Exec member Percy writes on the recent pardons for men convicted of Homosexuality, and why every silver lining has a cloud...
Today’s news (4th January 2022) came with something that actually cheered me up for once: The UK is finally going to extend pardons to more of the men convicted of homosexuality before 2001. Convictions for buggery and gross indecency between men had already been either pardoned or disregarded in a previous round of amnesties, this one is focused on solicitation - Which, in the parlance of the time, would have been called “Chatting someone up” or “Flirting” if it was applied between straight people.
And then, the news once again contrived to kick us where it hurts - Because these pardons are being included as an amendment on the Police Bill (“Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts” officially) - For those not keeping up with the news, that’s the bill that makes a criminal offence to live roadside, which will result in Travellers having their entire homes and all of their possessions confiscated by the government, and their children taken into the foster system, as the adults are thrown in prison.
How can I celebrate the cancelling of unfair and life-ruining convictions for one part of my community, when it comes with new unfair and life-ruining convictions for another part of it?
I feel like this is a deliberate move on the part of Priti Patel - Quashing the convictions of innocent gay men who had been convicted of something which is no longer illegal is a popular position, and although there’s been plenty of protest (ironically) about the protest-related parts of the Police Bill, pretty much nobody who isn’t themselves a Traveller has raised any kind of objection to the parts about criminalising our traditional way of life. Adding this to the Bill will split our resistance - there are enough people who will think that pardoning the innocent is more important than the right of Travellers to live roadside, and disingenuous actors will absolutely try to spin any resistance from us into “Homophobic Gypsies protest against pardoning innocent gay men!”.
Which is where the fine art of cutting myself in half comes in - I shouldn’t have to be feeling torn between relief that my old friends from the sauna (Many of whom are now long-dead anyway) will be pardoned, and terror that my friends and family will have their lives destroyed overnight. These are not, in a sensible world, things which should be an “either/or” proposition - Gay men convicted and forced to register as sex offenders for flirting with each other (or with undercover officers posing as gay men) should obviously be pardoned, and Travellers should obviously be allowed to live the way that we have been living for centuries, without being arrested.
Priti Patel herself said: “I hope that expanding the pardons and disregards scheme will go some way to righting the wrongs of the past and to reassuring members of the LGBT community that Britain is one of the safest places in the world to call home.” - But by planning to pass a law which will make thousands of Gypsies and Travellers simultaneously homeless and criminals, she’s making the UK far less safe for a subset of LGBT people. It’s very clear that she can’t imagine that someone might be LGBT and a Traveller, or more likely - She doesn’t count Travellers as properly belonging to the UK at all.
We can’t fall for this nonsense, we can’t soften our resistance to this bill being passed just because the shit-ripple sundae now has an actual cherry on the top.