Reading jail, where Oscar Wilde was punished for gay sex

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The victorian jail where gay playwright Oscar Wilde served most of his two-year sentence for “gross indecency” is for sale, Britain said on Thursday.

The move drew criticism from campaigners who had hoped to turn Reading jail, just west of London, into an arts center to honour the Irish writer’s legacy.

The site had become a magnet for Britain’s LGBT community, just as New York’s Stonewall Inn draws crowds commemorating its key role in the US fight for gay rights.

“It’s a hugely significant space,” said Joseph Galliano, CEO and co-founder of Queer Britain, the national LGBTQ+ museum.

“We are losing heritage and cultural spaces to commercial redevelopment which will never be recovered.”

Government seeks ‘best outcome for taxpayer’

It is the latest prison to be sold by the government as it seeks to turn state assets into money to bolster its budget.

Paul Johnson, Professor of Sociology at the University of York, said that Britain had a bad record of marking its historic persecution of gay people and that the prison was important to many people around the world.

“It does crystallise what hundreds of thousands of people suffered, it isn’t just about one person — it’s about what so many people suffered over time,” he said.

Britain’s Justice Ministry said it would invest money from the sale back in the prison system and would consider all bids.

“We will always seek the best outcome for the taxpayer,” the ministry said in a statement.

Anti-homosexuality legislation

During his sensational trial, Wilde was questioned over his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, a poet who penned the immortal line: “I am the love that dare not speak its name”.

Wilde was imprisoned in 1895, months after his play ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ was first performed in London.

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