The British Library will mark the 50th anniversary of when the Sexual Offences act partially decriminalised homosexuality in a brand new exhibition on display from the 2nd June. 


This new exhibition will feature a variety of original manuscripts, campaign material and unique sound recordings to explore the lives of those who were and are homosexual through personal testimony, cultural expression and legal reform.

Starting from 1895 and Oscar Wilde’s trial all the way through to the posthumous pardoning of historical homosexual offences in 2017, the British Library will ask: has legislation become the foundation from which distinct gay identities have emerged?

The free exhibition is located in the Library’s Entrance Hall Gallery, with highlights of the exhibition including:

  • Original campaign material, journals and posters from groups such as the Gay Liberation Front, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners and Outrage!
  • Sarah Waters’ notebook with character notes that she used while writing Tipping the Velvet, going on public display for the first time
  • Hanif Kureishi’s annotated script for My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) and continuity polaroids from the set
  • The first edition of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando alongside a sound recording of Vita Sackville-West from 1954 talking about the inspiration for the book
  • Kenneth Williams’ diary entry from 9 August 1967, which covers the murder of his friend, playwright and author Joe Orton
  • Annotated script for A Taste of Honey by Shelagh Delaney (1958)
  • Commissioned film by performer and artist Dickie Beau exploring the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Rachel Foss, Lead Curator of Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty at the British Library, said: “Since the passing of the Sexual Offences Act fifty years ago, there has been a transformation in society’s attitudes towards gay love and expression.  Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty tells this story through objects and documents that are iconic, public, personal or seemingly ephemeral.  These objects and documents are the tangible evidence of a living history that is fragmented, punctuated by gaps and still evolving.  I hope that the exhibition will prompt visitors to consider not only how far we as a society have come but also, crucially, what still needs to be done to combat prejudice and realise true equality.”

Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty will be on display at the British Library from the 2nd June until the 19th September. For more information visit:



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