On This Gay Day: Oscar Wilde was found guilty of gross indecency

Oscar Wilde was found guilty of gross indecency and sentenced to two years hard labor.

On this day in 1895 author Oscar Wilde was found guilty of gross indecency and sentenced to two years imprisonment. At the time Wilde was at the height of his career having found success with novels and plays including The Importance of Being Earnest, The Picture of Dorian Gray, An Ideal Husband and lady Windemere’s Fan. 

Wilde had been involved in a civil legal battle with the father of his lover Lord Alfred Douglas, known as Boasie. His father, the Marquess of Queensberry, confronted the pair about their relationship on many occasions, but when he left his calling card at Wilde’s club inscribed “For Oscar Wilde, posing somdomite [sic]”.

Wilde decided to take legal action suing for defamation. The trial became a cause célèbre as details of Wilde’s private life were revealed in court. Queensberry had private detectives unearth details of Wilde’s dealings with sex workers and Wilde withdrew the action. The court declared Queensberry was innocent, and that Wilde was a homosexual.

This lead to Wilde being arrested by police for gross indecency. The resulting trial was reported all over the world and raised the profile of homosexual people dramatically. Wilde was found guilty with the judge imposing the maximum sentence and declaring he wished he could have add more years. Justice Wills described the sentence as “totally inadequate for a case such as this”, and that the case was “the worst case I have ever tried”.

After two years in prison Wilde was released, he immediately left for France and never returned to England. Wilde died three years later and spent the final years of his life in poverty and exile.  In 2017 he was given a posthumous pardon for his offenses, one of 50,000 British men pardoned under what is known as the Alan Turing law.

Also on this day

Sir Ian McKellen is celebrating his 84th birthday. The award winning actor is known for his many film appearances including The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies where he played the wizard Gandalf. in the X-Men films he portrayed Magneto. He also memorably appeared in And The Band Played On, More Tales of the City, Six Degrees of Separation, Apt Pupil, Mr Holmes, and The Good Liar. His most recently film appearance was in the sci-fi film Infinitum: Subject Unknown, which was shot entirely on an iPhone during the first UK Covid lockdown. Sir Ian chatted to OUTinPerth back in 2010 when he performed in Waiting for Godot at His Majesty’s Theatre.

Comedian Julian Clary turns 64 today.

Australian TV host Graham Kennedy died on this day in 2005 aged 71, Kennedy never spoke publicly about his sexuality but his homosexuality was an open secret in the Australian entertainment industry.

Film producer Ismail Merchant died in 2005 aged 68, alongside his professional and domestic partner James Ivory they created many films under their Merchant Ivory banner including Heat and Dust, A Room With a View, Maurice, Howard’s End and Remains of the Day.

OIP Staff, this post was first published in 2020 and has been updated. 

Love OUTinPerth Campaign

Help support the publication of OUTinPerth by contributing to our
GoFundMe campaign.