The forgotten hero of the gay rights movement

"Peter was a very brave man. Had it not been for his actions, then homosexuality might not have been legalised when it was."

Stephen Griffiths, Senior Lecturer in Film, Television and Radio Studies

To mark LGBT history month, a Staffordshire University lecturer is celebrating the life of gay rights activist Peter Wildeblood who played a pivotal role in the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Stephen Griffiths, Senior Lecturer in Film, Television and Radio Studies, is co-chair of Staffordshire University's LGBT Staff Network and has done extensive research into the life of Peter Wildeblood, his contribution to getting the law changed and his subsequent work in television.

In 1954 Peter, a successful journalist, was the first person since Oscar Wilde to plead guilty to charges of homosexuality in a court of law during the ‘Montagu trial’ which involved the high profile peer politician and founder of the National Motor Museum Lord Montagu.

Stephen explained: “It was a witch-hunt really against Montagu. The aim of this case was to convict well-known figures as a warning to the public. However the mood was changing at this time and a lot of people felt sorry for these men.”

All those trialled received prison sentences and on his release Peter wrote the book, Against the Law, which documented his experiences during and after the case. The book was used as evidence in the Wolfenden report of 1957, which played a key role leading up to the legalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales a decade later. He was also interviewed as one of the witnesses for the report.

50 years on Stephen believes it is time that Peter received the recognition that he deserves. He said: “Peter was a very brave man. Had it not been for his actions, then homosexuality might not have been legalised when it was.

“Peter was as important to the gay rights movement as Martin Luther King was in fighting for the rights of black people but most of us, even those within the gay community, are unaware of him.”

Stephen will deliver a free public talk about Peter's life on Tuesday 21 February at an event hosted by Keele Communities Together and the LGBT Staff Network.

He is one of three speakers and Stephen will also display some of Peter Wildeblood's original letters from his own collection of gay history memorabilia.

The event '50 Years Since Decriminalisation' takes place at Keele Hall on Tuesday 21 February from 5pm. Find more information here.

A drama adaptation of the book Against the Law will be shown on the BBC later this year.

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