Although today we celebrate LGBTQ+ history each month, in the past this hasn’t always been the case. In the UK, male homosexuality was against the law since the times of Henry VIII, and in 1885 any homosexual act was made illegal, even in private. After World War II, arrests for homosexuality started to rise, especially among high ranking officials. One famous example is Alan Turing, a cryptographer involved in breaking the enigma code during the war. It wasn’t until 1967 that the Sexual Offences Act legalised same-sex acts in private for men over 21.
The first UK Pride wasn’t held until 1972 in London, organised by the Gay Liberation Front - a group that was set up following the Stonewall Riots. These were a series of demonstrations by the LGBTQ+ community in New York, 1969, in response to a police raid at the Stonewall Inn. The riots were instrumental in the movement for LGBTQ+ rights and activism. It’s also important to recognise that Brown and Black trans women were hugely influential in organising the riots, including Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Three years later at the first UK Pride, around 2,000 people, with many of these in drag, marched through London. The date was July 1st - the nearest Saturday to the anniversary of Stonewall.
In 1988 in the UK the Local Government Act came in, section 28 of which declared that a local authority "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship". This law further increased the negative stigma around being gay, meaning people were unable to speak out, live authentically or get any help and support they needed. This wasn’t repealed until 2003, and it wasn’t until 2009 that David Cameron issued an apology.
Stigmatisation also increased due to the ongoing AIDS crisis, particularly in the 1980’s. Gay men were disproportionately affected, and were singled out for abuse since the media saw them as responsible for AIDS transmission.
Since the turn of the century, new legislation has been increasing equality for the LGBTQ+ community. It wasn’t until The Civil Partnership Act in 2004 that same-sex couples were legally allowed to enter a partnership, and then finally in 2013, the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act allowed couples in England and Wales to get married. The Gender Recognition Act 2004 gave trans people legal recognition of their chosen gender, and allowed them to change their gender on their birth certificates. The Equality Act 2010 then gave LGBTQ+ employees protections from harassment and discrimination at work.
The first LGBTQ+ History Month took place in February 2005, organised by Schools OUT UK, an LGBTQ+ education charity. The aim is to raise awareness of and combat prejudice, as well as to celebrate its achievement and diversity.
Why is celebrating LGBTQ+ history important today?
It’s important to remember that, despite the fact that we have come such a long way, there are still major challenges that LGBTQ+ individuals face. Sadly, still not everyone in the UK is in support of LGBTQ+ rights, and many still face discrimination and rejection from their loved ones, friends, colleagues, peers and religious communities.
It is also a way for members of the LGBTQ+ community to feel heard, particularly those who are experiencing discrimination or are questioning their sexuality or gender identity. Celebrating the broad spectrum of gender and sexuality can help people feel accepted and completely valid in their identity.
Although the law has been updated, there are still changes to be made. For example, although those who are transitioning (with medical interventions) to become the gender they feel they are on the inside are protected under the Equality Act, those who aren’t transitioning (medically) or identify as non-binary aren’t currently protected from discrimination by law. This highlights the importance to continue celebrating the LGBTQ+ community and campaigning for change.
Here at SVC
Diversity and acceptance is very important to us at SVC - our roots as a charity lie in activism and campaigning for equality. We have particularly been focusing on equality, diversity and inclusion throughout the last year, making sure that we’re doing as much as we can to promote equality for our beneficiaries, volunteers and community.
Our mission statement now explicitly states that we’re committed to LGBTQ+ inclusion, which includes educating ourselves and has involved multiple training sessions for our staff and board. We’ve also now made sure that any of our applicants can self-describe their sexuality, gender, trans history and referred pronouns, and we have updated the pre-defined options in our form in line with Stonewall’s suggestions.
Our LGBTQ+ Event - 9th February 2021
This month we held a virtual event in celebration of LGBTQ+ history month. Firstly we heard from speakers Christian Webb, Bleddyn Harris and our very own Karen Harvey-Cooke, a member of our Board of Trustees.
Christian works for Stonewall Cymru as an Education and Youth Officer, and discussed his activism and volunteering history with Stonewall, including an anti-bullying campaign at his former school in Swansea - for which he was named one of Attitude Magazine’s Pride Heroes. He also discussed how volunteering developed so many skills for him that helped him throughout his working life, being at the centre of his career progression.
Karen spoke very openly about her experiences with attending high school at the same time Section 28 was just coming into force and there was so much stigmatisation due to the media’s representation of HIV/AIDS, and the effect this had on her right through to her working life and the relationships with her family. She left with a powerful message: difference is what makes you valuable, and there is never any need to feel isolated.
Finally, Bleddyn gave a talk around his own experiences following coming out. Although it was the 2000’s by the time he went to school, he noted that there was still no support and that teachers were underprepared to help him. Pride events each year helped to give him a sense of community - and not having that for the first time in 2020 due to the pandemic led him to co-organise LGBTQymru, the first-ever Welsh virtual pride, and later the first-ever LGBTQ+ Welsh magazine (also with the help of Karen). Similarly to Karen, he gave the message that it is important to take responsibility for one another, feel part of a community and celebrate your own identity, paving the way for future generations.
Following the insightful and powerful talks, we had some amazing, light-hearted entertainment from local drag queens Gypsy Divine and Gina Grigio! They truly engaged the audience, making jokes and causing everyone to dance along to their covers of ABBA, The Little Mermaid, John Lennon, Florence and the Machine and even one from Eurovision. They did a truly amazing job and even gave us an encore, singing on later into the night.
Thank you so much to Christian, Karen and Bleddyn for such open and honest talks, and to Gypsy and Gina for the amazing performances!
Further links and support
Below are some resources that you may find useful for support and further information. Also, please feel free to contact us at info@svcymru.
LGBT+ History Month website: https://lgbtplushistorymonth.co.uk/
LGBT Foundation: https://lgbt.foundation/
LGBT Cymru: https://www.lgbtcymru.org.uk/
Stop Hate UK: https://www.stophateuk.org/
Terrence Higgins Trust: https://www.tht.org.uk/
Gendered Intelligence: http://genderedintelligence.co.uk/
The Beaumont Society: http://www.beaumontsociety.org.uk/
Schools Out website: http://www.schools-out.org.uk/index.htm
British Library Article: https://www.bl.uk/lgbtq-histories/articles/a-short-history-of-lgbt-rights-in-the-uk?gclid=CjwKCAiAsaOBBhA4EiwAo0_AnMZdrjcCNb9LIRcHJSyTN6myBiuXuVkkjEANi9XzdGyRlIRKGuYiPxoCFDIQAvD_BwE#
Article discussing the role of brown and black trans women during the Stonewall riots: https://hellogiggles.com/lifestyle/remembering-the-stonewall-riots/
It’s a sin - Channel 4 TV show: https://www.channel4.com/programmes/its-a-sin