As part of British LGBT+ History Month, I decided to do some research into Queer British history. LGBTQ people have always been here and we exist in cultures all across the world. These blogs are just a brief summary of key events that I think everyone should know about, but there’s lots more to learn about!
1533 The Buggery Act
Passed by Henry VIII, this act turned male homosexuality from just being immoral into a crime punishable by hanging. The death penalty for this was repealed in 1861 however male homosexuality was still a crime in England until 1967. The criminalisation of homosexuality was imported across the British Empire during colonisation with the aim of forcing British values of morality and eradicating gender nonconforming and non-heterosexual behaviours in the cultures of those who were subjugated to British rule. The legacy of this are laws put in place by Britain still making homosexuality illegal across the globe. However, some countries have started repealing these laws. One example of this is India who repealed the colonial-era section 377 of the Penal code decriminalising gay sex between consenting adults.
The Molly House
In the 18th century many coffee houses, taverns, inns and brothels frequented by people of different classes were referred to as Molly Houses. A ‘molly’ was a slur used towards a gay man, an effeminate man or gender non-conforming person. These were safe spaces for Queer men to meet and be open, however they were often raided by the police. Edward Ward wrote The Secret London clubs in 1709, and describing mollies he wrote:
‘rather fancy themselves women, imitated all the little vanities that custom has reconcil’d to the female sex, affecting to speak, walk, tattle, curtsy, cry, scold, and mimick all manner of effeminacy.’
Reports of these spaces show us examples of identities that look similar to contemporary trans and gender non-conforming experiences as well as drag. LGBTQ venues are still incredibly important for the community, offering spaces where we feel safer to be our authentic selves.
The Holocaust and The Second World War
During World War Two, many LGBTQ people joined the armed forces or were involved with the war effort in different ways fighting against Nazism and fascism. In Nazi Europe, during the holocaust over 6 million Jewish people were systematically killed as well as thousands of Roma people, disabled people, and LGBTQ people. Article 175 created by Himmler targeted gay men who were made to wear the pink triangle. The upside-down pink triangle would later be reclaimed by queer activists becoming the logo of the gay liberation front. Men who wore the pink triangle in concentration camps were often subjected to extra cruelty from guards. After the camps were liberated by the Allied forces some British and American lawyers forced men convicted under Article 175 to serve the remainder of their sentences in prison. Despite the Allied victory over the Nazis being seen as a victory for human rights, for LGBTQ people persecution continued. British LGBTQ military personnel also had to hide their identities when serving or risk losing their jobs and this was kept in place until 2000.
Hope you all have a good week and stay safe.
The Buggery Act