The Wolfenden report [electronic resource] : Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution, 1954-1957.

[Place of publication not identified] : [publisher not identified], [1954-1957?]
1 online resource (20 manuscripts).
Archives of Sexuality & Gender: LGBTQ History and Culture Since 1940, Part II.
Archives of Sexuality & Gender: LGBTQ History and Culture Since 1940, Part II

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Great Britain. Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution.
Homosexuality -- Great Britain -- History -- 20th century.
Gay men -- Legal status, laws, etc.
This collection contains the records of Britain's Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution. The committee was convened in 1954. Although homosexual acts had been illegal in Britain since 1885, prosecutions increased following World War II. By 1954, more than one thousand men were imprisoned for homosexual offenses. The government took up the issue only after several widely publicized prosecutions of well-known men, including artificial intelligence pioneer Alan Turing, who committed suicide in 1954 following his conviction. Sir John Wolfenden chaired the committee, and its 1957 final report is known as the Wolfenden Report. The report recommended that homosexual acts in private between consenting adults be decriminalized. The government rejected the committee's recommendation and did not decriminalize homosexuality until 1967. The testimony and committee materials represented here thus provide the backstory to a vital document of LGBTQ history. The collection's files include the testimony of more than two hundred witnesses; committee papers; meeting notes and correspondence; meeting minutes; report drafts; and the final report. About half of the 155 page final report focuses on homosexuality. It presents theories about homosexuality, estimates its prevalence in Britain, outlines existing laws, and discusses punishments and "treatments" before arriving at its recommendations. The witness testimony reveals the range of attitudes regarding homosexual behavior at the time. Police officers and most judges opposed decriminalization, whereas most doctors and scientists who testified, including Alfred Kinsey, recommended decriminalization of private acts. But they characterized homosexuality as a disorder, using disparaging language, attempting to distinguish different types and speculating about causes and cures. Only three gay men were permitted to testify-all upper class. They described the lives and attitudes of upper class gay men at the time, characterizing themselves as ordinary and harmless. They described the problems of blackmail and suicide among gay men. Testimony also shows how gay men were treated by police, doctors, clergy, and others who interacted with them. Both witnesses and the committee focused on class distinctions, reluctantly approving private behavior between discreet, respectable men but harshly condemning lower'class men who behaved sexually in public.
Date range of documents: 1954-1957.
Reproduction of the orignals from The National Archives (Kew, United Kingdom).
Access Restriction:
Restricted for use by site license.