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EastEnders character gets a pardon for gay sex conviction

A character on long-running soap EastEnders has taken advantage of a real-life scheme that allows men to get pardons for convictions under the UK’s historical anti-gay laws.

Gay sex was decriminalised in England and Wales in 1967, but some consenting gay sex acts were not fully decriminalised until 2003.

Under the Turing’s Law system introduced last year, men who were convicted under UK laws for having consenting gay sex can apply to the government for a pardon, and have their criminal records expunged.

The long-awaited changes, which came alongside an apology from the government, were intended to go some way to righting the wrongs done by the laws.

The real-life changes played out on EastEnders this week.

Soap character Derek Harkinson (played by Ian Lavender) revealed that an historical conviction for gross indecency scuppered his youthful dreams of becoming a teacher – leaving him carrying the shame of how the law regarded his sexuality for decades.

However, tonight’s episode saw young law graduate Johnny Carter (Ted Reilly) informs Derek about Turing’s Law, and the process that can wipe this conviction from his record and effectively pardon him.

The plotline won praise from the government, which congratulated the soap for tackling the issue that is still raw for many.

Sarah Newton, Minister for Vulnerability, Safeguarding and Countering Extremism at the Home Office, said: “2017 is a major year for the LGBT rights because it marks 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality.

“I welcome EastEnders focusing on the Government’s Disregard Scheme which allows people to apply to have their convictions for historical sexual offences disregarded and pardoned.

“We are proud of the Government’s record in improving equality and I hope the EastEnders’ storyline will further promote this scheme to a wider audience.”

Lavender’s character made a return to the soap this year, more than a decade after his original exit. The actor had starred as Derek between 2001 and 2005, striking up a friendship with Pauline Fowler.

The soap has long challenged LGBT causes, and was recognised last year with a special PinkNews Award.

Last year the soap featured fan favourite Dot Cotton refusing to attend a gay wedding.

In a surprise twist original EastEnders character Colin Russell, played by Stonewall co-founder Lord Michael Cashman, returned to invite Dot to his wedding.

However Dot refused, citing her Christian faith.

In comments which drew audiences back to the 1980s, when Dot was less than accepting of the character, she said: “I can’t, it ain’t right. I don’t care if it’s legal, a marriage should be between a man and a woman.

“I wish you and your Eddy all the very best but I can’t be part of it.”

But Dot later changed her mind, after a bit of persuasion from Lord Cashman’s character.

Do you know someone with a historical gay sex conviction? Find out more about the procedure here

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