Inspirations: Michael Schofield

Michael Schofield was a pioneer of social research into homosexuality between the 1940’s and the 1980’s, and a campaigner for The Homosexual Law Reform Society (which led to the 1967 Sexual Offences Act and the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in the U.K.). He played a prominent role in the law reform lobbies of the 1960s and 1970s. He is the author of many books including Sociological Aspects of Homosexuality (1965) and The Sexual Behaviour of Young People (1965).  I first met him in 1967 when I was starting out on doing research into ‘homosexuality’ and examining the possible impact of changes in the law. He was a great inspiration to me and, together with his dear partner Anthony Skyrme,  has remained a very good friend all these years.

I wrote this Wikipedia entry very recently –  so that we will not forget him and his brave early work.

Michael Schofield with partner Anthony Skyrme
at Ken’s BSA Lecture in October 2012

Life and work

Michael Schofield was born in Leeds in 1919, the fourth child of Snowden Schofield, who was the owner of Schofield’s, the largest department in the north of England, between 1901-1996. He obtained a degree in Psychology at Cambridge University, spent the war years as a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force, and then studied at Harvard Business School. During this time, he identified as homosexual and decided to make an original study of the social aspects of homosexuality. In those days, when homosexuality was a criminal offence, publishing under his own name was too risky and he assumed the pen name of Gordon Westwood. This first book, Society and the Homosexual, was published in 1952[1] and was the first non-medical book to be written about homosexuality, long before the famous trials of the 1950s[2] and the appointment of the Wolfenden Committee[3] . Later, in 1960 he published A Minority, the first detailed research into the lives of homosexuals who had not got into trouble with the law and who had not sought medical treatment.[4] His third and major study was finally published under his own name in 1965 (Sociological Aspects of Homosexuality). [5] In England little of sociological significance had appeared before this; and his work was regularly cited in the debate over law changes. At this time he also became active in the Homosexual Law Reform Society, working with Antony Grey and others.

After these publications he turned his attention to other social issues including single parent families, teenage premarital sex, birth control, abortion, drug taking and prison reform. All of these were major controversies in the ‘Swinging Sixties’. In 1965 his best known book, “The Sexual Behaviour of Young People”,[6] was published. This caused a stir, but was also taught in higher education institutions as much for its methodology as its findings. His later books included Social Research (a textbook), The Strange Case of Pot, The Sexual Behaviour of Young Adults, Report of the Committee on the Operation of the Sexual Containment Act. He also wrote many research reports, articles in periodicals and introductions to other books. Schofield spent many years actively supporting various law reform groups. He was a member of the Executive Committee of the National Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty) for nine years. He was active in the campaign against censorship and appeared as an expert witness for the defence of several obscene publications trials. He also served on the Government Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence (chaired by Barbara Wootton) that published the Wootton Report (the report on cannabis which suggested that the legal penalties were far too severe). He wrote a minority note for it. On a wider scale, he campaigned to make contraceptives free on the National Health Service and for the Abortion Law Reform Society. He was an early supporter of frank sex education, gay rights and a more tolerant attitude to marital infidelity. He was to be found opposing Mary Whitehouse and her supporters on TV and radio on many occasions, but he made few enemies and many friends. Schofield was the founder and main instigator of a charitable foundation named the Lyndhurst Settlement. Between 1968 and 2005, it donated at least three million pounds to small struggling charities, particularly those groups working for civil liberties and for the protection of the environment.

Schofield retired in 1985 from public life and lives with his partner (whom he met in 1952), Anthony Sykrme.

Contributions

Schofield was amongst the very the first researchers to approach homosexuality outside of a medical or legal framework. His concern was to investigate homosexual life as it was lived by ordinary homosexuals in everyday life. At the time homosexuality was a criminal offence, and such research was difficult to conduct. His first book, Society and the Homosexual[7], was an overview of the topic including early notes on the gay scene in England at that time. His second book,[8] was an original survey study of 127 men, and was the first of its kind. He asked them questions on their background, early homosexual experiences, attempts to combat, the extent of their homosexual acts, their work and leisure and their community integration. The third book[9] was a comparative study of heterosexuals and homosexuals along there dimensions: in prison, in treatment and others in the community. He concluded:

Homosexuality is a condition which in itself has only minor effects upon the development of the personality. But the attitudes not of the homosexual but of other people towards this condition, create a stress situation which can have a profound effect upon personality development….. A proportion of homosexuals are able to withstand this pressure from outside and become social casualties. These are the homosexuals found most often in prisons and clinics…… On the other hand the homosexuals who have learnt to contend with social pressures can become adjusted to their condition and integrated with the community. These men are hardly ever found in prison and clinics”([10])

A second major contribution was his work on the sexual behaviour of young people[11]. This was one of the very first surveys of sexual behaviour in the U.K.and looked at the behaviour of young people. Five years later these same young people were re-interviewed for a follow up:[12]. Perhaps the most surprising finding of these studies with hindsight is that they reveal the relatively low levels of sexual behaviour of young people at that time. Schofield’s work paved the way for much later wore.g. Kaye Wellings[13]. A photographic study by Damien Rudd (Birds of Panic: Sexual Behaviour of Young People) has also been based on it.[14]

Publications 1952-1979

  • Society and the Homosexual (1952)
  • A Minority: Male homosexuality in Great Britain (1960)
  • Sociological Aspects of Homosexuality: A comparative study of three types of homosexuals (1965)
  • The Sexual Behaviour of Young People (1965)
  • Social Research (1969)
  • The Strange Case of Pot (1971)
  • The Sexual Behaviour of Young People (1973)
  • Report of the Committee on the Operation of the Sexual Containment Act (1976)References
  1. ^ Westwood, Gordon (1952). Society and the Homosexual. London: Longmans Green.
  2. ^ (Peter Wildeblood: Against the Law)
  3. ^ H.M.S.O (1957). Report of the Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution. London: H.M.S.O..
  4. ^ Westwood, Gordon (1960). A Minority: A Report on the Life of the Male Homosexual in Great Britain. London: Longmans Green.
  5. ^ Schofield, Michael (1965). Sociological Aspects of Homosexuality. London: Longmans.
  6. ^ Schofield, Michael (1965). The Sexual Behaviour of Young People. London: Longmans.
  7. ^ Society and the Homosexual, 1952
  8. ^ A Minority,
  9. ^ Sociological Asopects of Homosexuality, 1965
  10. ^ Schofield, Sociological Aspects of Homosexuality1965: p203
  11. ^ The Sexual Behaviour of Young People,1965
  12. ^ The Sexual Behaviour of Young Adults,1971
  13. ^ Wellings, Kay (April 1996). “Sexual Behaviour in Young People”. Ballieres Clin. Obset.Gynacol. 10 (1): 139-60.
  14. ^ Rudd, Damien. “Birds of Panic: Sexual Behaviour of Young Peopl”. Retrieved 14/Aug/2012.

2 responses »

  1. James says:

    Is Michael still living or has he passed away? I have saw him on C4’s A Very British Sex Scandal, where he states he was with his partner for 54 years. I also saw him on a 1967 episode of Late Night Line Up (which you can find on BBC’s website via a Google search) arguing in favour of the legalisation of homosexuality. What a brave man, I admire him so much, one of the early figures in the LGBT equal rights movement who more people should know about.

  2. kenplummer says:

    Hi James,
    Michael is still alive and living in Belsize Park with his partner who looks after him. He is very frail though, can no longer really walk, and is more or less house/ room bound . He is about 93. He was in and out of hospital a few times last year. I saw him just before Christmas and he is still lively in his mind, but oh dear – this is ageing for you, and inevitable. His partner really cares for him.
    I am sure he would appreciate a little letter from you if you wanted to say anything. The best bet may be to communicate with me more privately on my email – click on ‘contact ken’ .
    Thanks for writing. Ken

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