By Leah Conway –
Last October, as part of Black History Month, I had a look at some of the historical periods, events and figures throughout black history before 1948.
This month is LGBT+ History month, and with it, I wanted to continue the work of helping diversify the history we learn.
This article will look back at some of the pivotal historical moments and figures throughout LGBT+ history, as well as the movement towards true equality that continues to this day.
Historical Relevance and Law
Throughout history, there has been much persecution against the LGBT+ community, and many laws that have accompanied such discrimination.
In the UK, articles have traced laws against homosexuality as far back as 1533, during the reign of Henry VIII. It was known as ‘The Buggery Act of 1533’ and it outlawed sexual relations between men as a criminal offence punishable by death.
The last legal execution based on the law was in 1835. There were a few amendments to the law throughout history, with it changing in 1828 and 1861, but it wasn’t until 1967 in which homosexual acts in the UK were legalised (as long as they were ‘private’, consensual and over 21 years old). Many other punishments throughout history reminded and varied from state to state, but often included imprisonment and fines at minimum.
Important dates in 20th & 21st Century LGBT+ Movement
It wasn’t really until the middle of the 20th century that both laws and attitudes toward LGBT+ folk started to change. As people started to gain a greater understanding of topics such as homosexuality, movements started to form and attitudes shifted.
Unfortunately, history is full of stories about the pushback of these kinds of movements, of the discrimination and hate towards those with different sexual preferences or gender identities.
As you’ll see in the timeline below, even as laws against such discrimination were introduced, many more laws were later introduced that would severely impact both the perception and feelings towards the LGBT+ community.
That being said, more recently, you’ll see dates that reflect a more positive outlook for LGBT+ people. These are promise steps in the right direction, but there is much work still to be done, from those in the community and allies alike.
1951 – Roberta Cowell (1918-2011) was a British racing driver and a fighter pilot in the Second World War. She was the first person to undergo sex reassignment surgery in 1951.
1964 – The Northwestern homosexual law reform committee was introduced
1966 – The Beaumont Society was founded. The now registered charity was and is a transgender support group, the largest and longest-running group of its kind in the UK.
1967 – The Sexual Offences Act decriminalised sex between two men over 21 ‘in private’
1969 – The Stonewall Uprising was a landmark event in the LGBTQ+ community. Seen as a series of demonstrations by members of the LGBTQ+ community, the uprisings were in response to a police raid on the Stonewall Inn gay bar in New York City in June of 1969. When the police became violent, people fought back. Historically, this was a huge event, especially in the movement for gay rights in the US. Remembrance of the riots eventually led to the first gay pride marches in the US as well as other countries. Annual Pride marches are often held in June on the anniversary date.
1972 – The first Pride parade in the UK took place in London.
1978 – In 1978, Gilbert Baker, a gay artist and activist from the US, created the iconic Rainbow Pride flag that we see today as the symbol for the LGBTQ+ community.
The 1980s – While it found its way to the states in the early 1960s, the ‘AIDS’ crisis’ peaked in the 1980s, with increased recognition and stigma towards those most disproportionately affected by it. In 1985, there were destructions on blood donations from ‘men who have sex with men’ (MSM) regardless of how they chose to identify. In the UK, restrictions on donations from the MSM community were eventually amended to a 12-month wait in 2011, and were reduced further to three months in 2017.
1988 – Section 28 was introduced under the Thatcher government. It was a clause within the Local Government Act that prohibited the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ by local authorities. The clause impacted many sectors of life including the discussion of LGBT+ topics in schools, and was a big blow to allowing further understanding and acceptance in local communities. It was eventually repealed in England and Wales in 2003.
1989 – Stonewall UK was formed and would go on to become the largest LGBT+ organisation in Europe. It was founded by Sir Ian McKellen, Lisa Power MBE, and Lord Cashman CBE and was formed in response to Section 28.
1992 – In 1992 the World Health Organization officially declassified homosexuality as a mental illness.
1995 – The charity organisation Mermaids was formed in the UK to support transgender, nonbinary and gender-diverse children, young people and their families.
2000 – The British army lifted the ban on LGBT+ people serving in the British Army, Royal Navy and RAF.
2002 – The Adoption and Children Act in 2002 gave same-sex couples equal rights in the application for adoption process.
2004 – Allowed transgender people who have had medical changes such as hormones or surgery, to apply for a ‘Gender Recognition certificate’ – legally recognising their gender.
2013 – The First Trans Pride in Brighton was held in 2013. Brighton has become renowned as the ‘LGBT+ Capital’ of the UK.
2014 – The Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act officially legalised same-sex marriage between couples in England and Wales.
2019 – The World Health Organisation officially declassified transgender as a mental illness
Places with LGBT+ connections
Historic England’s Pride of Place’ initiative aims to document places in the country with historical connections and significance to the LGBT+ community.
Yorkshire itself includes several historic places of note. One of the most famous examples is Halifax’s Shibden Hall, the form home of Anne Lister.
Her name might be familiar to you if you have watched the popular television series Gentleman Jack, which adapts her diaries chronicling her life, experiences and relationships as a lesbian in the 19th century.
Brighton is considered by many to be the LGBT+ Capitol of the UK, but some have also described Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, as a ‘Mini-Brighton’ in and of its own.
The market town has become nationally renowned for its inclusivity towards the LGBT+ community, with some specifically calling it the ‘lesbian capital’ of the UK.
Famous LGBTQ+ Figures
Alan Turing OBE (1921-1954) was an English Mathematician and Cryptanalyst amongst many other considerable roles and skills. Turing is most recognised for his work as a Codebreaker During the Second World War at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire. Turing, along with fellow Mathematician Gordon Welchman, created a machine that became one of the primary tools, used to attack and decipher Enigma-enciphered messages.
In 1952, homosexuality was still criminalised in Britain, and after an incident in which he acknowledged a sexual relationship, Alan Turing was arrested and charged with ‘gross indecency’. He was sentenced to one year of hormone ‘therapy’ and this ‘criminal’ record ruined his career with GCHQ.
Two years later, in 1954, Turing was found dead of what would later be deemed as suicide through cyanide poisoning. In 2009, Prime Minister Gordon Brown’ apologised on behalf of the British government, the apology was followed by a royal pardon four years after.
Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992) was an activist and self-identified drag queen, who is remembered as a renowned figure in the Gay Liberation Movement and various trans-rights movements in the US.
Marsha was also part of the Stonewall Uprising in 1969. Marsha and Sylvia Rivera founded S.T.A.R – ‘Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries’ – an organisation to support gay and trans people who were homeless.
Chevalier d’Éon (1728-1810) was a French diplomat, spy and soldier in the 18th Century. d’Éon was considered notable for their androgynous features which they utilised as a spy. They lived public life as a man for 49 years, but from 1777 onwards for over 30 years d’Éon infiltrated the court of the Empress of Russia and lived as a woman.
Being from an earlier time period, there are of course conflicting accounts, speculation and rumour surrounding the life of d’Éon, which ultimately presented a challenge for historians to piece together a clear picture.
The British Museum has explored d’Éon’s life and made note of how historians have explored and researched their life and the way they are remembered.
Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) was a Civil Rights leader and activist for nonviolence and gay rights. He was one of Martin Luther King’s key advisers in the 1960s.
Throughout his life, he was arrested multiple times for civil disobedience as part of the civil rights movement and also for his open homosexuality. Throughout the 1970s he did much for the public advocation of gay and lesbian rights.
Allan Horsfall (1927-2012) was a British gay rights campaigner. Horsfall founded the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) and openly campaigned for gay rights even when it was still criminalized by British Law.
Through active campaigning for law reform, the Sexual Offences Act 1967 was passed which legalised sex between men.
Horsfall remained an active campaigner for gay rights until his death in 2012. In 2000 he received ‘the Pink Paper Award’ which recognised his contributions to the gay community.
Phyll Opoku-Gyimah is the co-founder, trustee and executive director of UK Black Pride. Also known as Lady Phyll, she has campaigned for anti-racism and LGBT+ throughout her life and founded UK black Pride in 2005 – creating a shared, safe space for black pride and LGBT+ people of colour to feel empowered.
The people above are but a handful of impactful and inspiration activists within the LGBTQ+ movement from the 18th century to the present day. Many prominent figures in the community continue to fight for the rights and equal representation of LGBT+ people all over the world.
West Yorkshire Queer Stories
But just as important is the everyday person, knowing the trailblazers, activists, rebels and pioneers is important but so is acknowledging and supporting the average LGBT+ person’s experiences.
A perfect example is West Yorkshire Queer Stories – an oral history project which collected over 200 stories from people of all ages and backgrounds. You can discover people talking about all sorts of topics, from Huddersfield’s Gemini Club and Yorkshire’s Trans Choir to lesbian motherhood and much more LGBTQ+ activism across Kirklees.
I hope this brief look at the lives of LGBT+ people has been enlightening, informative and has encouraged you to look further into both the history and the future of the community.
Happy LGBT+ History Month!