The British government is being asked to pardon gay and bisexual men convicted in the past under the defunct "gross indecency” law. In my view, a pardon for each person is the least that can be given for these 49,000 men who were branded criminals by ignorance rather than for good reason. But there’s more to it than that.
At a personal level, I wonder how different society would have been when I was growing up had this law not fertilised the minds of those around me to create a societal stigma against gay people. I also wonder whether my schooling would have been more pleasant and workplaces more open to my sexuality. But this is not about me and my personal struggles.
This is about the bigger picture. This is not just about an historic failure. It’s about our future. This is not just about the people of the United Kingdom. This sends waves of hope around the world. This is not just about reversing damage that was done, but helping the world to learn, to accept and to change. This is not just for the 49,000 people who were mistreated under this law, or their friends and families who suffered as a result, it’s about the global population.
And as we look, today, at the challenges people face around the world – made easier by the increased media capability and near-global reach – we can see that there is still a lot to do. These pardons will make a big difference. For the gay children in a developed country like the UK or USA who have a tough time at school, this sends a wave of hope. For the people who are afraid to come out at work, there’s another wave of hope heading their way. For those in countries where being gay is still a crime, where jail terms are handed down because of a person’s sexuality or the desire to demonstrate, publicly, their love for someone of the same sex, there is another wave of hope. And for those in countries where people take the law into their own hands and brutally demonstrate their lack of acceptance, or those where the government supports such action, again, there is another wave of hope. Sure, not all of these things are happening because of this old law from the UK, but attitudes are shaped by such laws and societal norms and from messages being sent out as to what is right and what is wrong. So, the UK needs to make good on something that it really screwed up on years ago.
At the same time, this is part of a broader equality battle. Without demeaning the call for action here, this is more than simply about rights for gay or bisexual men. This is truly about equality for all. It just so happens that it’s manifesting itself here, now, in this way, with this group of people. But there are many more groups who are suffering as a result of a lack of understanding, compassion and acceptance and it would be wonderful to see this wave of hope provide not just relief for those immediately affected by the pardons now, but by people globally in difficult or exceptionally tough situations. The equality battle doesn’t start with this, it continues with this. I remember back to my own battle, back in 2005 (Whitfield v. Cleanaway), when I fought back against corporate bullying, constructive dismissal and sexual orientation discrimination. Ten years on it’s even clearer to me now than it was then that the battle wasn’t just about me. I just happened to be the person who, even though I wasn’t out to my family and friends, stood up at that time and said, I’m not allowing you to treat me like this anymore. And I beat that corporation in what was described at the time as a landmark legal victory. Sure, it was my immediate battle, but I wasn’t just doing it for me. I was doing it ex parte the world because that outcome is now owned by everyone.
We can create waves of change on a daily basis that will help propel us forward and raise the standard of equality across the world and just as we know now more than we did sixty years ago, we’ll keep learning and in some cases, we’ll need to apologise and make right what we didn’t get right to begin with. In doing so, that should send a clear message that might change one behaviour in a few people and allow us to change the direction we are taking overall to a more progressive society where equality is the norm, a right and a given.
Rob Whitfield, CEO and Founder of OneBritNoBull.com; make your life amazing.