A number of British gay men, convicted under a now-repealed anti-gay law, have been forced by police to submit DNA samples for criminal databases.
According to LGBT rights activist Peter Tatchell, officials in Manchester, London, Northumbria and West Midlands have visited, unannounced, the homes of men convicted of consenting same-sex behaviour, dating back three decades.
Despite the ‘gross indecency’ law that they were convicted under having been repealed in 2003, officers demanded that the men provide them with DNA samples that would be stored alongside samples from murderers, rapists and child sex abusers.
The police visits are part of a broader operation sampling the DNA of ex-convicts in a bid to crack down on crime.
“Men convicted of the now repealed consensual offence of gross indecency are, in effect, being rebranded as serious criminals and treated on a par with vicious, violent sex fiends,” wrote Tatchell on NewStatesman.com.
“They are being forced to go through the trauma of police abuse all over again,” he added.
One man, who was arrested at the age of 17, told Tatchell that the police visit, 30 years later, had left him traumatised.
“I am now 45 years old with my own business. I have been in a relationship for over 10 years. Dragging all this up from my past has made me depressed. I now can’t sleep or eat since it happened. I feel like stopping it. I am sick of it. I’ve been suicidal,” said the man, who wishes to remain anonymous.
Another man, Stephen Close, who was arrested at the age of 20 for having sex with a fellow soldier in 1983, also contacted Tatchell after he too was told he needed to submit a DNA sample.
“How long must I endure this burden? Will I ever be able to lead a normal life without worrying whether my past will come back to haunt me?” asked Close.
Enacted in 1885, the indecency law was used to persecute gay men, including high profile individuals such as playwright Oscar Wilde and World War II code breaker Alan Turing. Wilde spent two years in jail while Turing ultimately committed suicide as a result of the conviction.
Although homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967, elements of the law, such as those relating to gay sex in the military or public sex, remained in the statute books until 2003 and many of those convicted continue to have a criminal record.
Police have since apologised to some of the men and in a number of cases will destroy their DNA samples.
Britain’s Home Office issued a statement saying it would be looking into the convictions under the gross indecency law and said that “it is unacceptable that homosexual men have been living for decades with criminal records for consensual sex”.