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social sciences

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United Kingdom II: 1900 to the Present  
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In July 1964, the Director of Public Prosecutions asked that all Chief Constables obtain consent before bringing charges for sexual acts between men in private. Rather than an attempt to improve the lives of gay men, however, this change probably was intended to deflect activists' objections to the uneven application of existing law.

Following Labour's victory in the 1966 general election, Richard Crossman, Leader of the House of Commons, arranged the legislative schedule to insure consideration of a homosexual law reform bill. After a great deal of political maneuvering, the Sexual Offenses Bill finally was passed shortly after dawn on the morning of July 4, 1967. By continuing debate on the bill without interruption from July 3 into the morning of July 4, Crossman managed to wear down the will of opponents. At the time the final vote was taken, significant numbers of exhausted members had left the House. In fact, by this point, there were present only a few more than the minimum of one hundred members, required for a parliamentary vote. This circumstance explains the rather curious tally of 101 to 16 votes by which the hotly contested Act was passed. With the granting of royal assent on July 28, the bill became law.

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The Sexual Offenses Act instituted one of the primary recommendations of the Wolfenden Report: the decriminalization of homosexual acts between adult men in private. Also in accord with the Wolfenden recommendations, the Sexual Offenses Bill established 21 as age of consent for homosexual acts, in contrast to 16 for heterosexual and lesbian acts.

Furthermore, the Bill established additional restrictions on homosexuals. The mandatory prison sentence for consensual sex between an adult and a person aged between 16 and 20 was increased from two to five years. In addition, prison sentences of two years were established for homosexual acts involving more than two adult males and for any male-male sexual acts in a public place. The new law applied only in England and Wales, and it specifically exempted all members of the armed forces. All male homosexual acts continued to be illegal in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Despite passage of the Act, antagonism against homosexuals remained widespread. The commercial bars and clubs that began to solicit the business of gay men more openly risked police harassment. Thus, the popular Baton Rouge Club in Manchester was raided and shut down in 1969. The government prohibited the NWHLRC from establishing a network of social clubs.

The MRG and Lesbian Political Organization in the 1960s

On January 1, 1963, Esmé Langley and Diana Chapman founded the Minorities Research Group (MRG), intended to promote understanding of lesbianism. Seeking to improve the lives of lesbians throughout the UK, the MRG offered counseling and tried to foster contacts among isolated women.

Before establishing the MRG, Langley had sought to increase awareness of lesbian history through articles on various famous personalities, and she continued that endeavor in Arena Three, the magazine published by the MRG and distributed by private circulation. Consisting of approximately twelve typed sheets stapled together, each issue of Arena Three contained articles and letters on a wide variety of topics of interest to lesbians.

By March 1964, the MRG had only 36 paid members, but its impact far exceeded the small size of its paid-up membership. By 1964, MRG held regular meetings in London, which featured lively and sometimes heated debates. At these sessions, the appropriateness of "mannish" clothing was a frequent topic and provoked a great deal of controversy. The middle-class women who predominated in the MRG membership often expressed discomfort with "butch" clothing, but they refused to endorse a prohibition on male drag at meetings, as was proposed by some members.

Responding to the need for more social opportunities for women, Cheri Ager, on behalf of the MRG, began in 1965 to try to establish a system of regional organizations. This effort was most successful in London, where the London Volunteer Committee organized lesbian groups for sports, music, and other activities.

Maintaining that Langley was socially elitist, Christina Reid and other members of the Volunteer Committee withdrew from MRG in July 1965 and established an alternative lesbian social organization, KENRIC, named after the London boroughs of Kensington and Richmond, where many of the members lived. Distancing itself from political activism, KENRIC focused primarily on social activities for women. In general, KENRIC tended to attract younger members than MRG, and many women who became involved in KENRIC found the articles in Arena Three dull and irrelevant.

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