Gays entitled to privacy about their lifestyles

by Kevyn Jacobs
September 1996

It was 100 years ago this month that Oscar Wilde was jailed.

On May 25, 1895, just before 6 p.m., Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was sentenced to two years at hard labor in Britain's Reading Gaol.

What was Wilde's crime?

"Indecency and sodomy."

Wilde, an Irishman by birth, is still today considered to be one of the most important of Victorian England's literary figures. An accomplished playwright, poet and novelist, Wilde is remembered for works such as "The Picture of Dorian Gray," "A Woman of No Importance" and "The Importance of Being Earnest." Wilde was the darling of the British theater in the late 1800s.

Wilde was also quite notoriously homosexual.

Not only was he fairly open about his preference for males and known to consort with male prostitutes, he also stepped on a lot of toes. Even as he delighted with his plays, he offended with his personality and behavior. Wilde was brash, affected, foppish, acerbic in wit and fairly contemptuous of the stodginess of Victorian England. In short, Wilde was a flaming queen. And Victorian England could not abide such scandalous behavior.

So Wilde and his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, were sentenced to two years of hard labor. It was a crime for a man to love another man.

A hundred years later-- has anything changed?

Not here in the United States. Laws condemning "crimes against nature" that were on the books when Wilde toured our nation on a lecture tour in 1882 are still on the books today.

I find that quite absurd.

What Victorian England did to Wilde and Lord Douglas then, 22 states would do to LesBiGayTrans people like myself today. This includes Kansas, which punishes criminal sodomy by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine. Criminal sodomy is defined as any oral/genital or anal/genital contact between members of the same sex.

And contrary to public opinion, Kansas is one of a handful of states whose sodomy laws only apply to same-gender sexual contact. Heterosexual oral and anal sex is not illegal under Kansas law.

So, I am going to take a risk here.

My boyfriend and I have violated Kansas Statute 21-3505 on several occasions in the privacy of our own homes.

Simply by admitting here that I have broken K.S.A. 21-3505, I am risking arrest, fine and imprisonment. I doubt the local district attorney would attempt to prosecute me because Manhattan is a fairly enlightened community.

But there are communities in Kansas that are not so enlightened. Given the chance, there are district attorneys here in Kansas who would gleefully put me in jail for what I do in the privacy of my own home. As if it were anybody's business but my own.

Some might ask, then, why I choose to publicly admit this if I don't want to go to jail? Why flaunt it if flaunting it is what gets you in trouble?

There are two reasons: First of all, the law is just plain wrong. And unjust laws must be challenged. Consider it a form of civil disobedience.

Secondly, and probably more importantly, this law is used even when it is not enforced. For every person like me who speaks out, there are hundreds who do not, who live in fear of sodomy laws.

Even if nobody is arrested and prosecuted for criminal sodomy (and sometimes they are, as the 1986 Supreme Court case Bowers v. Hardwick can attest to), sodomy laws are used to beat LesBiGayTrans people into submission.

Just last week, Sharon Bottoms, a mother in Virginia, had her child taken away from her because she is a lesbian. The judgment stated that because she was a lesbian, she was violating the Virginia "crimes against nature" laws, and that made her an unfit mother.

I can also remember a case closer to home a couple of years ago, right here at K-State. A while back, the Bisexual and Gay and Lesbian Society here on campus approached the Student Senate for funding.

During floor debate, several senators argued that BGLS should be denied funding because its members "routinely violated K.S.A. 21-3505, and it would be inappropriate for SGA to fund a student group that advocates violating Kansas law."

So don't tell me that the sodomy laws have no effect even if they aren't enforced. They most certainly do have an effect on my life and on the lives of every LesBiGayTrans person who lives under their rule.

During testimony at Wilde's trial, it was revealed that Lord Douglas had written a poem about homosexual love, titled, "The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name."

Modern conservatives now call homosexuality, "The Love That Won't Shut Up."

It is because of the sting of sodomy laws like the one in Kansas or the one that sent Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas to prison that LesBiGayTrans people aren't shutting up. As long as heterosexist members of this society insist on treating us as second-class citizens, we won't shut up.

And we wont forget you, Oscar and Lord Alfred.

This article was initially published on Monday, May 1, 1995.
©1996 Oasis Magazine. All Rights Reserved.