Exploring Wolfenden's impact on LGBT+ lives

About the Wolfenden Report

The Report of the Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution (own as the Wolfenden Report) was a three-year investigation starting in 1954, designed to re-evaluate the criminalisation of Homosexual Offenses and Prostitution in Britain.

Lord John Wolfenden spearheaded the investigation, along with a committee made up of doctors, MPs, lawyers, ministers of religion and a total of three women.

During the investigation, the committee reviewed the statements of over 200 witnesses which included homosexuals, prostitutes and representatives of professional bodies.

What did the Report Recommend?

In a nutshell, it was the first report of its kind challenging the discrimination and inequality against Gay men.

The report recommended, “that homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private be no longer a criminal offence”, having concluded that the law “should not intrude into matters of personal morality”.

With regards to prostitution, the report advocated for the introduction of stricter penalties for soliciting. The act did not concern lesbian acts, as lesbianism has never been explicitly illegal in the United Kingdom.

What did the Wolfenden Report do?

It wasn't until ten years later that the Wolfenden Report had successfully changed British history. In 1965, Lord Arran had submitted a motion to support the implementation of recommendations made by the Wolfenden Report. The motion failed to gain support with the Government.

In 1966 Labour backbencher Leo Abse took the recommendations contained in the Wolfenden Report to form the Sexual Offences Bill as private members bill. With ignorance and hostility towards homosexuality still widespread in society, Abse argued that a change in the law would “prevent…little boys from growing up to be adult homosexuals”. The bill passed.

Sexual Offences Act 1967

The Sexual Offences Act partially decriminalised homosexuality and was the biggest positive change to rights for Gay men in over a century. Crucially, the act passed;

> Decriminilisation of homosexual acts in private, between consenting men aged 21 and over

Although the Act was designed to offer greater freedoms for Gay men, prosecutions for homosexual behaviour trebled in the decade after the act was passed due to harsher penalties imposed by Act for those engaging in homosexual acts in 'public'.

The act did not make any provisions for those under 21, meaning that consenting men under 21 were subject to these harsher penalties (despite the age of consent for two heterosexual people remaining at 16).