When same-sex marriage was legalised in England and Wales in 2013, many people who cared about LGBT celebrated as if the fight for equality had taken a massive step forward. This was the right thing to do because it was an important day in the British LGBT rights movement. However there were some people who only took a passing interest in the cause of LGBT rights, and mistakenly believed that this was the final battle. This perception was false. There are a number of issues that affect LGBT people in British society, and one of these issues was the stain on the character of those men convicted of homosexual acts before the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalised such behaviour. After a long campaign, this injustice has been rectified.
In recent years more and more people had become aware of the story of Alan Turing, a mathematician and computer scientist who invented one of the first modern computers and worked as a code breaker for the Allies during World War II. His life had become a crystallisation of how British society had disregarded the welfare of LGBT people before homosexuality was decriminalised. Despite his pioneering work in computer and in the war, Turing was harassed by British authorities, chemically castrated, and he eventually took his own life. After becoming more a notorious story in certain circles within the LGBT community, his story was brought to international attention though Turing’s portrayal by Benedict Cumberbatch in the 2014 film The Imitation Game.
Following the success of the film, the British government posthumously pardoned Alan Turing for the ‘offenses’ he perpetrated in his life, namely taking part in homosexual acts. This was a good way of drumming up headlines, but the decision, despite being an important cultural step forward, ignored the thousands of others who had been convicted of the same ‘crime’. Campaigners, including members of Turing’s own family, continued the fight to give pardons to all those convicted before 1967, some of whom are still alive.
Today, the British government has announced that all gay and bisexual men convicted of homosexual acts pre-1967 have been officially pardoned, and as such the criminal records of all these individuals shall be amended. The pardons were actually announced a few months ago, however the Policing and Crime Bill that contained this provision has received Royal Assent, and as such has now become law. For the thousands of gay and bisexual men convicted under this barbaric law, today’s decision provides a book-end that allows them to emotionally move on from their experiences.
Despite the cause for celebration, work on this issue remains to be done. Although the Scottish government has said they shall introduce similar legislation, pressure needs to be maintained to make the government stay the course. The real consciousness about this issue, however, needs be maintained in Northern Ireland. Justice is devolved to Stormont, and therefore the Executive has the ability to pardon those convicted of so-called ‘indecent acts’ before 1967. The election in Northern Ireland provides activists with an opportunity to raise this issue with parties across the political spectrum.
The action from the British government is welcome because it provides thousands of people across England and Wales with the closure they have been seeking for a number of years. However, the public awareness and pressure on this issue needs to be maintained. The Scottish government needs to be pushed to remain truthful to their word, but again the biggest fight yet ahead in is Northern Ireland. Devolution allows for the Executive to act decisively to reverse this injustice. The fight goes on.