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On This Day… Imprisoned For Being Gay

Written by: George Chittenden : 24 May 2019

It was on this day, 25th May back in 1895 when the Irish poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde was convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years' hard labour. The judge described the sentence as totally inadequate, describing the case as the worst he’d ever tried. So what had Oscar Wilde, one of London's most popular playwrights done wrong? Well it started when the Marquess of Queensberry left a card in a club Wilde frequented, describing him as a posing sodomite. Wilde made the mistake of trying to prosecute the Marquess for libel, and it backfired.

To avoid conviction for libel the Marquess demonstrated that his accusation was in fact true, and Oscar Wilde was arrested. Following his conviction Oscar Wilde was initially sent to Newgate Prison in London, however he was moved about a fair bit during his incarceration. He spent time at Pentonville and Wandsworth Prison before being transferred to Reading during which a crowd of people spat at him whilst he stood on a railway platform. When Oscar Wilde was released from prison on May 18th, 1897 he sailed immediately to France and never returned to the UK.

When you look at the history books, sadly it’s very easy to find mistakes. The persecution of great men like Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing is shameful. It’s so strange to see the public perception of whether homosexuality is morally wrong change so dramatically through the ages. Thankfully over the last fifty years we’ve turned a corner once again and have fixed some of the damage Queen Victoria and her 1885 legislation caused. Maybe one day we’ll be as open minded as our ancestors were in the days of Alexander the Great.

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