Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Saturday 31 January 2015

My take on the "Gay Pardons" campaign

A campaign to "pardon" about 49,000 men who were convicted under laws outlawing male homosexuality (no such law ever existed for females) has recently begun to achieve a much higher profile than formerly, specially since the brilliant code-breaker Alan Turing was the object of a public "unequivocal apology" by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown MP in 2009, then in 2013 he was granted a Royal Pardon by Her Majesty the Queen. Alan Turing died by suicide in 1954, after having been convicted of "gross indecency" in 1952 and offered a choice of prison or "chemical castration" as punishment for his crime (i.e. what was considered a crime at the time).

The basis of the campaign, apart from being a desire to right a wrong, or "gross indecency" (geddit? -Ed) in fact in the law then and its application, is because it is contended (rightly in my view) that every person convicted under this unfair law was just as wronged by it as was Alan Turing. A new film production of the life of Alan Turing, called The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch who plays the role of Alan Turing, has obviously raised the profile of this historic injustice.

So, what do I think of all this? Well I am generally in favour of the campaign, although I have certain reservations about it and similar pardons for other historic injustices. Specifically, Alan Turing was driven to commit suicide in 1954 by the atrocious treatment meted out to him. Comforting as it may be to some of his family now living for this recognition of the wrong he suffered, he is himself no longer in a position to care one way or the other. A wrong has been done which can NEVER be righted, however many times a government of our time says "sorry" or Her Majesty grants a Pardon, no doubt issued on the recommendation of the government in place in 2013 under David Cameron, as it tries to make amends.

The same applies to any of the other 49,000 who are, like Alan Turing, dead. If any of these individuals are still alive then a Royal Pardon might have some real value to them, but for those of them who are dead it serves no real purpose, other than to try and salve the conscience of "the country" collectively. As readers here know, I am a cynical soul, so I cannot refrain from pointing out that one of the principal reasons, in my opinion, for waiting until most or all of these individuals are dead is because compensation claims can be avoided. Granting the Pardon during a person's lifetime would almost inevitably leave the government open to substantial compensation claims.

I feel the same about other historic apologies or Pardons where those directly affected are no longer alive (e.g. US citizens of Japanese descent automatically interned during WWII without looking at individual cases, similar internments of German citizens here during WWII, including some Jewish people who had fled Germany to save their lives).

No, what would be of more value, would be cessation of certain government policies today that are just as awful, for example the repatriation of asylum seekers who are gay to countries where homosexuality is not tolerated, with the near certainty that such people will be abused or in extreme cases even executed in their home countries:
- Two gay asylum seekers deported from UK (a case from 2008);
- Ugandan woman branded by iron over sexuality faces deportation from UK (a case from 2011);
- Report tells Home Office: Don’t ask gay asylum seekers ‘sexually explicit questions’ (report from October 2014).
(Whilst I accept it may be difficult to ascertain fully if claims by an asylum-seeker that he or she is homosexual and in genuine fear of returning back to their home country for that reason are true, we know enough about the policies and practices in many of the relevant countries to be sure of what would probably happen if their homosexuality were to be discovered; telling someone to "behave discreetly" so as not to draw attention to himself or herself is laughable and insulting. It seems that the desire of mainstream political parties of the left and right to placate the "anti-immigration lobby" and political Parties such as UKIP is perhaps making our government blur the lines of what is acceptable.)

In summary, it is all very well for our government to issue rather meaningless apologies and Pardons to people who are for the most part dead, but a more concrete illustration of a real change in behaviour would be the righting of current rather than historic wrongs as they relate to homosexuals. In other words, by all means Talk the Talk, but you must also Walk the Walk.

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