Background: Myth of Victoria and ban on homosexuality

According to legend, lesbianism was never made illegal in Britain because, when Queen Victoria, pictured, was shown the proposed legislation, she refused to sign it, as she wouldn't believe that lesbians existed. "Women do not do such things," she is reported to have said. Most historians now agree that the story is untrue.

In other versions of the tale, ministers deleted all references to women in the legislation, because they couldn't think of a way of explaining matters to the dear old queen.

However, the idea Victoria refused to sign MP Henry Labouchere's amendment to the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, until it had been de-lesbianised, is easily dealt with: the monarch in the late 19th century did not have the power to overrule parliament.

The myth apparently started in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1977, to explain why a demonstration for lesbian equality centred on a statue of Victoria.

Labouchere's true motives for criminalising male homosexuality are still disputed; what seems certain is that banning female homosexuality never crossed his mind. Some suggest the male establishment avoided legislating on lesbianism, for fear of drawing women's attention to its existence.