Key findings of my newest book in 35 minutes.
My talk at the 2022 iMagine! Belfast Festival. This talk is based on my newest book, “Beyond the Law”: The Politics Ending the Death Penalty for Sodomy in Britain (Temple University Press, 2021), which documents the early nineteenth century debate in Britain over the ethics of punishing sex between men, culminating in votes in Parliament in 1835 and 1840-41. On each of these occasions, majorities in the House of Commons approved ending the death penalty for sodomy, even as the reform was blocked in the House of Lords. While the reform itself failed, the opinions preserved by the attempts provide a remarkable and previously unknown way to analyze cultural attitudes towards sex between men in the early nineteenth century. Rather than focus on what was not present in these debates (the modern homosexual identity category as defined in the late nineteenth century) this analysis focuses on the multiple ways various groups of individuals understood what sodomy was, and what constituted an ethical response to it. Arguments were made, in a variety of settings, as to why execution for private consensual sexual conduct was immoral. A leader in the movement to abolish slavery was prominent in these efforts, as were individuals who had family members who were subject to arrest under the laws against sodomy and attempted sodomy. Arguments stemming from utilitarian reform were a part of these debates, but so too were arguments for marital privacy, and the negative impact of the sodomy law on married couples. Playing out over decades, this story involves some of the most prominent individuals of the age, including philosopher legal theorist Jeremy Bentham, novelists William Beckford, Isabella Kelly, and Matthew Gregory Lewis, Lord and Lady Byron, Abolitionist Steven Lushington, future Prime Ministers Lord John Russell and Robert Peel, future Attorney General Fitzroy Kelly, explorer and MP William Bankes, radical politician and publisher William Cobbett, and many others.
Jeffrey Weeks, author of the first landmark works of LGBTQ history for nineteenth century Britain, has called the book “Convincing and stimulating, Upchurch’s book is grounded in a rich and complex archive and is a triumph of historical detective work. His patient piecing together of quite disparate materials to develop a case strengthens the sense that he is genuinely breaking new ground. ‘Beyond the Law’ is a very important book that will change our understanding of what happened before 1861 when the death penalty for sodomy in England was abolished.”
Ann Clark, author of numerous books on British gender and sexuality in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and former President of the North American Conference on British Studies, writes that “‘Beyond the Law’ reveals hitherto almost unknown efforts to repeal the death penalty for sodomy in the early nineteenth century in England and provides a new interpretation of the 1885 Labouchere Amendment on that topic. Upchurch offers amazing research, new discoveries, and fascinating stories of the people behind these legislative efforts, as well as rich discussions of the tragic persecutions of many men who had sex with men. His book is a very interesting and compelling read.”
My talk, “A Masterclass: Queer HIstory with Prof. Charles Upchurch” at the Manchester Central Library was listed on Visit Manchester as one of the things to do in town for LGBT History Month in 2022. The talk was held before a live audience, as well as webcast.
“Beyond the Law” was featured in the March/April 2022 issue of The Advocate, the nation’s leading LGBTQ news magazine since 1967.
Human Rights and LGBTQ Rights Activist Peter Tatchell endorses Beyond the Law
What Would a Queer History of Florida State University Look Like?
My January 2022 talk for the FSU Pride Alumni Network: What Would a Queer History of FSU Look Like? What are the most important developments in the writing of Queer and LGBT history, and how can they be applied to interpreting the queer experience at Florida State? One of the first academic authors of gay and lesbian history earned his PhD at FSU in the early 1970s, and taught some of the first university courses on LGBT history and culture in the nation on our campus. Why isn’t this story better known, and how can we build on this legacy? How can theory help ensure that we write histories that acknowledge the centrality of race, class, gender, and gender identity, while also always foregrounding issues of political power, labor, coercion, and class? Theory is not about making what is simple obscure, but instead about helping us to see mechanisms at work, and lives lived, that may have left only faint traces in the archive, rounding out and completing the evidence that has survived in greater abundance. Join us for a 40-minute illustrated exploration of all of these themes as they relate to FSU’s queer history.
Larry Kramer, founder of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, ACT UP, and Tony award-winning playwright, wrote a review strongly endorsing my first book, Before Wilde: Sex Between Men in Britain’s Age of Reform (Univ. of California Press, 2009) for the Huffington Post. The review highlights my commitment to basing my arguments on original primary source material.
February 2015 As part of LGBT History Month in the United Kingdom, I gave the first Alan Horsfall Lecture, which opened the National LGBT History Festival. The talk was sponsored by the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) and was titled “Like Sympathetic Ink: Identity and the Early Nineteenth-Century Attempt to Reform of the British Sodomy Laws.” It was my first presentation of the first piece of the research that would become ‘Beyond the Law’ six years later, and I’m grateful to LGBT History Month UK for the support they gave my work at this early stage.