“Not Guilty: Queer Stories from a Century of Discrimination” edited by Sue Elliott and Steve Humphries— When Being Gay Was a Crime

Elliott, Sue and Steve Humphries, editors. “Not Guilty: Queer Stories from a Century of Discrimination”, Biteback Publishing, 2018.

When Being Gay Was a Crime

Amos Lassen

It was only fifty years ago that sex between men in the United Kingdom was a crime. The Sexual Offences Act 1967 changed that in part and it brought about a chain of social reforms that altered the face of British society forever. However, this was only the beginning of the long fight for equality in the eyes of the law, in society and in millions of private lives.

“Not Guilty” is a vital new oral history to accompany a British television documentary of the same name that tells that story through the lives of gay men who lived through those years. “Built around the intimate testimonies of some exceptional but largely unknown characters, it gives voice to previously untold stories of denial, deceit and subterfuge, public pain and secret pleasure through the ten tumultuous decades before and since that watershed Act.”

The human variety of gay experience is all here: we have lives lived in joyous defiance of the law and a repressive society; others who always lived in fear of the tabloid press. There were those committed to love and others committed to license and there were lifelong affairs alongside casual sex.

Today gay men may take the equal treatment denied those who went before for granted. This vibrant celebration of past achievements and hard won freedoms shows us how much has changed in the past fifty years, and a warning that hard-won freedoms can so easily wear away in uncertain times.

“Not Guilty” lets voices from the past to speak directly to us making this book a moving and inspiring read. These are the voices of gay men who lived through the years when equality was unimaginable. It is a powerful new history that shows that the freedoms we enjoy today have been hard-won “by real people on the front lines of equality… This is our history and we should all know it.”

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