Gay rights: The Jurors artwork at Runnymede
An artwork to mark the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta at Runnymede, Surrey, touches on the injustice of sexual discrimination. Commissioned by Surrey County Council and the National Trust, the artwork comprises twelve bronze chairs representing concepts of law and key moments in the struggle for freedom, rule of law and equal rights.
One of The Jurors chairs depicts the loudhailer belonging to Harvey Milk, gay rights campaigner. Milk was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California, in 1977. Before his assassination, he sponsored a significant civil rights bill that outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Another of the The Jurors chairs at Runnymede depicts Oscar Wilde’s poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol, describing the brutalising effect of the prison system. Published in 1898 while in exile in France, the poem is based on Wilde’s experiences when incarcerated for homosexual offences in 1895.
Wilde is hailed as a gay icon and champion of individualism. He was also a staunch defender of gender equality and women were central to his life and career. One further link with Surrey is that his brother, Willie, was once engaged to Ethel Smyth, the Woking composer, lesbian and campaigner for women’s suffrage.
Wilde’s Women by Eleanor Fitzsimons (Duckworth, 2016), features this story and can be consulted at Surrey History Centre (SHC ref 828.8).