Pride and prejudice: same-sex relations through history

What is 'normal' sexuality? Brian Lewis explores diverse examples of same-sex relations throughout history and from across the globe that challenge modern conceptions of sexual identity and behaviour

An Athenian red-figure kylix (cup) dating from around 510–500 BC depicts a young pentathlete pulling his older lover towards him for a kiss. In many of the city-states of ancient Greece, sex between a man and a youth was an accepted – even idealised – form of love, its virtues extolled in works by writers including Plato. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Sixty years ago this September, Sir John Wolfenden – a balding, bespectacled and eminently respectable university vice-chancellor – published a report on prostitution and homosexuality in the UK. He and his committee of establishment worthies had spent the previous three years combing through reams of evidence and listening to the opinions of more than 200 ‘expert’ witnesses. The committee’s remit was to consider whether British law – which allowed female prostitution but not solicitation, and which prohibited all sexual activity between males – should be changed.

The Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution (better known as the Wolfenden Report) concluded that it should: in the interests of public decorum, street prostitution should be penalised more heavily, but homosexuality between two men over the age of 21 in private should be decriminalised. After a decade’s delay, the 1967 Sexual Offences Act was passed. It followed Wolfenden’s recommendation on the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality.

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