Lionel Starling & Paul Foot

How much longer must these people
be hounded and humiliated?

(June 1977)

From Socialist Worker, 25 June 1977.
Reprinted in Chris Harman (ed.), In the Heat of the Struggle, Bookmarks, London 1993, p.166.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

SIXTEEN MEN are about to come up in court in Bodmin, Cornwall, charged with ‘serious crimes’ which did no harm to anyone.

There are no witnesses – only confessions given to the police that these men had sex with one another. Yes, that’s still a crime. It’s called ‘gross indecency in a public place’.

A ‘public place’ includes a car, a party or even a flat to which anyone apart from the accused has access.

The Cornish case is not an exception. All over the country, police forces, which constantly complain about overwork are straining at the leash to ‘run to ground’ anyone who can be proved to have had sex with someone of his own sex.

All this is happening ten years after the law was changed to allow homosexual relations between adults.

Nettie Pollard, Gay Rights officer of the National Council of Civil Liberties, reckons that these prosecutions have ‘doubled at least since 1967, when the law was changed’.

Why is this vast battery of repression directed against people because of their sexual behaviour? Why, last week, did the House of Lords vote 146-25 not to allow people of 18-21 to have sex with each other if they are of the same sex? The few apparently rational answers to this question do not stand up for a second.

If banning sexual activity by law stamps out the corruption of children, we should ban all sexual behaviour.

And then, of course, there would be much more corruption of children, much more secret, ashamed and transient sex, because people would be terrified or conscience-stricken by the law from doing what they want among people they like.

There is no rational argument against homosexual behaviour. The society in which we live is founded on the belief that people must behave according to a set of rules imposed from above. These rules lay down what is ‘normal’ and what isn’t.

People’s lives can therefore be drilled to conform to patterns; patterns in factories and offices and schools, and patterns at home.

Any deviance threatens the power of the people in charge of society to lay down its rules. And therefore minorities who behave differently to the laid-down ‘norms’ are persecuted.

When the people in charge of society feel safe, they make concessions to these minorities.

That’s why, in 1967, when there was little unemployment and even less economic crisis, laws for homosexual reform (and for abortion reform) were passed. But when the people in charge feel threatened, they insist much more fiercely on the acceptance of their norms. They repress all those minorities who don’t conform to their norms.

Everyone knows that Hitler’s fascist regime in Germany outlawed and persecuted Jews. Few know that at the same time Hitler outlawed and persecuted gypsies and homosexuals.

We want a socialist society not just to change property forms – but to develop the potential of all the people in that society.

In such a society directing sexual behaviour would be unthinkable. And it’s the job of everyone who wants such a society to contest the prejudice against homosexuals, to argue with the preposterous jokes and insults which permeate so much back chat on these matters.

Above all, it’s our job to support those people who are courageous enough openly to fight their persecution.

Last updated on 7 May 2010