“It recognizes the extraordinary scale of injustice done to so many people over a long period of time, and offers, as far as possible, restitution,” said Paul Johnson, a professor of social sciences at the University of Leeds, who said the change could cover thousands of people. “It draws a line under five centuries of state-sanctioned persecution of gay people and says: ‘never again.’”
But the change — and framing the result as a pardon — does not go far enough in addressing the injustice of the past, Mr. Stewart said. He said it was “an insult” that the government would not proactively reach out to him to clear his conviction.
“Most of the men it affects, it’s much too late for them to pursue the careers that they want to be pursuing,” said Katy Watts, a lawyer for Liberty, a human rights organization that has represented clients like Mr. Stewart. “It’s deeply frustrating that it’s taken so long.”
Mr. Stewart said, “I don’t feel it’s enough, when you consider the impact it’s had and the loss to me in my life and my career,” adding he had appealed his conviction to several home secretaries over the years.
“I don’t want a pardon either,” he added, “because a pardon is an admission of guilt on my part.”
Mr. Stewart said he was profiled as gay by two police officers and charged in 1981 after he went into a public restroom to wash his hands on a weekday morning. “You’re talking about a young man with very blonde hair tied in pigtails,” he said. “That would have been pretty conspicuous.”
He was convicted of importuning a year later.
According to a 2000 Home Office report, broad definitions against “importuning” and “gross indecency” became a way to regulate consensual behavior between homosexual men. Soliciting, for example, could involve “a smile, wink, gesture or some other physical signal.”