Queer into the Past

Rainbow flag.

February is LGBTQ+ History Month. For the LGBTQ+ Community, it is a time of reflection and understanding. Looking back, we recognise the struggles of those before us, acknowledge what they have done for us and just how far we have come—yet, we also look forward.  

In order to curate a safer, more accepting future, we must understand our history. We must understand the struggles of our elders and their predecessors, understand how change was brought about, and be proud of those who came before us. For that, we must know our past, which is why I created the timeline below. It does not encompass all events, however it is a not so brief, not so complete glimpse into the past of the LGBTQ+ Community.  

1533- The Buggery Act  

Homosexuality became punishable by death, moving sodomy from the ecclesiastical courts to state courts. 

Late 1600s – 1730s Molly-Houses and Subculture 

This is the first evidence of queer subculture. It peaked in the 1720s, but after a raid on Mother Clap’s by the Societies for the Reformation of Manners, the subculture faded. However, in the 1750s, molly-houses began to slowly re-emerge.  

Princess Seraphina is one person who we have more records on than most as she took someone to court over the theft of her clothes.  

Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806) and Anne Lister (1791-1840) 

As female homosexuality was not considered a criminal offense, records of these relationships are difficult to find. Cavendish is therefore regarded as one of the first women with documented female romantic relationships. Anne Lister documented her life in her diaries and is seen as the ‘first modern lesbian’.  

1861- Offenses Against the Person Act 

This reduced the sentence of male homosexuality to a prison term of hard labour instead of death in England and Wales.  

1885- The Criminal law Amendment Act  

Due to its purposefully ambiguous wording, this act outlawing ‘acts of gross indecency’ with regards to male persons was often used to blackmail men to the point that it became known as ‘The Blackmailer’s Charter’. 

It was under this that Oscar Wilde was convicted in 1895. 

1921- Criminalising Female Homosexuality 

Ultimately this was dropped as they did not want to draw attention to the matter and ‘encourage women to explore their sexuality’.  

1946- Michael Dillon 

The first trans man to undergo gender reaffirming surgery published an autobiography entitled Self: A study in Ethics and Endocrinology describing his journey and the pioneering surgeon of the time.  

1951- Roberta Cowell  

A former spitfire pilot and racing driver became the first transwoman to undergo gender reaffirming surgery. She published her autobiography in 1954.  

1967- The Sexual Offences Act 

This decriminalised private acts between two men over the age of 21 in England and Wales, keeping a higher consent age for gay men. However, its term of ‘two men’ was exploited by police; if another person was present in the building, that was reason enough to arrest. This act was often used to further blackmail men.  
In 1980 Scotland saw the same act passed. Northern Ireland saw it in 1982.  

1969- Stonewall Riots 

In response to consistent police raids on gay bars and clubs, the raid of New York’s Stonewall Inn pushed people too far. A series of riots and protests were launched in response, occurring over a few days. For the US, this developed into turning June into LGBTQ+ pride month, and for the rest of the world we commemorate this turning point of events by hosting our pride marches and events within June on the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.  
From Stonewall, various LGBTQ+ organisations began to sprout such as the Gay Liberation Front.   

1981- The start to the AIDS Crisis 

Termed ‘gay cancer’ initially, it was believed to be an issue faced by gay men only. It became an excuse for rampant homophobia and xenophobia, and the deaths of hundreds were ignored. The crisis continued for many years, and led to the banning of gay men donating blood in 1985 within the UK. This remained until 2011 where, instead of a life-time ban, it was reduced to one year ban after sexual activities. Northern Ireland still has this ban in place, but the rest of the UK dropped it to 3 months in 2017.  

In 1987, Cleve Jones created the AIDs memorial quilt. Panels are still added to this day, and it holds over 50,000 panels. Take a look at the quilt. 

1988- Section 28 

Until 2003, this act forbid local authorities to support LGBTQ+ individuals and banned talk of them from within education.  

1989- Stonewall UK 

In response to Section 28, 14 individuals including Sir Ian McKellen formed Stonewall UK.  

1992- Homosexuality is declassified as a mental illness 

1994- The Age of Consent is lowered to 18 

2000- LGBT Individuals are Allowed to Serve in the Army, Age of Consent becomes 16 

2002- Adoption Rights become Equal 

The Adoption and Children Act 2002 is a law that allows unmarried or married people and same-sex couples in England and Wales to adopt children. The reforms introduced in the Act were based on a comprehensive review of adoption and were described by The Guardian as “the most radical overhaul of adoption legislation for almost 30 years”. 

2003- Employment Equality  

The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 were secondary legislation in the United Kingdom, which prohibited employers unreasonably discriminating against employees on grounds of sexual orientation, perceived sexual orientation, religion or belief and age. 

2004- Gender Recognition Act 

Transgender individuals are now allowed to legally identify as their chosen gender. Barriers still make this difficult.  

2005- UK Black Pride is established by Phyll Opoku Gyimah 

UK Black Pride promotes unity and co-operation among all LGBTQI+ people of African, Asian, Caribbean, Latin American and Middle Eastern descent, as well as their friends, families and allies. 

2010- Equality Act 

The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. It is against the law to discriminate against anyone because of: 

  • Age 
  • Gender reassignment 
  • Being married or in a civil partnership 
  • Being pregnant or on maternity leave 
  • Disability 
  • Race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin 
  • Religion or belief 
  • Sex 
  • Sexual orientation 

2013- First Trans Pride March in Brighton 

2014- Same-Sex Marriage is Legalised in England, Scotland, and Wales 

2019- UK Travellers Officially join Pride 

LGBT+ Traveller Pride is a network that can provide guidance, support and information to make life easier for LGBT+ Travellers as well as providing essential services, meetup spaces and collaborating with other organisations to make them more welcoming.   

2020- Same-Sex Marriage Legalised in Northern Ireland 

January 2023- Conversion Therapy Ban is being discussed for LGBT Individuals 

January 2023- UK Parliament blocks Scotland’s Gender Recognition Bill 

The fight is still continuing, but we have come a long way.

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