At just 19 years old, John Clarkson was arrested and sentenced to two years in prison by a Nottingham court. He was convicted for having consensual sex with his boyfriend. Clarkson’s story is an important case study in understanding the history of gay rights in the UK.
Shortly after his arrest Clarkson’s home, which he shared with his boyfriend, was raided by the police who took personal items as evidence. This included magazines, a bedsheet, a jar of Nivea and a Christmas card with the message ‘all my love as ever, John’. Both men were medically examined for evidence that they had had sex.
At court, the items taken from their flat were held up as evidence. Court clerks pointed out stains on the bedsheets and pubic hairs in the Nivea jar.
On his release, Clarkson became an ardent activist. He used the injustices he experienced as fuel to continue the fight for gay rights. He became a leading campaigner in Nottingham before he died in 1996, just two years after his ‘crime’ became legal.
Thanks to men like John Clarkson involved in decades of campaigning, the age of consent for all men was finally equalised in 2001. There were setbacks along the way such as the hysteria in some circles around AIDS, claims that it was a ‘gay plague’, and Section 28, which prohibited local councils from ‘promoting’ homosexuality.