It is a good thing that Theresa May’s Conservative government is introducing an Alan Turing Law to pardon gay men convicted of historical victimless sexual crimes – that is what I wrote for The Independent last month. No one should be criminalised for being gay. At the start of the century, I was still policing these sex crimes as a police officer until they were repealed by the Labour government.
Last night, I became aware of outrage on social media about the Tories going back on their word in a House of Commons debate led by the Sam Gyimah, the justice minister. Friends messaged me to share their anger and disappointment. My own initial feelings were of fury at the dishonesty and betrayal, and that the Tories truly are the nasty party. That was until I looked into what was actually said in the Commons, which was not as I had been led to believe. But that’s the problem with misinformation generally, it’s already done the rounds before the truth has had chance to catch up.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of the Conservatives, but let’s not be disingenuous. Last night was simply about party politics, and not so much about Alan Turing or gay men generally. The Government is not abandoning its Turing Law, it has simply scuppered a Scottish National Party Bill for a similar one. Why we’re shocked that the sitting Tory Government wants to introduce a law in its own way, on its own terms, despite what it may have promised the SNP in the past, I don’t know.
In Parliament, Gyimah confirmed the fulfilment of a Tory manifesto pledge to pardon thousands of men convicted under historical anti-gay laws, provided they are legal today. What they’re not doing is supporting the SNP, but the Liberal Democrats’ proposal to amend the Policing and Crimes Bill. It is the Tories pulling the rug from under the Nationalists that has angered people mostly, and not the minutiae of the law itself. I’m more concerned that the Government’s proposal will automatically expunge the convictions only of those dead and not of the living.
Many gay men already feel shame about their sexuality – now they will be expected to ask to have historical sex crimes such as gross indecency recorded against them to be removed. Not everyone will have the confidence to do this. But I can see where the Government has to strike a balance. It was argued the SNP MP John Nicolson’s Bill would have wiped clean all historical sex crimes, whereas the Government said it wanted to ensure that offences that are still on the statute book today are not pardoned – such as those committed against children.
The SNP might not have got his way in the Commons last night, and it is refusing to withdraw its Bill, but let’s give the Government the chance to correct the wrongs with what it is pushing forward. To say the Bill for the Second World War codebreaker has failed is just untrue. I have no doubt Gyimah deliberately talked for so long, so that the SNP’s proposal couldn’t be debated. But to read racist comments about the Tory MP by gay people is laughable. On one hand we as LGBT are demanding equality and justice, while discriminating on the other. As a black man, Gyimah has consistently voted for equal gay rights, including marriage, since he joined Parliament.
The Government, whether we like it or not, can go with whatever plan it chooses to pardon gay men for historical offences. I’m surprised they are following through.