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Gay party leader champions calls for suffragettes to be pardoned

Written by gaytourism

Women fighting for their right to vote who were jailed should be pardoned, say campaigners.

The lesbian Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson is leading the calls for the suffragette convictions to be overturned.

Her calls come as the UK marks 100 years since some women won the right to vote.

The Representation of the People Act came into law on 6 February 1918. It gave women over 30 and ‘of property’ the right to vote. It also allowed men who didn’t own property the right to vote.

The Scottish Tory leader supports the calls for posthumous pardons because they were simply ‘righting the wrong’ of an unjust law.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4 this morning, the current Home Secretary Amber Rudd says she will ‘take a look at’ giving pardons.

However, because of the violent extremity of the crimes including violence and arson, this will be ‘complex.’ Records show there were as many as 1300 suffragette arrests between 1906-1914.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Davidson says:

‘Voting was a value judgment, not an intrinsic right. That inequality is one reason why I support calls by family members to offer a posthumous pardon to those suffragettes charged with righting that wrong.’

Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society who put the campaign together, says pardons would be a ‘fitting tribute.’

The UK prime minister Theresa May will make a speech hailing the ‘heroism’ of the suffragettes today.

The campaign has hallmarks of the so-called Alan Turing law.

In 2016 the UK announced thousands of gay and bisexual men in the UK would receive a pardon for consensual sex convictions that are no longer illegal.

A lesbian was one of the leading Suffragettes

Emmeline Pankhurst was one of the founder members of the Woman’s Social and Political Union. She also had a lesbian relationship.

We know this because the diaries of a suffragette named Mary Blathwayt reveal she had ‘a close relationship’ with the lesbian composer Ethel Smyth. It happened for years following the death of her husband in 1898.

In 1999 Time named Pankhurst as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century. Her activism is often criticised being militant. And while historians disagree about their effectiveness – but her activism was undoubtedly a crucial part in winning the vote for women in Britain.

The suffrage movement brought together women from incredibly diverse backgrounds.

Though many of the leadership were from upper and middle classes many working-class women found a place within the campaign. This linked the fight to the greater struggle for enfranchisement for the working classes, and greater working rights.

Read more:

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Julian Clary compares fight for gay marriage to suffragette struggle