February is LGBTQ+ history month and during this time we pay tribute to those who made it possible for people today to live freely and authentically as who they are without fear of prosecution or violence. 2023 marks 20 years since Section 28, the law that banned “promotion of homosexuality” in the UK, was repealed. According to the Census, the population of people identifying as part of the LGBTQ+ community has steadily increased and along with it, social acceptance. The history of how LGBTQ+ rights came about is a long and extensive one. Many people even within the community aren’t aware of how their human rights came about.
1533 – The Buggery Act was passed by Parliament during the reign of Henry VIII which made male homosexuality illegal and punishable by death
1861 – Offences Against the Person Act abolished the death penalty for homosexuality and replaced it with a minimum of 10 years imprisonment.
1885 – The Criminal Law Amendment Act made any male homosexuality act illegal regardless of a witness being present which meant gay men could be accused and prosecuted even in their privacy. Letters expressing any affection between men required prosecution and Oscar Wilde fell victim to this in 1895. The legislation was so ambiguous that it became known as the “Blackmailer’s Charter”.
Post WW2, 1945 – Significant rise in arrests and prosecutions of homosexual men including high rank and held positions within the government and national institutions. This affected Alan Turing, the cryptographer who helped break the Enigma code.
1946 – Michael Dillon published Self: A Study in Endocrinology which recounted his experience transitioning and being the first transgender man to undergo phalloplasty surgery
1951 – Roberta Cowell, a former World War II Spitfire pilot became the first transgender woman to undergo vaginoplasty surgery in the UK.
1957 – The Wolfenden Report was published which responded to evidence that homosexuality could not be regarded as a disease. It aimed to bring about a change in the current law by making recommendations to the government to focus on protecting the public rather than scrutinising people’s private lives
1967 – It took the government 10 years to implement the Wolfenden Report’s recommendations in the Sexual Offences Act 1967. It partially legalised same-sex acts between men over 21 years of age if conducted in private
1969 – Stonewall Riots occurred in New York in protest of the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community by the police
1970 – The UK Gay Liberation Front was founded and they fought for the rights of LGBTQ+ people and organised the first Pride march in 1972
1988 – The Conservative Government led by Margaret Thatcher introduced Section 28 of the Local Government Act which banned local authorities from promoting homosexuality and prohibited councils from funding educational materials seen to promote homosexual lifestyles
2003 – Section 28 was repealed
2004 – Civil Partnership Act allowed same-sex couples to legally enter into binding partnerships similar to marriage. The Gender Recognition Act also came into place which gave transgender people full legal recognition of the gender, allowing them to acquire a new birth certificate
2010 – The Equality Act gave LGBTQ+ employees protections from discrimination, harassment and victimisation in the workplace
2013 – Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act allowed same-sex couples in England and Wales to marry
LGBTQ+ people are still fighting for their rights today and recently the UK government has blocked Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill which directly affects transgender people and makes legally transitioning much more difficult. It is important that we learn from our history and continue to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community to ensure their human rights stay in place so they are able to live as freely as those outside of the community.