A new report from the UK shows that gay men with historical convictions for no other reason than being gay are still suffering, with their convictions going unchallenged.
Two years ago, the UK brought in the Freedom of Information Act, legislation that carried a provision to allow men who had previously been arrested for so-called gross indecency for no other reason than their being gay to have their convictions either deleted or ignored.
Not only would this serve to remove the decades of stigma and answer the serious injustice done to these estimated 50,000 still living men, but it would also ensure they were no longer barred from certain employment opportunities. There’s just one problem: since that time only a handful of men have been able to have their records amended.
The Independent reveals that Home Office data obtained under a Freedom of Information request shows that only 30% of requests have been approved: a total of 146 applications have been made and only 40 were granted. The reason why so many applications have been refused isn’t clear.
The Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government originally billed this aspect of the legislation as a means to make amends for the injustice done to many gay men whose lives were ruined by gross indecency convictions. The convictions were particularly damaging because any job that required a background check, for instance something working with children, would show the conviction, meaning that, even in recent years, it could have prevented them from accessing jobs in the police-force, working with children and other jobs that require no criminal record.
At the time the government introduced the legislation, campaigners said the process would have to be easy and well publicized in order to ensure that as many men as possible who were affected by this historical discrimination could have their records either amended or their convictions totally erased. Sadly, that hasn’t happened.
Now, we might assume this would prompt a rethink by the government. According to the Independent, though, there is no sign of the government reassessing the measure.
A spokesperson is quoted as saying, “It is unacceptable that homosexual men have been living for decades with criminal records for consensual sex. We would encourage anyone affected to apply to have these records deleted or disregarded.”
It’s vexing that the government is refusing to budge on this issue and putting the burden of changing records on the gay men who were affected by this discrimination, especially when there is another avenue open to the government.
Last year, Queen Elizabeth II gave a royal pardon to World War II codebreaker Alan Turing, who was one of the men affected by a gross indecency charge for no other reason than his being gay. Ultimately, it is widely believed that his conviction at least contributed to his suspected (though never confirmed) suicide. The pardon recognized Turing as someone who greatly contributed not just to the War effort, but also as someone whose brilliance helped usher in the modern age of computing.
As I wrote at the time, this set a precedent. Campaigners including myself have since called for a full pardon to be extended to all those men affected by this historical discrimination, because righting a historical wrong should not hinge on how exceptional a person was but should recognize the violence done to every man due to this persecution and regardless of their status in life. Otherwise the government is acting in a shameful, utilitarian fashion.
While for the government this would be time consuming as officials would have to differentiate between convictions solely on the basis of someone’s homosexuality and other gross indecency convictions which were all lumped into one, it would take the burden off members of the public — whom the government has admitted never should have been criminalized — and make it a matter of government handling. This would neatly sidestep the issue of getting men to begin to process of having their records amended and it should have been the course of action the government pursued in the first place.
Care2 Update: More than 20,000 people have now signed the petition calling on the UK government to extend the pardon to all gay men wrongly convicted under the gross indecency law. If you haven’t signed, please do. If you have, thank you! Please consider sharing the petition with your friends.
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