I beg your pardon?

Karen Pollock takes issue with the idea of a deeply queerphobic government issuing pardons for acts which should never have been crimes in the first place.


If you have ever watched a small child apologise for something they didn’t know was wrong, you have seen the beginning of the internet figure of speech “sorry not sorry”. They know the formula of words which is expected, and that if they go through the required ritual, they may even be praised rather than punished. Adults tend to play along because it is deemed important that children learn how to apologise and in what circumstances. We may be well aware the sorry is not truly meant or understood, but we let it pass.

When it comes to adults we tend to have stricter rules around the sincerity of apologies, and what might cause them. Many people will have read of fauxpologies, the idea that an apology which goes “I am sorry if…..” bears more relationship to a 5 year old whose hand was caught in the cookie jar than remorse and repentance. As adults we, quite rightly, expect more, and have more expected from us. Perhaps this is why so many people are less than enthusiastic about the proposal to pardon men convicted under the gross indecency act announced this week.

It is a fact that thousands of men were convicted of “gross indecency” by a homophobic law. Not all of these men will have identified as gay or bisexual, they all however were convicted solely because the morals of the time decided that sex between two consenting men should be illegal. This law was changed in England and Wales in 1967, Scotland in 1980 and Northern Ireland in 1982. I say changed because contrary to popular opinion the law still discriminated against homosexual men, only declaring acts in private, between those over the age of 21, to be legal. It took much longer for an equal age of consent to be brought in*, and it may be worth noting that our current Prime Minister opposed this move towards equality.

So, there are many men alive today, and many who have already died, who had convictions for something which today is not deemed to be a crime. As already mentioned they may or may not have been gay, but its largely the movement for LGB rights which has pushed first for Turing, and then for a more general pardon. In that word, pardon, lies so much of the problem. A pardon is defined as

noun

1.

kind indulgence, as in forgiveness of an offense or discourtesy or intolerance of a distraction or inconvenience:

I beg your pardon, but which way is Spruce Street?

2.

Law.

  1. a release from the penalty of an offense; a remission of penalty, as by a governor.
  2. the document by which such remission is declared.

3.

forgiveness of a serious offense or offender.(Free dictionary.com) 
Carried within the idea of a pardon is the idea an offence occurred. The dictionary definition suggests a pardon takes place when there has been a serious offence. I can understand the anger of those who were convicted who reject the idea of a pardon. Although the law would never have criminalised me, I too would reject this pardon.
My objection goes further however. As Professor Chris Ashford has covered for a number of years, what kind of sex between men is acceptable has been narrowing for some time. Clubs, saunas and cinemas which once provided opportunities for men, (and especially those who did not fit heteronormative patterns), to have sex have been closed down across the UK. Sadly the push for respectability means whilst queer voices will be raised to save the Black Cap, few mentioned the closure of Fantasy sex cinema. Perhaps its part of the disgust at the idea of men actually having sex which my fellow curator Lee wrote so well about. It may be why the headlines trumpet that “gay men” are being pardoned, not men who had sex with other men. Remove the sex which frightens the masses.
Its not just meatspace which is being affected. The digital economy bill will restrict access to more than porn, and unduly affect LGBTQ people. Remember the very word bisexuality is considered obscene by many site blockers. We know from previous experience that attempts to control what people view on the net blocked sites such as Childline, and sex education sites.
The dictionary definition suggests a pardon takes place when there has been a serious offence. I can understand the anger of those who were convicted who reject the idea of a pardon. Although the law would never have criminalised me, I too would reject this pardon.
Last year, certain sex acts were declared illegal to film, or to view on film. They were largely queer/kinky or female sex acts. The campaign against that law is still continuing, against the idea that consenting adults should be deemed “gross” or “indecent”.
The idea of pardoning someone for something which is not now a crime sticks in the throat of anyone who thinks consenting adults should never have been criminalised. However what’s far more important is that we do not allow a government perpetrating attack after attack on LGBTQ+ people to get brownie points for a legalistic sleight of hand. Rather than parading Alan Turing as a hero, making up for his unfortunate sexuality, the government and local authorities, need to stop closing queer spaces which dare to be anything but hetronormative and monogamous.
Finally to those family members who seem to want a pardon, to want the “stain” removed from Grandpa’s character, I say that maybe they need to consider why they see the conviction as a stain? Laws do not determine morality, and their can be no shame, or stain in being convicted under an unjust, and unfair law. If you believe there is, it’s not the convicted person who needs to think about morality and forgiveness.
Last year, certain sex acts were declared illegal to film, or to view on film. They were largely queer/kinky or female sex acts. The campaign against that law is still continuing, against the idea that consenting adults should be deemed “gross” or “indecent”.
The government could, and should, apologise to all those convicted. Doing so would however involve accepting that they had done nothing wrong, and perhaps that, rather than a pardon, is a step they are unwilling to take.
*It took until 2006 for the law to be equalised in Northern Ireland, we are not dealing with ancient history here.
Follow Karen on Twitter (@CounsellingKaz)

One thought on “I beg your pardon?

  1. In Canada, there were 1950s laws against queers being able to be employed by the government because they were deemed a security risk of blackmail because you can’t be gay and an employee.

    1969 stonewall in the USA, 1980s Toronto and the Gay Bathhouses.

    2016 Stonewall Inn is now a national monument and the Toronto Police have apologized.

    which means little, without action and compensation

    Apology – as in personal sorry for actions, is very different from a Legal Apology and Liability.

    in 2016, the RCMP apologized to women, the Military has not

    and the Federal Public Service is about to have to deal with that prejudice and bigotry continues to impact in the workplace

    and religion’s limited idea of morality is why people were persecuted.

    Like

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