‘I have only been queer since I came to London… before then I knew nothing about it’
This surprisingly open expression of a queer identity and its link to London is found in a letter written in 1934 housed at The National Archives.
The author of the letter, Cyril Coeur de Leon, would have to wait a further 33 years before the passing of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which decriminalised homosexual acts between men in private in England and Wales. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the passing of the act, and the 60th anniversary of the Wolfenden Report, which recommended decriminalisation.
The National Archive’s documents reveal a surprising openness around sexuality in a time before homosexual acts were decriminalised. While it was never actually illegal to be gay the police criminalised certain social, cultural and religious practices. In the eyes of the law, meeting other men could be deemed as soliciting, and running a club could be seen as running a brothel or a disorderly house. In just going about their daily lives men could be arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned for up to ten years. Continue reading »