In One-Up to Sappho, 18th Century Writings of Gay Activists Discovered

Excerpts from a 258-year-old book written by what is thought to be the first ever advocate for gay rights have been discovered by a University of Manchester academic.

Excerpts from a 258-year-old book written by what is thought to be the first ever advocate for gay rights have been discovered by a University of Manchester academic. Dr. Hal Gladfelder from the School of Arts, Histories and Cultures found the previously unnoticed tract while doing research at the National Archive in Kew.

The excerpts are contained on a three by five foot scroll that is a handwritten indictment of the printer of a book called Ancient and Modern Pederasty Investigated and Exemplified. Written in 1749 by Thomas Cannon, presumably a member of the era’s underground gay literati, the book is an anthology of stories and philosophical texts in defense of male homosexuality. One story deals with cross-dressing and others are translations of Greek and Latin homoerotic texts.

No copies of the original document survive, but the indictment scroll discovered by Gladfelder contains long extracts from the book, which was suppressed immediately after publication.

Prior to and beyond 1750 in the United Kingdom, the only other discussions of homosexuality could be found in violently moralistic and homophobic attacks, or in trial reports for the crime of sodomy. Oscar Wilde provides the most famous example in this regard. Homosexuality became legal in the UK in 1962, and sodomy was a capital offense punishable by death until 1861.