Text last updated 23 July 2017
What this is about
The blackmailing of, and extortion of money from, gay men because they are gay.
There are very few internet resources about the blackmailing of gay men. This page tries to give the history, put it in perspective, and help you ensure that blackmail never happens to you.
Reliable statistics for the blackmailing of gay men are not available. It is unknown what proportion of blackmail incidents are actually reported to the Police.
Freedom of Information Requests submitted by the i newspaper revealed in July 2017 that a total of 2,250 persons were blackmailed over the internet during the period April 2016 to March 2017 alone.
Labouchere Amendment of 1885
Oscar Wilde was the most famous victim of the UK Parliament’s Labouchere Amendment of 1885, with its harsh punishment of two years imprisonment with hard labour, which criminalised gay men in the UK and became known as the “blackmailers charter” because it allowed so many hundreds of gay men to be blackmailed. Your sexuality, if you were gay, became an awful secret which could be used to destroy your career, your wealth, your home and your family. Blackmailers quickly cottoned on.
Unknown cartoonist | Public domain | 14059
Purges in public services
A career in the forces, emergency services, civil service etc was routinely denied to gay men who were open about their sexuality, because governments and employers were concerned about the security risks associated with employing gay men who could be blackmailed and compromised. During the 1950s and 1960s there were periods where there were witch-hunts in the civil administrations of western countries and gay men and lesbians discovered, were thrown out of their careers, often without compensation or any redress to justice.
There were also official policies which regarded gay people as immoral and therefore unworthy of employment in public posts. Official records which have appeared in the public domain in recent years tend to show that most gays hounded out of their careers were because they were ‘unsuitable’ for the job, not because of some security issue. Others if they were lucky were offered the chance to keep their career if they were willing to be ‘treated’ for some perceived ‘health problem’ (this involved perhaps electric shock treatment or a form of brainwashing).
The injustice of all this was that the fears that gay men were security risks was based on very little substantive evidence. (There had been cases where spies turned out to be gay but in very few cases were the gays blackmailed or coerced into their spying activities.) Even when gay people were allowed into such careers, there continued to be restrictions on their political and travel rights, for instance. These measures were largely paranoid.
1967: Decriminalisation of Homosexuality
The desire by the UK’s Parliament to put an end to the routine blackmailing of gay men was one of the primary reasons why the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which decriminalised sex between consenting men over 21 and consequently liberated gay men over 21, was passed. Since the 1990s more enlightened and wiser minds have seen that any evidence did not support their fears, gay men and lesbians were perfectly decent and proper citizens for employment in public posts and did not generally pose security risks.
Undated cartoon | Michael Wambua Soi | 14060
But the blackmailing of gay men did not go away. The blackmailing of gay men is now a frequent, major problem, all around the world. The tragedy now, for gay men in the west, is that there is simply no reason to put up with it any more.
Despite all the reforms in law which protect gay men from discrimination in the UK, there are still many gay men who find themselves being blackmailed for money by former sexual partners or friends, or even complete strangers over the internet, attempting to part them from their money in order to protect their privacy (or the feelings of their friends, family, mothers etc.) Many of them simply pay up and never report the crime. If they do go public they usually find that everyone is supportive and helpful; it seems keeping quiet about it is the very worst thing you can do. Blackmailing is a serious crime; convicted blackmailers tend to receive prison sentences.
Being blackmailed is so distressing, and has such an impact on you, that you really should regard it as another form of abuse, like being raped, which you would wish to avoid.
The most common scenario is when someone you date suddenly threatens you with exposure unless you pay up, but there are more worrying cases where blackmailers organise a ‘sting’ involving fake telephone chat lines or web sites to entrap their victims. The web site or chat room does not have to be a fake one: fake gays register with them and use them to find their targets. Be particularly sceptical of profiles completed by website members from other, especially third world or former communist, or far east countries. When they say they are gay do they mean gay as we understand it? In fact only 2% of these profiles may be trustworthy.
There are extortion rackets in which a number of young criminals seek out gay men (closeted or open), develop relationships or regular meetings, then exploit their victims. In other cases – luckily few and far between – parents encourage their children to befriend gay men for exploitation and the proceeds are shared between parent and child.
There are also occasional reports of gay men being kidnapped – grabbed and taken in vehicles – by persons pretending to be gay – to be assaulted, beaten up or even killed.
How to protect yourself
It’s important to understand that its a nasty world out there and draw up and adopt some rules of behaviour to protect yourself from this menace.
Let people earn their access. Strangers do not have any right to enter your home or your life. Get to know new people well and decide how trustworthy they are before you let them into your home or life. Take particular care when using online dating services and Apps. Never invite them into your home on the first date.
Discuss. Talk with your friends about the problems of blackmail and how you can defend yourselves against the risk.
Network. Have a small network of trusted friends – who do not have to be gay – who can support you in emergencies.
Be honest and open. If you live openly as a gay man and have pride and confidence in yourself it is very hard for a blackmailer to find leverage in order to blackmail you.
Validate. If you do sensitive work get advice and guidance on how you and your work can be protected.
Be wary of the internet. Do not believe personal profiles on web sites. It could be anyone (or even a gang).
Do not reply to any email or message from someone you do not know.
Do not pay any money to anyone.
If you are threatened go straight to the Police.
See a solicitor who has relevant experience in this subject.
Do not travel to countries where gay men are routinely extorted and blackmailed.
Do not get in vehicles with people you do not know especially if the lighting inside the vehicle is not working and you cannot see who they are.
Gay Activist welcomes comments.
Acts of Parliament
Oxford Journals, No Date: Barriers to Security Clearances for Gay Men and Lesbians: Fear of Blackmail or Fear of Homosexuals? By Gregory B. Lewis, Georgia State University
About, 19 Sept 2006: What Gay Married Men Can Learn from Jim McGreevey
LGBT Assylum News, 26 Jan 2012: Kenya: Blackmail and extortion of gay men on the rise
LGBT Assylum News, 8 May 2011: Blackmailing of gay men common in Saudi Arabia
Moscow News, 24 June 2011: Moscow cops accused of blackmailing gay man
IGLHRC, No date: Blackmail and extortion of gay and bisexual men in Ghana by Mac-Darling Cobbinah [pdf]
Clacton Gazette, 28th June 2013: Blackmailer Jailed for 11 Years – 28/06/2013
Gloucester Citizen, 9 July 2014: Two in court over gay Grindr app blackmail case