Times columnist: LGBT anniversary ‘overkill can make you flinch’

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act (1967), which partially decriminalised homosexuality.

The landmark legislation meant that it was at last legal for two men to engage in same-sex sexual activity, provided it was in private and both men were over the age of 21.

While far from full equal rights, such is the importance of the law change that there has been much made of this anniversary year – including special broadcasts on TV and radio.

National Trust at Birmingham Pride (National Trust)
National Trust at Birmingham Pride (National Trust)

The National Trust chose to mark the occasion with its own Prejudice and Pride series, the controversy around which kicks off today’s column by Libby Purves in The Times.

Initially, the piece takes issue with the alleged – and contested – “outing” of Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer, the former owner of the 17th-century Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk now owned by the Trust.

She argues that the initial insistence from the Trust that volunteers in public-facing roles must wear provided rainbow badges had an “unpleasant implication” that those who refused are “unwelcomingly homophobic”.

After sticking by its decision, the Trust later had a very public U-turn.

Purves’s column then argues that the media had made too much of its celebration of partial decriminalisation and could perhaps have damaged the cause of LGBT rights.

“Even if you have long supported gay and transgender rights, even if squads of your friends and idols are gay, the overkill can make you flinch,” she said.

“There is a danger in coercive liberalism, one-note righteousness and the guilt-tripping of harmless guides as if they bore a share of blame for old oppression.

“Crassly reducing any human being to a sexuality, posthumously enlisting him or her in a phantom regiment under your orders, is almost as belittling as persecution itself. It alienates many on both sides of the rainbow.

“Why risk that when we are still so early, and globally too uncertain, on the upward curve of sense and tolerance?”

National Trust Rainbow// lanyard
National Trust Rainbow// lanyard

Purves’s column has provoked a response on social media, including criticism from openly gay Labour MP Chris Bryant.

“Self-declared liberal @lib_thinks is ever so priggishly self-righteous in the Times,” he said.

“She LOVES the gays as long as there aren’t too many.”

She replied: “Absurd, silly, unbefitting an MP. At no point is an “aren’t too many” attitude in it. Do you support outing dead people & enforcing badges?”

Purves also retweeted several people agreeing with her stance, before adding: “Good to find today that @RhonddaBryant is as much of a daft tit on Twitter as in Parliament, and supports compulsory rainbow-badge wearing.”

The Times has published several controversial opinion pieces in recent weeks on the issues surrounding LGBT rights.

This includes pieces criticising plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act – some of which have been promoted on Facebook despite The Times being behind a paywall.