LGBT+ History Month takes place every February and was founded by Schools Out UK, a charity that has been campaigning for LGBT+ inclusivity in education, other institutions and the wider community for nearly 50 years.
The overall aim is to promote equality and diversity for the benefit of the public. This is done by:-
- Increasing the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) people, their history, lives and their experiences;
- Raising awareness of the matters affecting the LGBT+ community;
- Working to make safe spaces for the LGBT+ community; and
- Promoting the welfare of LGBT+ people.
Timeline of key LGBT+ legislation
So in the spirit of the occasion, here is my brief rundown of key legislation and other events that the LGBT+ community have faced in the pursuit of equality and acceptance.
The Buggery Act 1533
During Henry VIII’s reign, this was the first time male homosexuality was outlawed in Britain, and by extension, the entire British Empire. Convictions under the Buggery Act for sodomy were punishable by death.
Criminal Law Amendment Act 1889
The death sentence had been replaced by a minimum 10 year prison sentence. By 1889, any homosexual act would be illegal even if committed in private. Affectionate letters passed between two men could serve as evidence to prosecute.
Oscar Wilde was a victim of this infamous law which became known as the Blackmailers’ Charter.
Criminal Law Amendment Bill 1921
Female homosexuality was never explicitly targeted, but was discussed as a reason for new discriminatory legislation to be introduced. The bill did not become law for fear it would draw attention to lesbianism and encourage women to explore homosexuality.
Wolfenden Report 1957
The Wolfenden Report was commissioned in parallel to the significant rise in arrests of homosexual men. Codebreaker Alan Turing was among those prosecuted from high ranking or important positions within established institutions on the grounds of their sexuality.
The report highlighted the evidence that homosexuality was not a legitimate disease and sought to change the law by focusing on protecting the public instead of probing into people’s private lives.
Over the post-war period, transgender identities were becoming visible too. Notable individuals such as Michael Dillon and Roberta Cowell were the first people to publicise and undergo transformation surgery.
Sexual Offences Act 1967
The Government finally implemented the Wolfenden Report in 1967, which partially legalised same sex acts in the UK between men over the age of 21 conducted in private. This was a huge step forward in the fight for equality. The age of consent for men to have sex with men would be reduced to age 18 nearly thirty years later.
Stonewall Rights 1969
The Stonewall riots in New York sparked a civil rights movement that drew attention to the often violent oppression of the LGBT+ community by the police and other institutions. In reaction, The Gay Liberation Front was formed in the UK which fought for LGBT+ rights by protests and campaigns which would lead to the very first Pride march being organised in 1972.
Section 28 Local Government Act 1988
Introduced by Thatcher, and at the peak of the homophobic/biphobic stigma of the HIV/AIDS crisis, this harmful piece of legislation censored local authorities from “promoting homosexuality” or “pretend family relationships”, prohibiting the funding of educational resources. Incredibly, Section 28 was only repealed in 2003, with David Cameron apologising for the legislation in 2009.
Civil Partnership Act 2004
Same sex couples were permitted to form legally binding partnerships akin to marriage in 2004. This would eventually lead to same sex marriage being allowed in 2013 under the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. The front page of this new law was proudly displayed at my wedding in 2018.
Gender Recognition Act 2004
Trans people were given full legal recognition of their gender which allowed them to acquire a new birth certificate. This is a huge step forward for trans rights, but it is in need of desperate reform to make the process of gender recognition less medically intrusive.
Equality Act 2010
A merging of existing anti-discrimination laws saw the Equality Act solidify the protection of the LGBT+ community against discrimination, harassment, and victimisation on the grounds of sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
The recent case of Taylor v Jaguar Land Rover in 2020 has provided clarity and recognition of LGBT+ people who identify as gender fluid or non-binary within the context of the Equality Act. Read my blog on this case here.
This is by no means an exhaustive legal history of LGBT+ rights. But I do find it very inspiring to recognise that at every stage, law makers and the public at large have had to truly acknowledge that we exist, and that our pursuit for equality and acceptance has never stopped.