In late Victorian England, the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, outlawing sexual relations between men (but not between women) is given Royal Assent by Queen Victoria. Despite the passing of that law, many gay men continued to flout it of course, and some posed for photos with their lovers and friends. Like most societal rules in Victorian times, that law was hypocritical. At a time when child prostitution (female and male) was rife, and cross-dressing was popular in upper-class society, the law was rarely enforced.
Cross-dressing aristocrats posing with their lovers.
A nobleman with his younger lovers.
Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, his young lover. Wilde was famously imprisoned for Sodomy, and that ruined his life.
Mature gay men, happy to record their love on a photo.
Two gay lovers having a photo taken as a memoir.
Two more doing the same.
Lesbians were not considered to actually exist in Victorian society, and the word was never used to describe them at the time. Women were presumed to have ‘companions’, or ‘close friends’. Although they could not be prosecuted, gossip could ruin them socially, and most were under great pressure from their families to marry a man. But that did not stop many of them recording their love by having photographs taken.
Some dressed as men for the photos, and perhaps did the same in private.
It would not be until 1967 when homosexuality was decriminalised in England, when it was legalised between consenting adults in private.
As of July 2020, the following countries still have laws that can prescribe the death penalty for homosexuality:
United Arab Emirates