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Women in England and Wales can now be pardoned for old convictions of homosexuality

A pride progress flag hangs on a building in November 2022 in London.
Mike Kemp
/
In Pictures via Getty Images
A pride progress flag hangs on a building in November 2022 in London.

LONDON — The United Kingdom is expanding an amnesty program to overturn convictions for gay and lesbian activity that previously was outlawed. Starting Tuesday, women in England and Wales can apply to have outdated criminal convictions related to homosexuality expunged from their records. Until now, only men could apply for pardons from convictions under old sodomy laws that date back to the 19th century.

This is a broadening of a U.K. amnesty program that also covers military veterans. LGBTQ+ people were banned from, and in some cased kicked out of, the armed forces until the year 2000. Now military veterans can also apply for convictions to be overturned. Under the expanded program, women who were dismissed from the British armed forces because of their sexuality will be able to have their medals restored.

The Disregards and Pardonsprogram, set up in 2012, grants pardons to those who were unjustly convicted under outdated British laws criminalizing gay and lesbian activity. Convictions will also be deleted from official records and people won't have to disclose them for things like job applications, the government said in an online statement.

Government data shows that 208 men have been pardoned under the program since 2012. More than 400 applications have been rejected because convictions were not yet covered. But the expanded amnesty could mean some of them would qualify.

"I invite all of those who were convicted or cautioned for same-sex sexual activity under an abolished offense to come forward and apply," Minister for Safeguarding Sarah Dines said in the statement.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in England and Wales in 1967.

Homosexual activity between women has not been outlawed, but sometimes has been punished under indecency laws.

The government does not have an accurate estimate of how many women may be eligible for pardons under the expanded program, and says it will deal with applications on a case-by-case basis.

British lawmakers have said that expanding the amnesty is an important step toward righting the wrongs of the past. Human rights groups have welcomed the change, but say the pardons should be processed automatically, and that individuals who've been treated unjustly shouldn't have to apply to have their convictions erased.

Craig Jones and Caroline Paige, leaders of Fighting with Pride, an LGBTQ+ military organization, were quoted in the government statement, calling the expanded amnesty a "small step in the right direction."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Fatima Al-Kassab
[Copyright 2024 NPR]