some of the brave men who lived through those early dark years, whose only chance of social contact with other gay men was at underground clubs where the risk of discovery and imprisonment were ever present. A celebration of their lives, battles and victories, Summer Of Love will connect us to the reality of life before decriminalisation and reflect upon the rewards we all now enjoy because of their fight for LGBT+ equality.

It will not take a lot of your time. Chris will meet you at a location convenient to you or a venue that hold particular memories to take portraits, chat and possibly take a video.

If you would like to participate, or would like more details, please email chris@summeroflove.co.uk

Summer Of Love will form part of the Brighton Pride Arts & Film Festival and will be on display in the Jubilee Library, Brighton during August 2017.

UK issues posthumous pardons for thousands of gay men

Thousands of men convicted of offences that once criminalised homosexuality but are no longer on the statute book have been posthumously pardoned under a new law.

A clause in the policing and crime bill, which received royal assent on Tuesday 31st January 2017, extends to those who are dead the existing process of purging past criminal records.

The general pardon is modelled on the 2013 royal pardon granted by the Queen to Alan Turing, the mathematician who broke the German Enigma codes during the second world war, who killed himself in 1954, at the age of 41, after his conviction for gross indecency.

Welcoming the legislation, the justice minister Sam Gyimah said: “This is a truly momentous day. We can never undo the hurt caused, but we have apologised and taken action to right these wrongs. I am immensely proud that ‘Turing’s law’ has become a reality under this government.”

But does this bill go far enough?

pardon for Britain’s persecuted gay men represents an important nod to justice, but pardons imply an act of forgiveness for wrongdoing, not absolving the innocent of unjust guilt.

Welcoming the new law, the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: “This pardon is an important, valuable advance that will remedy the grave injustices suffered by many of the estimated 50,000 to 100,000 men who were convicted under discriminatory anti-gay laws between 1885 and 2003 – the latter being the year when all homophobic sexual offences legislation was finally repealed in England and Wales.”

“A pardon has connotations of forgiveness for a wrong done. These men and the wider LGBT community believe they did no wrong.”

Lord Sharkey, the Liberal Democrat peer who drafted the amendment to the bill, said: “This is a momentous day for thousands of families up and down the UK who have been campaigning on this issue for decades.

“It is a wonderful thing that we have been able to build on the pardon granted to Alan Turing and extend it to thousands of men unjustly convicted for sexual offences that would not be crimes today.”

Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885

The Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 was originally “an Act to make further provision for the Protection of Women and Girls, the suppression of brothels, and other purposes”, but a last minute amendment tabled by Henry Labouchere, Liberal MP for Northampton, commonly known as the Labouchere Amendment, made “gross indecency” a crime in the United Kingdom. In practice, the law was used broadly to prosecute male homosexuals where actual sodomy could not be proven. The penalty of life imprisonment for sodomy (until 1861 it had been death) was also so harsh that successful prosecutions were rare.

Sexual Offences Act 1967

The Bill received royal assent on 27 July 1967 after an intense late night debate in the House of Commons. It decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two men, both of whom had to have attained the age of 21. The Act applied only to England and Wales and did not cover the Merchant Navy or the Armed Forces. Homosexual acts were decriminalised in Scotland by the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980 and in Northern Ireland by the Homosexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 1982.

The age of consent of 21 for homosexual males set by the 1967 Act was reduced to 18 by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, and in 2000, the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 were invoked to ensure the passage of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000 which equalised that age of consent at 16 for both homosexual and heterosexual behaviours throughout the UK.

Read the Sexual Offences Act 1967 .

James Pratt and John Smith, the last men hanged in the UK for being gay

One hundred and eighty years ago, on 27 November 1835, a crowd gathered outside Newgate Prison in London to witness a macabre, notorious, and historic event – the hanging of the last two men in England to be executed for the ‘abominable crime of buggery’.

Arrest
William Bonill, aged 68, had lived for 13 months in a rented room at a house near the Blackfriars Road, Southwark, London. His landlord later stated that Bonill had frequent male visitors, who generally came in pairs, and that his suspicions became aroused on the afternoon of 29 August 1835, when Pratt and Smith came to visit Bonill. The landlord climbed to an outside vantage point in the loft of a nearby stable building, where he could see through the window of Bonill’s room, before coming down to look into the room through the keyhole. Both the landlord and his wife later claimed they both looked through the keyhole and saw sexual intimacy between Pratt and Smith, so the landlord broke open the door to confront them. Bonill was absent, but returned a few minutes later with a jug of ale. The landlord went to fetch a policeman and all three men were arrested.

Trial and execution
Pratt, Smith and Bonill were tried on 21 September 1835 at the Central Criminal Court, before Baron Gurney, a judge who had the reputation of being independent and acute, but also harsh. Pratt and Smith were convicted under section 15 of the Offences against the Person Act 1828, which had replaced the 1533 Buggery Act, and were sentenced to death. William Bonill was convicted as an accessory and sentenced to 14 years of penal transportation. James Pratt was a groom, who lived with his wife and children at Deptford, London. A number of witnesses came forward to testify to his good character. John Smith was from Southwark Christchurch and was described in court proceedings and newspaper reports as an unmarried labourer although other sources state he was married and worked as a servant. At the trial, no character witnesses came forward to testify on his behalf.

The conviction of the three men rested entirely on what the landlord and his wife claimed to have witnessed through the keyhole; there was no other evidence against them. One modern commentator has cast doubt on their testimony, based on the narrow field of vision afforded by a keyhole and the range of acts the couple claimed to have witnessed during the brief length of time they were looking.

The magistrate Hensleigh Wedgwood, who had committed the three men to trial, subsequently wrote to the Home Secretary, Lord John Russel, arguing for the commutation of the death sentences, stating:

“It is the only crime where there is no injury done to any individual and in consequence it requires a very small expense to commit it in so private a manner and to take such precautions as shall render conviction impossible. It is also the only capital crime that is committed by rich men but owing to the circumstances I have mentioned they are never convicted.”

Wedgwood described the men as “degraded creatures” in another letter. Nevertheless, he argued that the law was unfair in their case as wealthy men who wished to have sex could easily afford a private space in which to do it with virtually no chance of discovery. Pratt and Smith were condemned only because they could only afford to use a room in a lodging house, in which they were easily spied upon.

On 5 November 1835, Charles Dickens and the newspaper editor John Black visited Newgate Prison; Dickens wrote an account of this in Sketches by Boz and described seeing Pratt and Smith while they were being held there:

“The other two men were at the upper end of the room. One of them, who was imperfectly seen in the dim light, had his back towards us, and was stooping over the fire, with his right arm on the mantel-piece, and his head sunk upon it. The other was leaning on the sill of the farthest window. The light fell full upon him, and communicated to his pale, haggard face, and disordered hair, an appearance which, at that distance, was ghastly. His cheek rested upon his hand; and, with his face a little raised, and his eyes wildly staring before him, he seemed to be unconsciously intent on counting the chinks in the opposite wall.”
— A Visit to Newgate

The jailer who was escorting Dickens confidently predicted to him that the two would be executed and was proven correct. Seventeen individuals were sentenced to death at the September and October sessions of the Central Criminal Court for offences that included burglary, robbery and attempted murder. On 21 November, all were granted remission of their death sentences under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy with the exceptions of Pratt and Smith. This was despite an appeal for mercy submitted by the men’s wives that was heard by the Privy Council.

An execution outside Newgate Prison, early 19th century

Pratt and Smith were hanged in front of Newgate Prison on the morning of 27 November. The crowd of spectators was described in a newspaper report as larger than usual; this was possibly because the hanging was the first to have taken place at Newgate in nearly two years. The event was sufficiently notable for a printed broadside to be published and sold. This described the men’s trial and included the purported text of a final letter that was claimed to have been written by John Smith to a friend.

William Bonill was one of 290 prisoners transported to Australia on the ship Asia, which departed England on 5 November 1835 and arrived in Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) on 5 July 1836. Bonill died at the New Norfolk Hospital in Van Diemen’s Land on 29 April 1841.

Bibliography

  • Cocks, Dr Harry (2010). Nameless Offences, Homosexual Desire in the 19th Century. I.B.Taurus & Co. ISBN 9781848850903.
  • Cook, Matt; Mills, Robert; Trumback, Randolph; Cocks, Harry (2007). A Gay History of Britain: Love and Sex Between Men Since the Middle Ages. Greenwood World Publishing. ISBN 1846450020.
  • Lauterbach, Frank; Alber, Jan (2009). Stones of Law, Bricks of Shame: Narrating Imprisonment in the Victorian Age. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0802098975.
  • Upchurch, Charles (2009). Before Wilde: Sex between Men in Britain’s Age of Reform. University of California Press. ISBN 0520258533.

Lord Sharkey calls for convictions for homosexuality to be posthumously disregarded

Yesterday (21st July 2014) in the House of Lords, Lib Dem peer Lord Sharkey moved for those convicted under homophobic laws in the past to have their convictions ‘disregarded’.

Around 75,000 men were convicted of homosexual acts under laws that were repealed in the 1960s. Legislation passed in 2012 gave the 16,000 of them who are still alive the right to apply to have their convictions disregarded. This left 59,000 men who were convicted prior to the law changing, who have now died, unable to get such redress.

John Sharkey said, “Our amendment simply sets out to give equal treatment to all those gay men convicted under the cruel and homophobic Labouchère amendment and other Acts. It sets out to treat the dead and the living equally. It would bring closure to an extremely unhappy period in our criminal law. It would give comfort to the relatives, friends and supporters of those gay men convicted but now dead. It would help to put right a serious historical injustice.”

The amendment read:
After Clause 28, insert the following new Clause-
Disregarding certain convictions for buggery etc: making an application on behalf of another person

(1) In section 92 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (power of Secretary of State to disregard convictions or cautions), after subsection (1) insert-
(1A) A person may make an application under subsection (1) on behalf of another person if that other person is deceased.”

(2) In section 93 of that Act (applications to the Secretary of State)-
(a) in subsection (2)(a), at the end insert “or if applying on behalf of a deceased person, the name and dates of birth and death of that person”;
(b) in subsection (2)(b), at the end insert “or if applying on behalf of a deceased person, the name and address of that person at the time of the conviction or caution”.

Sadly the motion fell.

John Sharkey’s speech in full:

My Lords, next Wednesday night there will be a late second promenade concert at the Royal Albert Hall. There will be only one work in this prom: “A Man from the Future” by the Pet Shop Boys, who I am sure are familiar to all your Lordships. The piece is based on the life of Alan Turing and is an orchestral biography for electronics, orchestra, choir and narrator.

The piece as it will be performed is different from its final draft, because after the final draft was completed Alan Turing was granted a posthumous royal pardon. This pardon, for homosexual acts that would not now be illegal, left some with mixed feelings. Andrew Hodges, Turing’s biographer, on whose work much of the libretto is based, said about the pardon:

“I don’t think it’s right in principle to make an exception for one person on the grounds of what they did for the State. It should be for everyone who was in that situation”.

Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe-the Pet Shop Boys, as your Lordships will know-will explicitly address this contradiction in the finale of Wednesday’s performance. They say:

“We had to rewrite the ending to point out that the convictions of tens of thousands of other men remain and that hasn’t been discussed”.

They are right to raise this issue. Under the dreadful Labouchère amendment of 1885 and other equally dreadful laws, 75,000 men were convicted of homosexual acts. These laws were eventually repealed in the 1960s.

In 2012 this Government did something to put right this injustice. We passed the Protection of Freedoms Act, which allowed all those convicted under those old statutes to apply to have their convictions disregarded. This would happen if it could be demonstrated that the acts for which they were convicted would not now be illegal. Of the 75,000 men convicted under the now-repealed Acts, 16,000 were still alive and could now apply to have their convictions disregarded. This provides real help and comfort for them, their families, relatives, friends and loved ones, and helps to put right a serious and enduring historical injustice.

However, this still leaves the 59,000 men similarly convicted but now dead. In March 2012 I tried to do something about this. I tried to amend the Protection of Freedoms Act, via the LASPO Bill that was then before us. I wanted to extend the right to have a conviction disregarded to apply to those 59,000 men. I wanted friends, relatives or supporters to be able to apply for a disregard posthumously on their behalf. I said then that I believed that this simple extension was fair and right in principle. I wanted equality of treatment for all those convicted under the cruel Labouchère amendment and other laws, whether alive or dead. I believed then, as I still do, that this would go some way towards making amends to the many thousands of men who were cruelly and unjustly persecuted simply for being gay.

The Government were not persuaded. The Minister said in reply:
“I do not believe that the provisions for disregarding convictions, which are concerned with the practical consequences of conviction, are an appropriate means of putting right the wrongs done to people who are no longer alive to suffer those consequences. As my noble friend himself points out, the numbers involved are potentially very large”.

This seems to be very mean-spirited and wholly legalistic. It entirely fails to take into account the feelings of friends, relatives and supporters of those convicted but now dead. It fails entirely to acknowledge a moral duty to help put right a serious injustice. It also devalues the disregard for those convicted and still alive. The purpose of the disregard is not just to help with the practical consequences; it is also to publicly acknowledge a very grave injustice.

The last sentence of the Minister’s response seemed to imply a worry about being overwhelmed by applications for a disregard. I thought that very unlikely. Now there is some concrete evidence to show exactly how unlikely it is. The Protection of Freedoms Act was commenced in October 2012. In a Written Answer of last Thursday, my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach gave the latest figures for application for disregard. There are 16,000 men who may apply. Since the Act commenced, in total 147 have applied. Of these, 13 applied in the last three months. This is not an avalanche. The MoJ has confirmed to me that it is not able to put a cost on processing these applications because they have been dealt with within existing resources.

In conversations I had with the Minister and his officials in 2012, the MoJ raised another objection to the idea of a posthumous disregard. It was concerned that many of the posthumous cases might be so old that there would be no safe way of demonstrating that the conviction in question involved consensual and over-age sex. This did not seem to me at the time to be a valid argument and it still does not. The essence of the application process is that the applicant must supply evidence to convince the Secretary of State that the historical offence would not now be an offence at all. That applies to the living. It would also apply to applications on behalf of the dead.

Our amendment simply sets out to give equal treatment to all those gay men convicted under the cruel and homophobic Labouchère amendment and other Acts. It sets out to treat the dead and the living equally. It would bring closure to an extremely unhappy period in our criminal law. It would give comfort to the relatives, friends and supporters of those gay men convicted but now dead. It would help to put right a serious historical injustice.

I hope that this is an uncontroversial measure and that my noble friend will now take a sympathetic view. It would be very good to be able to attend Wednesday’s prom in the knowledge that we had been able to bring a satisfactory end to this long-running injustice.