In terms of their interaction with LGBT people, there are few sections of society which have shown a greater transformation than the Police.
Until 1967, the Police had to enforce laws which said that sex between men was a crime so serious that it deserved imprisonment.
Actual prosecutions were capricious. Some people led a charmed life, but occasionally high profile people like Oscar Wilde and Lord Montagu were sent to jail.
Pubs in Chelsea and that area sort of alternated. You would go there one week and the following week you would find it was deserted, because rumour had got round that it was going to be a raided by the Police.
Unless you were in close touch, you’d never know where to go because you didn’t know where the crowd had dispersed to.
Interviewed in 2000, Wallace and Ike made the following comments about the situation in the 1930s and 1940s.
Once your name was in the paper, your job had gone, everything had gone. The only way out if you got caught … well a lot committed suicide.
The Canon told me that a man came to talk to him at the cathedral and said he was gay and his family was against him. The next night he picked up the Evening Post and read that the man had hanged himself.
The News of the World was the worst. They used to have witch hunts. A fellow I met was in a party which was raided. They were all taken to prison. It was headlines in the News of the World.
When he came out of prison, the Governor said “Watch what you’re doing, you don’t want to be back in here”, to which he replied “I’ve had more in here than I do outside”.
You never told anyone. You couldn’t defend yourself. The police, the law, the church, society, everybody was against you. It was the blackmailer’s charter. I was blackmailed and I know a fellow who was blackmailed by two policemen.
Very few men dared or had the moral courage to set up home together. Mostly they lived with their parents or got married.
Gay sex still illegal in Scotland and Ulster.
For sex, gay men had to be over 21, for others including lesbians, it was 16.
Gay sex illegal in locked hotel rooms and in institutional accommodation e.g. residential homes for people with learning difficulties.
The 1967 Sexual Offences Act did not make an immediate difference in the attitude of many police forces.
After 1967 arrests for gay “sex offences” actually rose. Some of these arrests were a direct consequence of anomalies in the 1967 Act i.e. men were arrested because they were having sex with someone who was 19 or 20, or because they had contravened the weird definition of privacy used in the Act.
Gay men and lesbians were arrested for causing a “breach of the peace” for kissing in public. This law was “mocked to death”. Hundreds of lesbians and gay men informed the police that they were going along to Trafalgar Square, where, at an appointed time, the men would kiss the men and the women would kiss the women.
The police were invited to arrest everyone.
There was also the paradox that having sex as “consenting male adults in private” was OK, but the process leading up to the sex could still be a crime. This was because “chatting up” someone in a gay bar could be interpreted as “soliciting for immoral purposes”.
The latter offence meant that in the 1970s gay venues existed by the grace and favour of the local police force.
This wasn’t a problem in Nottingham, but in some parts of the country the police were heavy handed; there were instances where police noted the registration numbers of cars parked near gay venues and then went to the owners’ homes and questioned them about their activities.
To see the next part of the Police and Us, click HERE