Remembering John Wolfenden



John Wolfenden | BBC | 14271

Sir David Bell writes for Pink News about the legacy of John Wolfenden, who chaired the Committee which recommended the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK, in 1957 (but we had to wait another ten years before it happened.)

“In 1954, Wolfenden was asked to chair a Home Office committee to look at two issues; homosexuality and prostitution. Why he was chosen and agreed to chair the committee, Wolfenden himself professed not to understand. Subsequent reports have suggested that his son was gay and that may have been a factor.”

… “In his memoirs, published in 1976, he stated that the vast majority of the population in the 1950s simply did not know that homosexuality existed, and that many others found the idea to be shocking and distasteful. And perhaps the Home Office itself wasn’t immune from such sentiment. At the Committee’s first meeting in 1954, Wolfenden was greeted by the doorkeeper with the words, “Vice, sir? Room 101”.”

“After receiving evidence in a further 61 meetings spanning three years, the most radical recommendation of the committee’s report proposed “quite simply, that homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private be no longer a criminal offence”. The report argued that private morality was a private affair and that it did not, therefore, concern the criminal legal system.

Wolfenden was quite unprepared for the storm that was to follow. “

The Wolfenden Report made a number of recommendations. The vast majority of them remained just that, recommendations, for many years, and some of them still are. Wolfenden recommended, for example, the equalisation of the age of consent between straight and gay people, in 1957. That did not happen until 1999.



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