Queen Victoria and Lesbians

No, not that!

I had heard that when Parliament presented Queen Victoria with a bill outlawing homosexuality in england, she struck out the portions dealing with women, on the grounds that “women don’t do that.” Hence, for something like a century, it was illegal for men in England to engage in homosexual acitivty, but not women.

Anyone know the real story?

Here’s somes Brits talking about it.

Looks like it’s not true but someone with some actual knowledge about the topic should be in soon.

No cite, but I believe the story about Queen Victoria is indeed a myth. Since long before Queen Victoria’s time the British monarch has had no practical alternative but to assenting to whatever legislation Parliament passes, and there would be no reason to tailor the contents of draft legislation in order to avoid offending the Royal sensibilities. Besides, if she could stomach the thought of male homosexuality, why would they think she would quail at the thought of female homosexuality?

The truth, I suspect, is even worse. I think the legislators of the time - all men, of course – had a male-dominated view of sexuality. As far as they were concerned, if there was no penis and no penetration involved, it wasn’t real sex. Whatever about women deriving pleasure from sexual acts involving penetration by a penis, they could not really imagine that sexual acts involving two women could be all that pleasurable, or all that common, or much of a threat to the Fabric of Society. Lesbian acts would have been considered indecent, and would have fallen under legislation against indecency which applied equally to men and women. But only homosexual acts involving two men could be important enough to warrant special legislation and especially severe penalties.

In short, female sexuality was too unimportant to be worth legislating about.

It should be pointed out that homosexual acts between two men were already criminal before the Victorian legislation on the subject. The Victorian legislation (which remained in force for another hundred years or so) was codifying existing law rather than making substantive new law.

The version of the story given in the OP is clearly incorrect. Queen Victoria had a very elevated view of the prerogatives retained by her, but even she would not have ‘struck out’ parts of a bill presented to her by Parliament. The story only makes sense if it is claimed that she insisted on changes to a draft bill which had yet to be considered by Parliament.

That however raises a further problem. Those telling the story rarely specify the particular statute involved (itself a warning that this is a UL), but, if they do, it is usually the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885. This is understandable, as that Act contained the crucial redefinition of the laws against male homosexuality in Victorian Britain. The important point however is that the circumstances surrounding the introduction of the clause in question are well known and had nothing to do with Queen Victoria. The section concerning homosexuality was not part of the original bill, being an amendment moved by a backbench MP, Henry Labouchére, without prior announcement, which was then passed by a thin House with almost no discussion. No one, least of all the Queen, was consulted beforehand. The question of lesbianism was not mentioned by anyone.

That Labouchére’s amendment was a backbench initiative also rules out the other version of the story, which is that Victoria’s ministers were too embarassed to raise the subject of lesbianism when discussing proposed legislation with her.

What is true is that in 1921 the Lord Chancellor, Lord Birkenhead, argued against the criminalisation of lesbianism on the grounds that it would only alert innocent women to the existance of such activity.

I just read in a marvelous new book, “Inventing the Victorians,” that the story is an Urban Legend. Very witty and informative book, highly recommend it: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0312283261/qid=1018287139/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/002-9159171-3672056

Oh, that’s a really good book, Eve-I read that not too long ago.