It seems more than timely to write something about the LGBT community. Pride has just taken place in London; Tate Britain has an exhibition – Queer British art 1861-1967; the British Museum has Desire, love, identity exploring LGBT histories from its collection; and the Walker Art Gallery has Coming out: Art and culture 1967-2017. Even Radio 4 has produced as series on Queer Icons. And of course it’s the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act which led to the partial decriminalization of male homosexuality in England, as well as the 60th anniversary of the Wolfenden Report (1957), which itself led to the 1967 Act.
Needless to say much has been written on homosexuality in British, Irish and British imperial history (BBIH has over 800 references). It seems invidious to pick out particular books or articles so I’ve gone for the easy option and picked the first 25 references from BBIH (as of July 2017).
Fortunately the list offers a wide range of topics. Different localities are represented by Mandate Palestine, the Indian North West Frontier, London (of course) and south Wales (For our common cause: Sexuality and left politics in South Wales, 1967–1985). Date coverage is equally wide-ranging from early modern England to a 1609 sea voyage to the near present. As for subjects, there are representations of gay people in literature, film and caricature, cross-dressing, AIDS, religious thought, church reactions, legal implications, psychology and disability (Libertine Sexuality and Queer-Crip Embodiment in Eighteenth-Century Britain).
As for the authors, it’s encouraging to see a number of the leading historians of gender and sexuality in the list. Harry Cocks is represented by his article Conspiracy to corrupt public morals and the ‘unlawful’ status of homosexuality in Britain after 1967 which explains the ‘partial decriminalization’ with the continued prosecution of homosexuality. Indeed his latest book, Visions of Sodom: religion, homoerotic desire, and the end of the world in England, c. 1550-1850, is just out (and just added to BBIH). There is also cultural historian Matt Cook and his discussion of AIDS in London, AIDS and the 1980s, a chapter in Sex, time and place: queer histories of London, c.1850 to the present. Also present is Lesley A. Hall and her article ‘Sentimental Follies’ or ‘Instruments of Tremendous Uplift’? Reconsidering women’s same-sex relationships in interwar Britain.
People (as subjects) to pick out from the list are (inevitably) Wilde in Oscar Wilde prefigured: queer fashioning and British caricature, 1750-1900, Francis Bacon in ‘Famous for the paint she put on her face’: London’s painted poofs and the self-fashioning of Francis Bacon (another chapter from Sex, time and place), Constance Maynard in Religion, Same-Sex Desire, and the Imagined Geographies of Empire: the case of Constance Maynard (1849–1935), and Wolfenden himself in Wolfenden’s witnesses: homosexuality in postwar Britain, as well as references to the contemporary author Alan Hollinghurst and Victorian painter Simeon Solomon.
Of course the Sexual Offences Act only applied to England and Wales. Charting the slower change in Scotland you can do no better than look at the works of Roger Davidson and Gayle Davis.