A 93-year-old gay man delivered a petition to 10 Downing Street Wednesday requesting that he and tens of thousands of other U.K. men with anti-gay criminal convictions be given an apology from Parliament. “This is the greatest day of my life,” George Montague said, grinning as he shuffled along the pavement with the assistance of his lion-headed cane.
Montague was part of an effort to collect the petition’s 15,000 signatures, many taken at gay pride marches around the country that he attends on a mobility scooter adorned with rainbow flags.
A spokesperson for No. 10 said Montague would get a response to his petition “in due course.”
In 1974, when he was 50 years old, Montague was convicted of “gross indecency,” an offense under the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885. Even after homosexuality was legalized in 1967, arrests of gay men continued and the convictions — which saw the likes of Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing criminalized — remained.
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown granted Turing an apology in 2009 and by 2013 the queen had given him a royal pardon. A cross-party group of members of Parliament has succeeded in getting pardons for thousands of other men, both living and dead, who still have criminal convictions on their records because of their sexual orientation. Despite this progress, a proposition to automatically pardon all men found guilty of the old offense was walked back last month amid fears it could allow pedophiles and rapists to be pardoned — something proponents say they have put measures in place to prevent.
Montague doesn’t want a pardon, though — he wants an apology. “When there was talk of Alan Turing being given a pardon, it made me cross, because you don’t give a pardon to an innocent person — only if one is guilty. No gay person is guilty of ‘gross indecency,’ but gay men have been persecuted and hunted down and given criminal convictions just for being born only able to fall in love with another man.”
Following his conviction, Montague was fined $180. Friends working for the local press helped ensure that his story was never reported, but he lived in fear that it would get out. When he told his leader at the Boy Scouts, where he worked as a senior county commissioner, about his conviction, he had to give up his work with disabled children. “I worked myself to the bone for them, but I had to give it up,” he said.
As he waited outside No. 10 in the hope that Prime Minister Theresa May would make an appearance, Montague gestured to the petition. “I put a personal note on the front of it,” he said. It read: “Please, lady Prime Minister, can you please look into my case and see how badly we were treated when I was young and pass through an apology to old gay men like me who were hunted and hounded down by the police.”