Last week, George Montague, the 93-year-old activist from Brighton handed a petition into 10 Downing Street calling for an apology from the Government to the estimated 65,000 gay and bi men who, like him, were hounded and convicted under old discriminatory sexual offences laws.
Mr Montague is right. An apology from the Prime Minister on behalf of past Governments, and the police and criminal justice system that implemented the laws they created would be the best conclusion to an issue which has become mired in conflict.
And that’s despite most people agreeing, including the Government, that what happened to Turing, and to every man unjustly prosecuted under those laws was wrong. The issue comes back for debate in the House of Lords tomorrow.
The Government wants an automatic pardon for everyone unjustly convicted who has since died, while people who are alive will still need to apply for what is called a disregard. Many others in Parliament think that the pardon should be automatic for all those affected, including 15,000 men still alive. Stonewall agrees with that.
The conflict is based on a misunderstanding of what a pardon does. A pardon removes the penalty for a conviction, but it does not delete it, it stays on the individual’s criminal record.
The only way to delete your conviction and ensure it isn’t reported in a criminal records check is to apply for a disregard. This process was set up in 2012, and Stonewall has published a guide on how people can apply.
This process is important because it makes sure any offences which are still illegal today cannot be deleted, so for example if the offence as non-consensual or with someone under 16.
So a pardon is symbolic, it is an acknowledgement that nobody should have been punished in this way. But as Mr Montague points out, a pardon still suggests you did something wrong.
We support an amendment from Lord Michael Cashman to be debated tomorrow to extend pardons to all 65,000 men affected by these laws automatically. We are also urging support for another important proposal Lord Cashman is championing to close a loophole in the disregard process. At the moment men convicted or cautioned for a law called Section 32 (solicitation by men) cannot have their crime deleted because it was missed off the list of offences that could be disregarded in 2012.
Section 32 was used as recently as the 1990s to arrest men for simply trying to chat up another man in a public place, often in stings by plain-clothes police officers outside gay pubs. It was repealed in 2003 along with the gross indecency, buggery and other laws used against gay and bi men. Clearly, people unjustly convicted or cautioned in this way should be able to delete that unfair conviction.
But beyond that, it is definitely time for the Prime Minister to seize this moment to acknowledge the damage that these laws caused to so many gay and bi men and their loved ones.
And indeed, there is an opportunity to go further than that. We have made so much progress in the last twenty years it is easy to forget just how many millions of LGBT people’s lives were limited and undermined by discrimination that was supported by public bodies.
There is still much more to do to ensure that everyone can live fully and openly as themselves. An apology from the Prime Minister for what was done in the past against LGBT people, in the Government’s name, would be a powerful signal of support.
It would underline their determination to continue on our path to a country where everyone, everywhere is accepted without exception.
Stonewall’s short guide provides details on the current process for deleting gay sex convictions and which offences are currently covered.