Pride Bonus Episode: From Oscar Wilde to the Grndr Killer

Little did Wilde know he would inspire the most iconic look in pimp culture.

The trails of Oscar Wilde, compiled by Giles Brandreth and performed by Martin Jarvis is a detailed and loving recreation, using original transcripts, of two trials in which Oscar Wilde was a central player.

In the first trial Wilde was suing the Marquess of Queensbury, whoes family is responsible for one of Edinburgh’s most gruesome tales, for publicly declaring Wilde to be a sodomite. In 1890’s Britain law around sex, sexuality and marraige adheared to a rigid interpretation of the bible which left no room for the compassion preached by Jesus. As a result accusations of homosexuality could ruin someone like Wilde, who was a public figure and celebrated poet, playwright and deliverer of some of the greatest quips in history.

It is impossible for anyone who understands the deep homophobia running through British society at the time, when listening to the dramatisation of the trial, to not be perplexed as to how Wilde thought he could win. He was, in fact, spurred on by Lord Alfred Douglas, his lover with whom he had a tempestuous relationship, and son of the Marquess of Queensbury, who may well have been playing out a pshycodrama of Greek proportions with his father. Wilde’s mother also wanted him to defend himself publicly, and against the advice of almost every other person he knew took the Marquess to court.

Unsurprisingly he lost, and so came to be charged and found himself giving evidence in a second trial this time with harsh consequences. Found to be a practicing homosexual he was sentenced to two years hard labour, which irrevocably broke him.

It is hard to hear not just the terrible homophobia baked into the trial, but also the classism. A series of working class young men are brought to court and give damning evidence against Wilde, which begs the question, if he had stuck to working class lovers rather than embarking on a love affair with a young man from the aristocracy would any of this have come to light and instead we would have many more plays, stories and poems of Wilde’s to still delight in today.

While the irony of hearing Wilde’s one liners in a characteristically sharp yet amusing doomed deffence of himself lends a somber pain to the listening experience, it is his explanation when asked to explain the line of poetry “the love that dare not speak it’s name,” (a phrase coined by Lord Alfred Douglas) which is most moving.

It is at the end of the trial, which undoubtedly finished this son of Ireland that we as listeners get to thank our lucky stars that we live in more enlightened times where homosexuality itself is no longer illegal. However it is prudent to caution that this does not mean an end to homophobia and culture and law often jockey uncomfortably beside each other one sometimes gaining, sometimes losing.

This can be exemplified by two BBC programmes still on iplayer, Four Lives and How Police failed to Catch the Grndr Killer. Stephen Port managed to lure to his flat, drug and murder four young men, and there are probably countless rapes and sexual assaults we will never know about. Ports crimes were abhorrent, but what sticks in throat is the police investigation.

Both programmes work as companion pieces to each other, the documentary How Police Failed to Catch the Grndr Killer, gives us more than plain facts about what happened, but as the relatives of the young men who so tragically lost their lives just as they were about to embark on exciting new chapters also gives us emotion.

From left to right. Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth, Jack Taylor.

If it wasn’t for the determination of these young men’s mothers and sisters, typified in Sheradin Smiths portrayal of Anthony Walgate’s mother, it is likely that Port would have continued killing.  This statement is more than conjecture as an inquest itself pointed out that failings by the Met Police “probably” led to Port being able to kill, and kill again.

Who can tell exactly what happened in the minds and hearts of the police when they found out that Anthony was gay.  Was it revultion?  Did their brains flood with a tsunami of steriotypes, did their lack of understanding of homosexulaity mean they would rather avoid the discomfort of asking relevant questions?  We will probably never know, and given how so much of our behaviour is subconcious it’s unlikely those involved will ever truely know what split seccond assumptions and feelings feed into decisions.

After the police hold a town hall session with the gay community two of the characters wearily say that they hope some lessons will be learned.  However for those who remember the outcry during the hunt for Steve Wright who is currently serving times for five murders of sex workers, you may recall that when focusing on the victims so much attention was paid to the fact that most of his victims, who were sex workers, had been in care.  Many pledged to do more so that children in care had better options as they entered the adult world, but to date, I’m not aware of any work that has been done, or money invested in this direction.  It is easy to say things and make promises, but it is here that we need to embrace the Sufragettes rallying cry of “deeds not words.”

Ports crimes illustraits that while we can be assured that no one will have to face jail for being homosexual now, that the attitudes that underlay public reaction to Wilde can still flow through the veins of modern society.  With the rolling back of LGBTIQ+ rights in other parts of the world, it is more important than ever that we do the work to challenge any unconcious biases in our own hearts, and let out rainbow brothers and sisters know that we will not just tolerate their presence in society but we will actively celebrate it, with pride.

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