The largest ever study into the convictions of gay men has revealed that the country was more accepting of gay men in Victorian times than it was in the era of free love, the 1960s.
Manchester historian Jeff Evans, who works at Manchester Metropolitan University, looked through more than 280,000 criminal cases at the National Archive in Kew, London. The records are said to represent 64% of all indictable court cases relating to sex between men held in the Lancashire assize and quarter sessions.
Mr Evans found that regions outside of London, such as Lancashire, were largely uninterested in convicting gay men in the era known for being prudish about sex. In the decade known for embracing free love, the 1960s, the records demonstrated a rise in prosecutions.
One of the most famous convictions for homosexuality, the iconic Oscar Wilde, happened in this time-frame but between 1850 and the start of WW1, there were less than four or five prosecutions of consensual sex between men in Lancashire per year.
Mr Evans said: “When these cases actually got to court, more than half were thrown out. The grand jury apparently thought it was just none of their business.”
Even those who served a sentence for these crimes were not treated as harshly as you might expect for the ‘prudish’ Victorian era.
“In the late 19th century punishment drops off from death or life sentence to a handful of years. We can’t quantify why, but can statistically say the ‘disgust’ of the crime wasn’t reflected in the sentencing.