Prejudice and Pride: LGBTQ History
Snapshots of the history of LGBTQ in the UK.
The Wolfenden Report, 1957
In 1954 the UK government set up a Departmental Committee to look into aspects of British sex laws. In 1885 the age of consent for heterosexual intercourse had been raised from 13 to 16 and a number of male homosexual acts, defined as ‘gross indecency’ were criminalised whether practiced in public or in private. The resulting Wolfenden Report (1957) recommended decriminalising homosexuality between consenting adults in private but fixing the age of consent for homosexuals at 21, arguing that ‘boys were incapable of forming a mature judgement at the age of 16 about their sexuality’.
Sexual Offences Act 1967
Sexual Offences Act 1967 comes into force in England and Wales which decriminalises homosexual acts between two men over the age of 21 in 'private'. The 1967 Act did not extend to Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, where all homosexual behaviour remained illegal. The privacy restrictions of the act meant a third person could not be present and men could not have sex in a hotel. These restrictions were overturned in the European Court of Human Rights in 2000.
Man Alive TV interviews gay men about their feelings
Man Alive TV series broadcasts a special following the new legislation - Jeremy James interviews gay men about their feelings and the opinions of society towards them.
Scottish Minorities Group and the Committee for Homosexual Equality
The Scottish Minorities Group originated in a meeting of about half a dozen men in January 1969 in the drawing room of Ian Dunn's parents' house in Glasgow. The 1967 Sexual Offences Act in England and Wales, that involved the partial decriminalisation of homosexual relations between men (over 21 in private), did not apply in Scotland or Northern Ireland. The term 'minorities' was chosen to avoid the dangers of explicit reference to homosexuality.
The Campaign for Homosexual Equality is a democratic voluntary organisation, founded in 1964 by Allan Horsfall and others as the North Western Committee for Homosexual Law Reform. It played a key part in the campaigns leading up to the decriminalisation of male homosexual activities in 1967. Thereafter it broadened its activity, and in 1969 it was renamed the Committee for Homosexual Equality
UK Gay Liberation Front is founded
In the UK, the GLF had its first meeting in the basement of the London School of Economics on 13 October 1970. Bob Mellors and Aubrey Walter had seen the effect of the GLF in the United States and created a parallel movement based on revolutionary politics.
By 1971, the UK GLF was recognised as a political movement in the national press, holding weekly meetings of 200 to 300 people. The GLF Manifesto was published, and a series of high-profile direct actions were carried out, such as the disruption of the launch of the Church-based morality campaign, Festival of Light.
The Gay Liberation Front publish their manifesto
In 1971 The Gay Liberation Front publish their manifesto and organise their first open gay dance in Kensington Town Hall.
Lesbian Protest at Women’s Liberation Conference
In 1970 the first UK National Women’s Liberation Conference developed four key demand including ‘free contraception and abortion on demand’. The following year a group of lesbians invaded the Conference stage at Skegness protesting the lack of lesbian visibility within the conference and its concerns.
In 1974 an additional demand was added ‘The right to self-defined sexuality. An end to discrimination against lesbians’.
'Gay News' Newspaper is founded
Gay News was a fortnightly newspaper in the United Kingdom founded in June 1972 in a collaboration between former members of the Gay Liberation Front and members of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE). At the newspaper's height, circulation was 18,000 to 19,000 copies
First London Gay Pride Rally
Pride has been organised by several organisations since the first official UK Gay Pride Rally which was held in London on 1 July 1972 (chosen as the nearest Saturday to the anniversary of the Stonewall riots of 1969) with approximately 2,000 participants.
First UK gay helpline founded
London Icebreakers forms, offering a 24-hour helpline staffed exclusively by LGB people and offered gay-affirmative support.
Gay News charged with obscenity
In 1974, Gay News was charged with obscenity, having published an issue with a cover photograph of two men kissing. It won the court case.
First out lesbian MP
In 1974 Maureen Colquhoun, a wife and mother of three, was elected as Labour MP for Northampton North. Later that year she left her marriage and announced that she was a lesbian. The shock, outrage and vilification was extreme. Her party did not support her, citing her unwelcome ‘obsession with Women’s Rights’. She lost her seat in the 1979 general election.
Action for Lesbian Parents founded
Action for Lesbian Parents founded after three high-profile custody cases where lesbians were refused custody of their children.
Gay News prosecuted for blasphemy
Gay News Magazine is successfully prosecuted by Mary Whitehouse for ‘Blasphemy’. She objected to a poem and illustration, 'The Love That Dares to Speak', published in the fortnightly paper about a homosexual centurion's love for Christ at the Crucifixion.
Homosexuality decriminalised in Scotland
First UK AIDS case
The first case of AIDS in the UK is reported at Brompton Hospital.
Homosexuality legalised in Northern Ireland
Terrence Higgins Trust launched
The Trust was the first charity in the UK to be set up in response to HIV. It was initially named Terry Higgins Trust. Terry Higgins died aged 37 on 4 July 1982 in St Thomas' Hospital, London. He was among the first people in the UK known to have died from the AIDS virus, which was only identified the previous year. Terry's close friend Martyn Butler, Tony Calvert and Terry's partner Rupert Whitaker and other friends started the Trust to raise funds for research as a way of preventing suffering due to AIDS. The charity aims to reduce the spread of HIV and promote good sexual health (including safe sex); to provide services on a national and local level to people with, affected by, or at risk of contracting HIV; and to campaign for greater public understanding of the impact of HIV and AIDS.
Chris Smith, first openly gay male MP
Chris Smith, Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury, speaks openly about his sexual orientation and becomes the first openly gay MP, 10 years after Maureen Colquhoun came out as the first lesbian MP.
Trans legal status tested under European Law
Mark Rees, a trans-man, brings a case to the European Court of Human Rights, stating that UK law prevented him from gaining legal status recognising him as male. The case was lost but the court noted the seriousness of the issues facing trans people.
'Don't Die of Ignorance' campaign
In 1987 the UK Government launched a national public information campaign warning of the dangers of AIDS. The media carried headlines about ‘the gay plague’, people with HIV/AIDs could be detailed in hospital against their will and gay men were banned from donating blood. In response new coalitions were formed such as Body Positive and UK branches of the direct action groups ACT UP UK (Aids Coalition to unleash power) to challenge discriminatory policies and practices around HIV and AIDS.
International Foundation for Gender Education founded
The International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE) is founded to promote acceptance for transgender people.
Section 28 of the Local Government Act
In a climate of increasing homophobia, a book about gay parenting, ‘Jenny lives with Eric and Martin’, contributed to the introduction of social policy legislation following complaints about its inclusion in a school library. Section 28 of the Local Government Act was introduced in the UK in 1988, preventing local authorities from intentionally promoting homosexuality or publishing material with the intention of promoting homosexuality or from promoting the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a ‘pretended family relationship’. The only exception was for the purpose of treating or preventing disease.
Lesbian protests as Section 28 becomes law
Many gay and lesbian groups took action to protest against clause 28 of the Local Government Bill. On 2 February 1988 the public gallery of the House of Lords was packed as the bill was debated. Moments after the vote in favour of the legislation four lesbian activists abseiled into the chamber.
On 23 May, the night before the bill passed into law, four other lesbian activists invaded the BBC News studio during the live 6pm broadcast shouting ‘Stop Section 28’. The women were arrested and taken to a police station but never charged with any offence.
Eastenders first gay character
Colin Russell, portrayed by Michael Cashman, is Walford's first on-screen gay resident and he features in the UK's first homosexual kiss on a soap opera.
Stonewall UK formed
With LGBT high on the public agenda, in 1989 Stonewall UK was formed taking its name from the high profile US Stonewall group. Early members included the actor Ian McKellern who came out as gay in response to Section 28 and Michael Cashman who played the first gay character in the BBC soap opera Eastenders.
An early success came in 1990 when the group successfully lobbied for the provisions of the Human Embryo Fertilization and Embryology Bill to apply to lesbian women.
Candlelit vigil is held in London after five gay men are murdered within months of each other. This leads to the formation of OutRage, who call for police to start protecting gay and bi men instead of arresting them.
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is a novel by Jeanette Winterson published in 1985, which she subsequently adapted into a BBC television drama of the same name. It is a coming-of-age story about a lesbian girl who grows up in an English Pentecostal community. A television adaptation of the book was made and aired by the BBC in 1990, starring Charlotte Coleman and Geraldine McEwan.
Freddy Mercury dies of AIDS
The official cause of death was bronchial pneumonia resulting from AIDS.
Stonewall launches first challenge to the European Court of Human Rights on the age of consent
Stonewall challenges the European Court of Human Rights on reducing the age of consent as three teenagers, aged 16 to 18, claim that the unequal age of consent is a breach of their right to privacy.
Age of Consent for ‘Homosexual Acts’ reduced
During the passage of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, 1994, an amendment was proposed to reduce the ae of consent for ‘homosexual acts’ ( applying only to men) from 21 to 16. The vote was lost: instead the age of consent for sex between men was reduced in the UK to 18. The Act also provided that the military could continue to dismiss members of the armed forces based on their sexual status. This was then restated in new Armed Forces Policy Guidelines.
Stonewall petitioned again the European Court of Human Rights on age of consent and in 1995 launched a campaign against the ban on gay men in the military.
First lesbian kiss on Brookside
Nicola Stephenson portrayed Margaret Clemence in Channel 4's Brookside; Stephenson's on-air kiss with Anna Friel (Beth Jordache) was the first pre-watershed lesbian kiss to be broadcast on British television. In 2012 the kiss was broadcast to over 5 billion people when it was included as part of the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony directed by Danny Boyle. The opening ceremony was broadcast uncensored in 76 countries where homosexuality is illegal and therefore became the first homosexual kiss to be broadcast in these countries.
DIVA magazine launches
DIVA was first published in March 1994 and remains the only monthly glossy newsstand magazine for lesbians and bi women in the UK.
Beautiful Thing is a 1996 British film directed by Hettie MacDonald and released by Channel 4 Films. In a suburb of London, young Jamie is escaping sport hours, to avoid being the victim of his comrades. Young Ste, his neighbor, is beaten by his father, and comes to sleep overnight. They discover new feelings, sleeping in the same bed.
Queer as Folk
Queer as Folk is a 1999 British television series that chronicles the lives of three gay men living in Manchester's gay village around Canal Street. The main characters are Stuart Allen Jones (Aidan Gillen), who is highly sexually active, and successfully so. His long-time friend Vince Tyler (Craig Kelly), who has a crush on Stuart, has less luck regarding men. 15-year-old Nathan Maloney (Charlie Hunnam) is new to the gay scene but is not lacking in self-confidence.
Section 28 repealed in Scotland
Despite a multi million pound campaigns to keep Section 28 by Scottish businessman Brian Souter, Scotland repealed the clause in June 2000 under the Ethical Standards in Public Life Act. England and Wales repealed Section 28 two years later in 2003.
Adoption and Children Act
Under this Act, Gay and Lesbian single persons, same sex couples and unmarried heterosexual couples could now adopt or foster children in England. The act was passed in full in Scotland in 2007. In Northern Ireland, a single gay or lesbian person could adopt children, but a couple in a civil partnership could not until the law was amended in 2013.
Section 28 Repealed in England and Wales
Extension of Employment Equality Rights
The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Act prohibits UK employers from unreasonably discriminating against employees on grounds of sexual orientation, perceived sexual orientation, through profiling for example, or on grounds of religion or belief and age.
Civil Partnership Act
Same sex couples in were granted similar rights and responsibilities to civil marriages under this parallel UK law. While not recognised as married, civil partners were entitled to the same property rights, the same exemptions on inheritance tax, social security and pension benefits as married couples. Civil partnerships are not available to heterosexual couples.
Gender Recognition Act
Following lengthy campaigns by equality groups such as Press for Change, the UK Government passed the Gender Recognition Act in 2004 allowing transgender (trans) people to change their legal gender. Trans people had to commit to permanent gender reassignment after which they could get a new birth certificate. Under the Act their acquired gender was legally recognized for all purpose including marriage. Trans parental rights remained a legally ambiguous area.
Equality and Human Rights Commission established
The UK Equality Act 2006, established The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), uniting the work of existing organizations fighting discrimination on three fronts (‘race’, gender and disability) becoming the statutory body for combating discrimination, promoting equality of opportunity and protecting human rights. The 2010 Act later harmonised a number of different anti-discrimination legislation (race, gender, age, disability, sexuality).
Ending discrimination in provision of goods and services
Under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) regulations in Northern Ireland, discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity when providing them with goods or services became illegal. The Act was passed in Northern Ireland in 2006 and the rest of the UK in 2007 and has been challenged a number of times since its implementation, often on the grounds of religious beliefs.
Incitement to homophobic hatred made a crime
Under Section 74 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act, 2008, incitement to homophobic hatred became a crime for the first time under Section 74 of the Act. The Act was later amended (Waddington amendment) to prevent protect freedom of speech on the subject of homosexuality.
Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act
The UK Marriage Act gives same sex marriage the same legal status as heterosexual marriage. Amidst concerns about the implications for sex and relationship education, further guidance was issued by the EHRC in 2014 clarifying that there was no obligation for schools or teachers to promote same sex marriage.
Same sex marriage rejected (Northern Ireland)
In November 2015, the Northern Ireland assembly voted in favour of gay marriage equality for the first time. The largely Protestant Unionist Democrats Party under a petition of concern however, vetoed the vote, making this the 5th time gay marriage has been rejected in the region. Northern Ireland is currently the only nation in the UK where gay marriage remains illegal. Across the border, Ireland became the first country in the world to legalise same sex marriage by popular vote in June 2015.