Yesterday I took a call from Gemma Wheatley at the Daily Star to comment on the fact that George Michael had been treated ‘too leniently’, after being cautioned for drug possession. I didn’t ask where Gemma had got hold of Transform, but she obviously didn’t know what we do. After informing her that I couldn’t say anything against Michael’s caution, I said I’d call her back.
The fact that he had been arrested in a toilet reminded me of the famous court case when three notable men were arrested for consensual sex offences, that in no small measure, led to the Wolfenden Committee being set up, and ultimately the repeal of the law banning homosexual sex.
The quote I gave them was: “Forty years ago George Michael could have been arrested for having consensual gay sex in private. One day when drugs are legally controlled and regulated, he will no longer be criminalised for possession of drugs.”
Suffice to say they didn’t use it, preferring instead retired judge Keith Matthewman QC: “I cannot understand how or why someone in his position and with his previous record could be let off with a caution.”
The link between the decriminalisation of gay sex and the legalisation and regulation of drugs is worthy of comparison.
To quote from “FREE THE BUGGERS”–Britain & the Wolfenden Report
"In 1953 John Barrington Douglas-Scott-Montagu, known as Lord Montagu, 27, third Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, an old Etonian and ex-Grenadier Guards officer best known for his vintage car museum at his historic Hampshire home, Palace House at Beaulieu, was arrested for “gross indecency” with two teenage Boy Scouts. In a sensational week-long court case, Montagu was tried together with his cousin, Michael Pitt-Rivers, and Peter Wildeblood, the 31-year-old diplomatic correspondent of the Daily Mail. All three defendants were convicted. Pitt-Rivers and Wildeblood were sentenced to 18 months in prison, and Lord Montagu was given a year.
As the Great Purge continued, the Conservative Party government appointed a Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution. Named to head it was Sir John Wolfenden, a private school headmaster and veteran of government committees on education and youth.”
This report eventually led to the Sexual Offences Act 1967 that began to decriminalise gay sex.
However, again to quote from ‘Free the Buggers’:
“Crucially, as The Guardian went on to point out, “While sex may have been legal, most of the things that might lead to it were still classified as ‘procuring’ and ’soliciting.’ ‘It remained unlawful for two consenting adult men to chat up each other in any non-private location,’ Tatchell says. ‘It was illegal for two men even to exchange phone numbers in a public place or to attempt to contact each other with a view to having sex.’ Thus the 1967 law established the risible anomaly that to arrange to do something legal was itself illegal.”The situation remained tenuous for more than two decades. Tatchell’s research shows that in England and Wales in 1989, consensual homosexual relations between men over the age of 16 resulted in 3,500 prosecutions, 2,700 convictions, and 380 cautions. Between 40 and 50 men served time in prison.
“Most alarmingly,” Tatchell wrote, “1,503 men were convicted of the gay consensual offence of ‘gross indecency’ in 1989, compared with 887 in 1955. In other words, there were over one and a half times more guilty verdicts in 1989 than in the mid-1950s when male homosexuality was still totally illegal and Britain was gripped by a McCarthyite-style anti-gay witch-hunt.”
Another decade and a half would pass before the reforms of Tony Blair’s government would allow British gays to feel reasonably free from persecution.
There are clear links between the criminalisation, stigmatisation and discrimination of gay men and producers, suppliers and, particularly, users of drugs defined as illegal. It is no surprise that Peter Tatchell is a supporter of legalisation and regulation of drugs.
The point I’d like to make here is that it took public conviction, in both senses of the word, to bring the issue to a head. Had the numerous men who were charged been given the option of a caution and accepted it, there would have been no case and no defendents prepared to publicly defend their sexuality.
Every time a drug user accepts a caution, they accept their guilt and effectively collude with a discriminatory, unjust and inhumane law. The police can enforce the law with total impunity to the extent that they know most users will accept a caution. Before the change in UK law on homosexual sex, gay men were guilty in the eyes of the law. Whilst some drugs are criminalised, the same will be true of illegal drug users, suppliers and producers. For those with the courage of their convictions, hasn't the time come to throw caution to the wind and defend ourselves against bad law?