We will get to the place where the President, the Congress, the courts, and the people of the US will acknowledge the fact that the nation has abused gay people. They will apologize for it, and then they’ll pay reparations. Because this is what Americans do.
But this is difficult because what we are looking at is the whole government, even the whole culture, committing brutal acts against members of our community—people my age—during almost all our lives. What do you do today when the person who did it forty or fifty years ago was in fact 200,000,000 people?
People in the UK are learning now. In recent decades, the government in the UK has been coming to terms with its past. For a hundred and thirty years, between 1886 and 1967, it was illegal for men in the UK to have sex with one another, and many thousands of men were tried and convicted of “gross indecency.” Among these was Oscar Wilde, whose life was ruined by his trials (1895-1897) and who died age 46 in exile in Paris in 1900 and Alan Turing, who famously led the team that solved the German Enigma codes during World War II, who was tried and convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to chemical castration. He killed himself in 1954, age 41. See also here.
In 1967, UK sexual offenses act was liberalized, and most homosexual acts were no longer criminalized. But the question remained, What do we do about the men who were made criminals by the government? Who died because they were treated so appallingly by their government? And in some cases, like Turing’s, were driven to suicide by the government with the approval of the people? Or who survived their abuse but were so damaged by the way they had been treated that they were unable to live full lives? Recently, the government in the UK has been considering issuing pardons to the 15,000 men still living who had been arrested and convicted of gross indecency since the World War II. See Tom Sykes on The Daily Beast. This would restore rights and privileges that were taken away on conviction. A blanket pardon would be issued to cover all the men who have already died. This would be a round-about way of saying that these men should never have been charged with these “offenses” to begin with. Today, on October 21, 2016, parliament killed this bill because, the justice minister said, there was a danger that men would be pardoned who were guilty of acts that were still criminal today, in the UK. Peter Tatchell, long-time gay activist said that, “while most gay people supported the pardon, there also needed to be a public apology by British Prime Minister Theresa May and that compensation should be paid for ‘the incredible suffering these men went through.’” In other words, the UK must pay reparations. For background on the concept of reparations, see here and here and here. Tatchell speaks of “the incredible suffering these men went through.” I would amend that to are still going through. These men, abused and damaged in their youth by the actions of their government, are now, many of them, the walking wounded in our cities and towns, unable to feel whole.
A pardon issued by the government to a man convicted of gross indecency under the Criminal Law Amendment Act does not implicate the question whether the pardoner exhibits virtue. An apology, on the other hand, is a recognition that the person apologizing has committed some wrong. And it is this that is necessary to the LGBTQ communities, an acknowledgment that a wrong as been committed on them, and that they themselves are blameless. The British government may find reason not to go forward with the pardons, and it may refuse, at this point, to consider an apology from the Prime Minister, and they may resist the idea of reparations. But these things will come. We are not through with this yet.