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Theresa May admits Tories were 'wrong' on LGBT rights on 50th anniversary of partial decriminalisation

2017-07-27

Prime Minister Theresa May has she was "wrong" to have voted against LGBT+ rights in the past, in an interview to mark the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. The 1967 Sexual Offences Act decriminalised private homosexual acts between men over the age of 21 in England and Wales. Decriminalisation did not reach Scotland and Northern Ireland until 1980 and 1982 respectively. The Prime Minister, who previously voted against lowering the age of consent for gay men and opposed allowing gay couples to adopt, told Pink News: "I am proud of the role my party has played in recent years in advocating a Britain which seeks to end discrimination on the grounds of sexuality or gender identity, but I acknowledge where we have been wrong on these issues in the past." May's record on LGBT+ rights has improved in recent years. In 2004 she voted for the introduction of civil partnerships and supported marriage equality legislation. However, she has faced criticism for her deal with the anti-gay DUP after her party failed to win a majority during the election in June. In 1977 the DUP launched the ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’ campaign, which sought to prevent the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Northern Ireland, and in recent years the party has repeatedly blocked the introduction of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, which remains the only region in the UK where gay people are denied the right to marry. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also spoke to the publication, saying that the anniversary was a time to "recognise the great strides towards equality that have been made". Corbyn hailed the achievements of LGBT+ campaigners in their fight for equality: "I am proud of the role the Labour Party played in these advances... but this progress is not down to MPs in Parliament... these achievements belong first and foremost to the LGBT community who have persevered against prejudice for many years." At this year's Attitude Pride Awards, we recognised all of the men who were jailed before decriminalisation. The award was accepted by Keith Biddlecombe, one of the thousands of gay men who could be "pardoned" by the government for historical gay sex offences. Keith's story is a tragic one, and something that LGBT+ people must take note of and remember when taking the rights currently afforded to us for granted. He joined the Navy at the age of just 17, but his career was cut short when he was caught sleeping in bed with another man. After a “painful and degrading” examination that they were both forced to endure, the pair were charged with buggery and gross indecency, and were then court-martialed. Keith then faced a huge dilemma when officers told him he faced five years behind bars if he didn't reveal the names of other officers he had been sexually active with. He refused to say at first, but he eventually relented when he was told all the men had to do was deny the charges and they'd be fine. I thought, ‘Well, that’s a get out’. They were interested in an army officer who I’d spent a night with in Malta, so I was kept there waiting for his trial.” However, there was never a hearing. Things took a shockingly dark turn when just weeks later, Keith was told to pack his bags because the officer in question had committed suicide. “I’ve carried that with me for 61 years. He’d shot himself because, unlike me, he had a code to live by and felt he’d brought disgrace to his family and all the rest of it. “If only I’d been able to talk to him, to tell him that there is a gay life. But I wasn’t able to see him; he chose his path and I still feel very sad for him.” More stories: 11 pieces of advice I would give my 16-year-old gay self Date and location announced for 2018 Eurovision Song Contest