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Prosecutions for being gay under microscope

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    Prosecutions for being gay under microscope - 26-Dec-2008
    A study into the historical prosecutions of Canterbury men for being gay will begin in the new year.

    Otago University gender studies senior lecturer Chris Brickell, who attracted national attention for his book Mates and Lovers: A History of Gay New Zealand, plans a new study on the experiences of gay men in New Zealand's legal system.

    Homosexuality was not decriminalised in New Zealand until 1986.

    Brickell will scour Canterbury's court records for men who were prosecuted for being gay up to the 1950s. "Another project from those court materials is a little project on bigamy that could be interesting," he said.

    "There are lots of aspects of New Zealand's intimate past that historians haven't really looked at. There's a lot of scope for digging around and seeing how people lived in terms of their intimate relationships.

    "It tells us a lot about how New Zealand society understood itself." He said Mates and Lovers took three years of research and writing. The best thing that had happened since its release, Brickell said, was the feedback from gay men saying they finally felt they had a past.

    "I've had a lot of nice emails from older guys who are really happy their story has appeared," he said.

    His research found homosexuality was more accepted around the 1830s, when there was no clear idea of sexual identity. Only during the 20th century did it begin to be seen as a sin and a crime.

    In sports photographs from the early 1900s, men sat close together in relatively intimate poses, while 30 years later they sat apart, arms crossed as a symbol of their masculinity.

    From the 1920s, doctors and psychiatrists began to view homosexuals as mentally unstable, and by the 1950s and '60s, gay men were being locked up in asylums and given electric shock treatment to "correct" their behaviour.

    Brickell said research suggested the London trial of homosexual Irish writer Oscar Wilde for "gross indecency" had a big impact on how people viewed homosexuality.

    Once it had a label, it was easier to attack and pigeon-hole people.

    "If it's not there, named as a thing, it has less power for people to vent their feelings and to put in little boxes," he said.
    Ref: - Christchurch Press

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