Illustrated Police News: Trial of Oscar Wilde


This image depicts an issue of Illustrated Police News, a weekly illustrated news publication in the United Kingdom.  The tabloid featured sensational and melodramatic reports and illustrations of crime related news in the UK, and ran for over 70 years (1864-1938). Illustrated Police News was directly inspired by The Illustrated London News, which had been launched in 1842 and revealed that newspapers with illustrations could achieve high sales.

This particular issue documented the 1895 trial of Oscar Wilde, when he was convicted under the Labouchere Amendment, and faced severe consequences. The Labouchere Amendment of 1885 was an amendment to the Criminal Law Amendment Act, and criminalized "gross indecency" between men, a term that was intentionally vague and encompassed a range of homosexual acts. This law was used to criminalize acts of homosexuality and non cis-gender expression. Sex between men remained illegal in parts of the United Kingdom until 1982. Wilde was given a sentence of two years of hard labor following his verdict. 

As an established and respected author, Oscar Wilde's conviction led to sensationalism and mass coverage of his trial. The sensational coverage brought discussions of homosexuality into the public sphere, contributing to a heightened awareness of the topic. The wide publicity of the trial reinforced societal stigmas and negative stereotypes about homosexuality. Public opinion was often influenced by the prevailing moral and social attitudes of the time, and publications like the one pictured, viewed homosexuality as immoral and deviant. Wilde's conviction under the Labouchere Amendment for "gross indecency" further solidified the idea that same-sex relationships were criminal and socially unacceptable; and mass coverage of the trial cemented ideas of abhorrence to homosexuality into the minds of readers. 

The success of illustrated newspapers increased the sensationalism of tabloid publications, dramatizing events like the trail of Oscar Wilde and shaping public opinion. This particular image is a notable example, as it highlights a key trial in Queer History that would later be cited and utilized in numerous reports calling for LGBTQ+ equality. 

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