Resisting homosexual law reform in Britain in the 1950s

The passions of Earl Winterton

Kate Gleeson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Citation (Scopus)


The Sixth Earl Winterton was an eccentric who is too easily dismissed as a homophobe and bigoted critic of the reforms proposed in the Wolfenden Report. But his outbursts in the Parliament against homosexuality point to his personal concerns for British masculinity and to an alternative understanding of masculinity that has received scant attention in the assessment of gay law reforms initiated by Wolfenden. Sociologists insist that the main function of homophobia is the maintenance of heterosexuality and patriarchal homo-society. In this article I examine Winterton's arguments in their historical context, not to understand "homosexualism" which affronted him, but for what they say between the lines about British manliness, identity, intimacy and friendship. Winterton's is one version of a masculine self that experienced being cut adrift and betrayed by the cultural and political shifts which the Wolfenden Report both signified and embodied. I think now, after studying the history of sex, we should try to understand the history of friendship, or friendships. That history is very, very important (Michel Foucault, 1982).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-207
Number of pages17
JournalAustralian Journal of Politics and History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2010

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