Has it ever been a crime to be lesbian in England?
It is estimated that 49,000 homosexual and bisexual men were convicted of ‘gross indecency’ from 1885 to 1967 – including Victorian writer Oscar Wilde. But has it ever been a crime to be lesbian?
While the Middle Ages saw legislative changes that would prohibit sexual relations between men, it has never been a crime to be lesbian in England.
“In England, the Buggery Act 1533 made sodomy an offence punishable by hanging. Lesbian sex, on the other hand, was never restricted by law in the UK – although it is likely that they faced social stigma,” Ella Braidwood explains in an article for HistoryExtra.
There is, however, evidence of women being persecuted in unique circumstances – as was the case with Mary Hamilton (who may have identified as a cisgender lesbian or a transgender man today, but was considered a woman by her contemporaries in the 18th century).
“Hamilton, using the name Charles, was convicted for duping a woman into marriage, in a case that made headlines at the time,” explains Braidwood. “According to one local newspaper report, ‘there was a great Debate for some Time in Court about the Nature of her Crime, and what to call it, but at last it was agreed that she should be charged with fraud’.”