This week marked fifty years since the homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales, one of all-too-many forgotten achievements of Harold Wilson’s Government which set the UK on course to becoming a much more open society (I don’t like to use the word ‘tolerant’, as it implies there is something wrong you are putting up with).
The level of social change around the issue has been remarkable even within my 30 year lifetime, indeed within a smaller window than that. Even in my final year at Holy Trinity there were kids who felt they couldn’t be open about their sexuality. Yet, as a society we now react to homophobia in much the same way as we would overt racism, something the Russian state felt the sharp end of at their Winter Olympics just three years ago.
It would be too easy to simply pat ourselves on the back about this and ignore that across far too much of the world homosexuality remains illegal and that, even where it is not ‘illegal’, individuals often put themselves at risk of serious physical harm by expressing their sexual orientation openly. Even in the UK, there were reports that the Pandora’s Box which was the EU Referendum not only unleashed waves of racially-aggravated crime but homophobic hate crime, as a bigoted minority decided that it was time to ‘take back control’.
So, fifty years on the progress we have made towards becoming a more open society is impressive, but we’re not there yet. The waves of medieval thinking are always ready to retake lost ground at the first sign of weakness. Instead, we must continually fight for people’s right to be who they are openly, whether it’s a matter of sexual orientation and gender, or religion, disability and ethnicity.