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United Kingdom II: 1900 to the Present  
 
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In 1972, Jackie Foster and other women involved in the Press Freedom Group founded Sappho, a politically committed feminist magazine, linked to a program of social activities, including support groups for lesbian mothers and lesbian teachers. Furthermore, Sappho coordinated and paid for the legal defense of servicewomen accused of lesbianism, and it helped to establish the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard in 1974.

In 1977, Maureen Colquhoun, Labour MP for Northampton, became the first publicly "out" British politician when she acknowledged the truth of widespread rumors about her relationship with another woman. Despite efforts by her local constituency to withdraw endorsement from her, she ran as the Labour candidate in the next election (May 1979), in which she was defeated by a Conservative.

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An Era of Moral Retrenchment

The Conservative government, headed by Margaret Thatcher (Prime Minister, 1979-90), systematically sought to prevent further homosexual law reform and to restrict the existing rights of homosexuals. Upon taking office in May 1979, the new government announced that it would not extend the Sexual Offenses Act of 1977 to Northern Ireland, claiming that the measure was opposed by that country's elected representatives and religious organizations. On March 6, 1980, the government rejected an amendment to a Housing Bill that would have given gay and lesbian couples the security of tenure already accorded to heterosexual couples.

In April 1980, national attention was drawn to anti-gay discrimination by the case of John Saunders, who was dismissed because of his sexual orientation from his job at a Scottish residential camp for children. Following the rejection of his appeal by the Employment and Appeal Tribunal, an ad-hoc group of labor and business leaders submitted in June a petition to the House of Commons requesting that discriminatory laws be reformed.

Subsequently, Labour MP Robin Cook introduced an amendment to the Criminal Justice Scotland Bill that would decriminalize consensual sexual acts between adult males. Although every Conservative Scottish representative voted against it, the amendment was passed 203 to 80.

In a celebratory article, Gay News characterized Cook's amendment as an "orgy law" because it did not include restrictions regarding location or numbers of men involved. As a result, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and other religious organizations instituted a successful campaign to persuade the House of Lords to restrict legal homosexual acts to private situations with no more than two men.

Responding to the reluctance of the Conservative government to reform sexual laws in Northern Ireland, the European Commission unanimously ruled in September 1980 that the UK violated the European Convention through its intervention in the private lives of homosexual men. However, the government refused to change the laws in Northern Ireland until the case of Jeff Dudgeon was reviewed by the full European Court.

In October 1981, the Court ruled that the UK violated Dudgeon's privacy, but it also declared that Dudgeon was entitled only to a minimal payment for legal fees because a certain (unspecified) degree of discrimination against homosexuals was permitted. On October 25, 1981, the House of Commons voted to extend the Sexual Offenses Act of 1967 to Northern Ireland.

Finally issued in 1981, the long awaited Report of the Criminal Law Reform Committee largely rejected expansion of individual sexual freedoms. However, the Report proposed that the Sexual Offenses Act of 1967 should be extended to servicemen and that the age of consent for private sexual acts between two men should be lowered to 18. However, no action was taken on these proposals.

In October 1982, the Government announced its intention to intensify prosecution of homosexual acts outside the scope of the 1967 Act. In that month, the Metropolitan Police raided a private party in West London and arrested 37 men, who were charged with engaging in homosexual acts that were "not in private."

After her landslide victory in June 1983, Thatcher emphasized her determination to secure passage of the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill (enacted 1984), which extended police powers of arrest in matters involving perceived affronts to public decency. In May 1984, a clause added to the Act specified that touching another man's genitals in a public washroom constituted an arrestable offense and that anyone even suspected of this offense could be detained for up to four days without access to a lawyer.

Even as the Bill was being debated, there was a notable increase in police activity against gay men. For example, on March 11, 1984, over 50 officers raided The Bell, a popular and cruisy gay pub in Camden (London), for a supposed infringement of the licensing laws, regulating hours of service and other aspects of pub operations. On April 10, 1984, Customs and Excise agents raided Gay's the Word, London's only gay bookstore, and confiscated thirty percent of its stock. Police held the store's directors and manager for questioning without access to lawyers. Later in April, a similar raid was conducted against Lavender Menace, Edinburgh, then Scotland's only gay bookstore.

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