Homosexuality in the 1950’s
Homosexuality has always presented a controversial social problem and has aroused strong feelings, not only among the general public, but also among the various professional groups who are trying to adopt a more scientific attitude towards this subject. In particular the differing opinions of psychiatrists, penal administrations and sociologists may be due to the fact that they come into contact with various types of homosexuals who present disparate problems and may have dissimilar personalities. There was a great sense of excitement and optimism about the future of Great Britain following the end of World War II. When the Labour Party came into office at the 1945 election under a manifesto promising to restore public confidence through radical political and social change, it appeared that these sentiments of hope and renewal were well justified.
Yet Labour’s policies of egalitarian social fairness produced anxiety in the middle and upper classes, which, significantly, was embedded in an undercurrent of lingering Victorian moral values (Rotundo 1994). Ultimately, this moralism served to undermine the success of Labour’s new agenda. As a result of these political, social, and moral tensions, the Labour Party ultimately lost public support, and the Conservative Party came into office in 1951. The Conservatives intended to respond to the prevalent moral and social concerns at this time by implementing legislative means designed to improve the moral climate in Britain. Under this new regime of morality through legislation, the government was obligated to preserve public order and decency in order to ensure that members of the public did not breach moral standards of behavior.
Since homosexuality was seen as one of the major ways in which the public sense of moral decency was outraged, the government was compelled to attempt to understand this sexual orientation. The aim of this search for understanding was to find a “solution” to the homosexuality “problem,” thereby reducing the occurrence of homosexual offenses and, in so doing, ensuring moral decency and public order. However, as Paul Monette points out, “not everyone in the 1950s was conservative” (Monette 1992). Many people believed that the then-existing laws for male homosexual offenses should be changed. (2) Thus a new public sentiment began to metamorphose as the 1950s wore on, consisting of the view that, while public displays of homosexuality should continue to be punished since they would violate a sense of public order and decency, private acts of homosexuality should to some extent be de-criminalized (Monette 1992). In the face of these public views, Parliament formed the Wolfenden Committee in 1954 to consider “the law and practice relating to homosexual offences and the treatment of persons convicted of such offences by the courts.
…” (Rotundo 1994) The guilt and fears some homosexual men experienced in 1950’s also stemmed from the social and moral responsibilities inherent in their vocations. Perhaps choosing such vocations to quell their fears and desires, homosexuals found that these fears paradoxically heightened when they could not suppress their sexual desires through their work.
“Among those who work with notable success in occupations which call for service to others, there are some in whom … homosexuality provides the motivation for activities of the greatest value to society. ?xamples of this are to be found among teachers, clergy, ..
. and those who are interested in youth movements …” (Ch. III, par.