Farmer’s diary from 1810 shows he was more woke about homosexuality than many Americans today

A page of Tomlinson’s diary. Credit: The University of Oxford

An English farmer who lived 200 years ago was more woke about homosexuality than many people today, according to an entry from his newly unearthed diary.

Matthew Tomlinson was a farmer in West Yorkshire in Northern England. In January 1810, he heard about a naval surgeon who had been executed for sodomy and took to his journal to express why he thought criminalizing homosexuality was wrong.

In England and Wales, homosexuality was punishable by death until 1861, when it was replaced with a prison sentence. Homosexual acts remained illegal until 1967, when it was finally decriminalized.

In the diary entry, Tomlinson reasoned that penalizing people, let alone killing them, for something that had been their “nature from childhood” was cruel.

Wrote Tomlinson:

It appears a paradox to me, how men, who are men, shou’d possess such a passion; and more particularly so, if it is their nature from childhood (as I am informed it is) — If they feel such an inclination, and propensity, at that certain time of life when youth genders [i.e. develops] into manhood; it must then be considered as natural, otherwise, as a defect in nature … it seems cruel to punish that defect with death.

Tomlinson went on to question why God would create gay people and then dictate that they should be punished, writing:

It must seem strange indeed that God Almighty shou’d make a being, with such a nature; or such a defect in nature; and at the same time make a decree that if that being whome he had formed, shou’d at any time follow the dictates of that Nature with which he was formed he shou’d be punished with death.

The journal was discovered by Eamonn O’Keeffe, a researcher at the University of Oxford, who had been investigating the role of British military musicians played during the Napoleonic Wars of all things.

O’Keeffe says the discovery “enriches our understanding of Georgian attitudes towards sexuality” and suggests that maybe not everyone throughout history was as homophobic as we tend to think.

“While Tomlinson’s writings reflect the opinions of only one man, his phrasing – ‘as I am informed it is’ – implies that his comments were informed by the views of others,” O’Keeffe says.

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