The UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, has been urged to commit her government to pay financial compensation to men who were convicted for being gay.
In 2017, thousands of men were posthumously pardoned by the UK for past convictions under historic laws that made consensual gay sex illegal. While this offered some degree of relief, many believe that more needs to be done for the victims who are still alive.
On Tuesday, Rachel Barnes, the great niece of the late gay mathematical genius Alan Turing, was among of a group who delivered a compensation request letter to the prime minister at 10 Downing Street.
When he was convicted in 1952 for his homosexuality, Turing was given the choice of imprisonment or chemical castration. He chose the latter and died two years later, possibly by suicide, at the age of 41.
Barnes was joined by activist Peter Tatchell and Stephen Close, who personally suffered for three decades after being convicted of a consenting gay offence in 1983.
“I am sure my great uncle would want gay men who suffered like he did to receive compensation,” commented Barnes. “They deserve recompense for unjust imprisonment and fines, physical hardship, mental trauma and often impoverishment. No money can ever reverse lost and damaged lives but as a symbolic gesture compensation is important and the right thing to do.”
Close, who was convicted, aged 20, of consenting sex with another soldier in 1983, spoke about the impact of his prosecution.
“I was sentenced to six months in a military prison. I lost my job, home, income and pension,” he said. “My homosexual conviction and ‘discharge with disgrace’ made it very difficult to get another job. I was near unemployable and was forced to do mediocre, low-paid jobs for three decades years. It caused me severe depression and ruined my life.”
Of the men who were convicted for being gay prior to, and following, the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 are still alive.
Tatchell believes that the survivors deserve financial compensation. “They often lost their jobs and became near unemployable and semi-destitute because of the stigma associated with having a conviction for a homosexual offence,” he explained.
“Some experienced the break-up of their marriages and lost custody and access to their children. Families and friends disowned them and they were abused and sometimes assaulted in the street. Many descended into a downward spiral of depression, alcoholism, mental illness and suicide or attempted suicide.”
The compensation request for those convicted for being gay is not without precedent. Last year, Germany passed a law to not only overturn the convictions of gay men under Nazi-era legislation, but to also award financial compensation to survivors.
Private homosexual acts between men over the age of 21 were legalised in 1967 in England and Wales, in 1980 in Scotland and in 1982 in Northern Ireland. The age of consent was lowered to the heterosexual age of consent of 16 in 2000.