Britain Poised to Pardon Gays for 'Criminal' Consensual Gay Sex

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday January 6, 2022

Britain is moving forward with a plan to pardon men whose only "crime" was consensual gay sex...if that. Some were convicted on nothing more than a wink or a smile, The New York Times noted, citing a two-decade-old report from the British government that acknowledged that "broad definitions" of some so-called "offenses" — namely, "importuning," "gross indecency," and "soliciting" — were used as "a way to regulate consensual behavior between homosexual men."

"Soliciting, for example, could involve 'a smile, wink, gesture or some other physical signal,'" the report specified.

One gay man with just such an "offense" on his record, 68-year-old Terry Stewart, told the Times that having been arrested in 1981 and charged with "importuning" sabotaged his career prospects and had a major "impact" on the course of his life.

Stewart has long pressed for a change like the one Britain's government has announced. Stewart insists that he was innocent of any sexual conduct whatsoever, and says that he was targeted by police who used the fact that he simply walked into a public restroom as the basis for his arrest and the charges brought against him.

"You're talking about a young man with very blonde hair tied in pigtails," Stewart told the Times, saying that his appearance "would have been pretty conspicuous" to police actively looking for gay men to arrest.

As to the government's plan, Stewart suggested it doesn't fully rectify the injustice he's faced, saying that "a pardon is an admission of guilt on my part."

As damaging as his conviction was, Stewart's life was not affected for as long as the lives of some other men who had sex with men. The Times related how a 98-year-old World War II veteran, George Montague, "was convicted of 'gross indecency' in 1974."

But now, Montague is about to be vindicated — even though he has spent more than half of his long life with a criminal record based on his sexuality.

"Now nearly 99, I am finally seeing my gay criminal record being removed before I die," Montague posted on Twitter.

The new measure follows earlier — but incomplete — attempts to address past injustices targeting gay men, the BBC noted.

"Since 2012, people in England and Wales have been able to apply to have historical same-sex sexual cautions and convictions disregarded," the BBC said.

Those earlier actions didn't go far enough, critics said, noting that even after anti-gay laws criminalizing consensual sex between people of the same gender were abolished, the individual harm of criminal records being expunged persisted.

The measure follows clear-cut protocols. "People must still go through an application process to have their records wiped, and any party involved in the activity in question must have been 16 or older and the sexual activity must be legal today," The Washington Post said, noting that the government's action follows "a years-long campaign led by House of Lords members Michael Cashman and Alistair Lexden and sociologist Paul Johnson of the University of Leeds."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.