The filibuster of the Turing Bill reminds us that homophobia is alive and well in Britain

The Conservative justice minister filibustered a bill to pardon the thousands of men convicted under legislation that criminalised homosexuality. This act lays bare the discrimination still faced by LGBT people in this country.

Callum Phillips
25 October 2016
A statue of Alan Turing at Bletchley Park

A statue of Alan Turing, for whom the bill was named. Photo: Jon Callas. Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Licensed.The failure of the Turing Bill is a stark reminder of the homophobia embedded in British society. A staunchly undemocratic filibuster, led by none other than justice minister Sam Gyimah, ensured that no vote could be taken on the Bill. The Turing Bill, named after WW2 code breaker Alan Turing, was intended to pardon the gay men prosecuted before homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967.

Although Gyimah was met with loud shouts of shame from other MPs, there is little doubt that the failure of the bill to pass will only further disenfranchise an already at-risk section of society. It is precisely this sort of behaviour which reinforces the alienation of homosexual men, leading to disproportionally high levels of mental illness, self-harm and suicides within the LGBT community.[1] societal pressures resulting in an internalised discomfort with oneself and constant fear of ridicule have created a crisis where a staggering 52% of LGBT youths have self-harmed and 44% have considered suicide.[2] That is simply unacceptable. The government, especially the justice minister, must lead the way in creating an environment where homosexuals are equals, and not a minority to be disregarded as soon as a politically point-scoring manifesto has fallen from the public eye.

We live in a society where homosexual characters on TV shows all fit one description. A society where to be gay and play sport means to be habitually treated with scorn and contempt. A society in which a quarter of LGB people hide their sexual orientation for fear of being the victim of a hate crime, and 38% of transpeople have experienced physical threats or intimidation. And now, a society where the justice minister refuses to pardon men of the defunct crime of being gay. To live in the United Kingdom as an LGBT person is to live with a relentless awareness that you may well be treated like a second-class citizen, to live paranoid that you may be subjected to verbal or physical abuse on any given day.

Mr Gyimah explained his decision on the basis that he feared a blanket ban would lead to those convicted of actions still illegal today - such as sex in public bathrooms - being pardoned. Whilst few may advocate sex that sex in a bathroom is acceptable public behaviour, the reality is that there were few private places available for homosexual men to spend times with their loved ones. In the vast majority of cases, one certainly could not take a partner to one's family home. Gymiah insists that detailed investigations must be carried out by the Home Office so that offences which involved a party under the age of 16 were not included. Nonetheless, a pardon should be considered the pure minimum for those who had their lives ruined by a draconian and homophobic law.

Consider that before 2003, workplace discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation was legal. Due to the notorious Section 28 legislation,in place from 1988-2003, local authorities were not allowed to “promote” homosexuality, or teach that it was acceptable for a “family relationship”. LGBT sex education was therefore illegal, and LGBT children were given the clear message that their lives were less valuable than those of their straight counterparts. The British government’s history with the LGBT community has destroyed lives. As a minimum, it triggered swathes of mental health issues and made sexual education which could have helped combat the AIDS crisis impossible. Progress has been slow, and it is a sorry state of affairs that potentially life-saving sexual education is still appallingly absent on a state-wide level.

This bill was an effort to return some dignity to dead men, and provide those survivors with justice, and will live long in the minds of the LGBT community; but for all the wrong reasons. The government cannot bring itself even to grant simple pardons that would have caused no harm and sent a clear positive message of acceptance. But even this gesture would not have been enough. To truly bring the LGBT community in from the cold, there must be a no holds barred apology for the treatment of homosexuals by the British state. 49,000 men were prosecuted for homosexuality in the 20th century alone. When will we admit they deserve justice?

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