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Homophobia, Class and Party in England*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 November 2009


David M. Rayside
Affiliation:
University of Toronto

Abstract

Institutionalized homophobia in England has been intensified over the last decade, linked to concerns about “permissiveness” so prominent within the lower middle classes so courted by the modern Conservative party. However, anti-gay norms have long been embedded in working-class and middle-class cultures, more than in continental European and North American societies. Moralistic crusades against homosexuality have been common in England, and are still reinforced by the police, the courts and especially the tabloid press. Opposition has been roused within Labour party and Liberal/Liberal Democratic circles, but often reluctantly, and framed by a limited form of tolerance.


Résumé

L'homophobie institutionnalisée en Angleterre n'a fait que croître au cours des 10 dernières années; ceci est lié au « laxisme » qui préoccupe tant la petite bourgeoisie, présentement la cible du parti conservateur. Cependant les classes ouvrières et moyennes ont toujours rejeté l'homosexualité, plus que dans les autres parts de l'Europe et en Amérique du nord. En Angleterre, il n'a pas été rare de voir des véritables croisades « morales », qui ont eu et ont toujours, l'appui de la police, des tribunaux et de la presse populaire. À l'intérieur du parti travailliste et des cercles libéraux et libéraux démocrates, une certaine opposition s'est manifestée mais souvent avec réticence et seulement dans le cadre d'une tolérance très limitée.


Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Canadian Political Science Association (l'Association canadienne de science politique) and/et la Société québécoise de science politique 1992

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References

1 The final wording of section 28 was as follows: “A local authority shall not: (a) intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material for the promotion of homosexuality; (b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretend family relationship by the publication of such material or otherwise; (c) give financial assistance to any person for either of the purposes in paragraphs (a) or (b) above.” Until the Local Government Bill was passed into law, this section was referred to as Clause 28, although various changes in the bill during its parliamentary passage altered the number to 27 and 29. The amendment was thought to be encouraged by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (The Guardian, April 8, 1988).

2 Section 25 includes as crimes “indecency between men” and “procuring others to commit homosexual acts.” According to one critic, the legislation would prohibit allowing two men to stay overnight and have sex, “cruising” or chatting up other men in public, having any form of gay sex with more than two people, and other things. See Rites, April 1991, 9, and Angles, May 1991, 4.

3 See for example, Burstyn, Varda and Smith, Dorothy E., Women, Class, Family and the State (Toronto: Garamond, 1985)Google Scholar; Stacey, Margaret and Price, Marion, Women, Power, and Politics (London: Tavistock, 1981)Google Scholar; and Weeks, Jeffrey, Sex, Politics and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality Since 1800 (London: Longman, 1981)Google Scholar.

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5 Weeks, Jeffrey, Sexuality (London: Tavistock, 1986), 89Google Scholar. The argument to follow is similar to that made by Weeks in his chap. 5. The same conservatism often targets abortion as well as homosexuality, although for a number of politicians in England, the latter is a safer target.

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23 Davenport-Hines, Sex, Death and Punishment, chap. 3.

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27 From chap. 2 of the Wolfenden Report, cited in Hall, “Reformism and the Legislation of Consent,” 12. See also Weeks, Sexuality, 102; Berg, Charles, Fear, Punishment, Anxiety and the Wolfenden Report (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1959), 23, 32Google Scholar. By adopting 21 years of age as the lower threshold for decriminalization, the legislation imposed a higher age of consent for homosexual acts than any other country in Europe (Warner, Nigel, “Parliament and the Law,” in Galloway, Bruce, ed., Prejudice and Price: Discrimination Against Gay People in Modern Britain [London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983], 9899Google Scholar).

28 In the 10 years following the passage of the reform bill, the number of prosecutions for “indecency” between males trebled, and the number of convictions quadrupled (Weeks, Sex, 275).

29 Surveys have shown that there was an increase in moral condemnation of homosexuality between 1983 and 1987, the number of Britons thinking that homosexual relations were “always” or “mostly” wrong increasing from 62 to 74 per cent. Asked whether lesbians and gay men should have the right to adopt children, overwhelming majorities of 86 (for lesbian couples) and 93 per cent (for gay male couples) rejected the notion, those opinions if anything hardening in the late 1980s. See Jowell, Roger et al. , eds., British Social Attitudes: The 5th Report (London: Gower, 1988)Google Scholar; and Rayside, David and Bowler, Scott, “Public Opinion and Gay Rights,” Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 25 (1988), 649660CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

30 This conclusion is inspired by Hobsbawm, Eric (Workers: Worlds of Labour [New York: Pantheon, 1984], chap. 10)Google Scholar and Thompson, E. P. (The Making of the English Working Class [Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968], chap. 12)Google Scholar, although they differ with one another in dating the foundations of working-class culture.

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39 Wainwright argues that public opinion currents are often more contradictory than party leaders recognize, and that in any event the party should be challenging the prevailing interpretations of events that swing public opinion in non-progressive ways. She offers considerable evidence of left-wing Labour MPs and councillors doing as well electorally as mainstream candidates. She notes, however, that resistance to policies dealing with women and blacks is very strong in sections of the party's supporters, and that point could be made even more strongly with regard to gay issues.

40 The support for what the authors of British Social Attitudes call a left-wing position on homosexuality is less widespread among middle-class Liberal and Social Democratic partisans than among Labourites (29% as compared to 43%). See Table 1.

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54 Crompton, Byron and Greek Love, 22.

55 I do not want to argue here that Italian authorities or the general public accepted homosexuality, but that there was less preoccupation than in England with enforcing penalties against it, and more inclination to regard it as sickness than as sin. In this I draw on Germino, Dante, “Italian Gays in Historical and Comparative Perspective: Some Reflections,”paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association,Washington, 1991.Google Scholar

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58 D'Emilio and Freedman, Intimate Matters, 234.

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61 Altman, The Homosexualization of America, ix, 35. To a degree, what is claimed here about the US could also be said of Canada. As D'Emilio and Freedman argue, a large portion of the gay activist population in the US had shifted its focus during the few years after the explosion of gay liberationism activity in 1969, in ways that dovetailed with the mainstream American notion of equality rights. See Intimate Matters, 323, and Watney, Policing Desire, 15.

62 This included early 1890s amendments which followed the lead of the 1885 Labouchere amendment in England. On this and related questions, see Kinsman, Gary, The Regulation of Desire: Sexuality in Canada (Montreal: Black Rose, 1987), chaps. 5, 6Google Scholar.

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