Anniversary Post: Oscar Wilde’s Persecution

Please forgive me for recycling last year’s anniversary post. It took me a lot of work to do the transfer of my sister’s old blog to here. Plus, I think what happened to Oscar Wilde was outrageous. But then, what else is new? It reminds me of an article I wrote almost exactly three years ago, Michelle Obama and Downton Abbey. In that, I wrote, “It allows people of today to look down on people of a hundred years ago. Yet people today have prejudices that are every bit as pernicious; they simply have different prejudices.” So today we don’t lock up men for the crime of sodomy. And that’s good! But it still drives me crazy that millions of American lives have been destroyed and continue to be destroyed by laws that the man currently in the White House violated.

The Picture of Oscar WildeOn this day in 1895, Oscar Wilde was arrested for the crime of sodomy. It’s an outrage, of course. Just the same, Wilde brought it on himself. The Marquess of Queensberry left a note for Wilde at his club, which read, “For Oscar Wilde, posing sodomite.” So Wilde sued him for criminal libel. Of course, Wilde was a sodomite. And the Marquess had no trouble finding male prostitutes who would testify to that fact. So Wilde lost the case.

Immediately after that, a warrant was issued for Wilde’s arrest. He went to court and lost. He was given two years in prison, although the judge believed that the acts were so vile that they deserved far more than that. After serving the full sentence, Wilde went to France, where he should have gone long before. He died about three years later, his health having certainly been compromised by his time in prison.

Pretty much everyone today sees the treatment of Wilde as ridiculous. I think it is interesting, because drug users are treated exactly the same way today. And what is the difference? In both cases it is private behavior. But things have reversed over time. In 1895, opium use was generally considered a bad habit — much like tobacco is today. But homosexuality was seen as a grave threat to society. Today it is drug use that will destroy society. There is really nothing but bigotry behind both positions.

We mark this day as the start of the persecution of Oscar Wilde. The only thing that has changed is which people the UK government persecutes.

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