184 Views

Gay Rights in the UK: Daniel Parker writes a brief history of a long struggle

The year was 2014. The month was March. And the vibes were very, very gay. Yes, it was 13th March 2014 and, in a historical moment, same-sex marriage was fully legalised in England and Wales. Whilst the atmosphere on the streets that day matched those eccentric and vibrant celebrations witnessed at the Pride marches we see here in Brighton every year, what the gay community has been through to get to this stage means every day of marriage, consent and adoption equality is another day further away from the discrimination and abhorrent scapegoating that heralded the new law last year. So, how did we get to this stage? What was the journey of gay rights in the UK? Well, whack out your rainbow flags and let’s get going.

We start our journey as recently as the mid 20th century with homosexuality being totally illegal in the UK after the passing of the ‘Buggery Act’ in 1533. It wasn’t until The Wolfenden Committee was set up in 1954 that the gay rights movement sparked into life. The men and women of this committee brought the gay rights movement out of hibernation and into the public eye by directly recommending to the House of Commons that “homosexual acts should not be seen a criminal offence”. The ‘Sexual Offences Act’ was promptly passed decriminalising homosexuality but only in a limited sense. Homosexuals needed to be 21 to perform sexual acts and the rather ambiguous and unnecessary ‘privacy clause’, which declared homosexuals ‘must do their acts in private’, meant homosexuality was still not socially accepted throughout the UK. Whilst the act, passed in 1957, still was a far stretch from full equality with heterosexuals, it was indeed this breakthrough Act Of Parliament that set the ball rolling for what was to be a whirlwind 60 years of progression for gay rights.

To the 70s! Whilst actual legislation was few and far between, the gay rights movement itself was gathering up a very large head of steam. Only a few years after the Stonewall riots in America, the first Brighton pride march took place in 1971, a small gathering from members of the Sussex Gay Liberation Front marching through the streets of Brighton that directly led to the first Gay Pride march the next year in London. The Gay Liberation Front was also formed in the early 1970s with high profile names such as Cliff Richard, and members of Parliament openly supported the group.

Whilst the 70s did see gay activism grow and grow, the end of the decade still saw no legislation or recognition for transsexuals living in the UK, leaving the group with no identity rights or legal protection by 1979. The 70s also saw the reaffirmation of the banning of same- sex marriage with marriage declared under common law as ‘between a man and a women’, taking the wind out of the sails of the LGBTQ+ movement as we moved into the 1980s.

Indeed, the 1980s was a decade of fierce determination surrounding the LGBTQ+ community; with various events leading to a rapid need for immediate change in legislation in the UK, we saw activism turn into a desperate need to save lives. In 1981, the first case of AIDS was recorded in the UK with a 49-year-old man being taken to an unequipped hospital in Brompton, London, passing away just 10 days later. Whilst the first UK AIDS charity was later set up in 1982, the stigma of AIDS as a ‘gay epidemic’ in the UK meant that legislation protecting those with the illness was non-existent.

In fact, the health minister of Thatcher’s government, Kenneth Clarke, enacted legislation that meant some sufferers of the AIDS virus were to be detained in hospital against their will, potentially preventing people from coming forward for treatment. Whilst the rise of AIDS in the UK was hitting an all time high, with 108 reported sufferers and 46 deaths in the decade, the 80s can claim one of the biggest victories for gay rights since the marriage equality of 2014.

After the creation of movement of the group ‘Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners’, who successfully helped struggling mining communities in their year long strike from 1984 to 1985, the Labour party enacted full LGBTQ+ rights into the party’s manifesto, the first of any major party sitting in parliament, with huge help from the mining unions.

By the 1990s, gay activism was well and truly set in place with the huge variety of movements and groups being formed in the 80s and fully established by the 90s. Now the 90s was a push for genuine concrete legislation that would bring about full equality for the LGBTQ+ community. Indeed, this push for legislation was ultimately met with firm disappointment and, whilst hundreds were still dying of AIDS, no laws were passed by the governments of the decade. Whilst Conservative Member of Parliament Edwina Currie attempted to pass a law bringing the age of consent down for homosexual relations to the same as heterosexual relations, 16, it was swiftly defeated with the age of consent only being lowered to 18.

It took until the 21st century for legislation on gay rights to be fully achieved in the UK and there was certainly a lot of it in quick succession. Right, here we go! Homosexuals were no longer banned from the armed forces as of 2000, the age of consent was officially equalised in 2001, the right for same-sex couples to adopt was legalised in 2002, civil partnerships were legalised in 2004, the ‘Equality Act’ of 2006 made it illegal to discriminate in the work place on ground of sexual orientation and (phew!) in 2014 same-sex marriage was officially legalised!

Hooray! So we are back to where we started all those many words ago with the final piece of gay rights legislation to date: marriage equality. What is certainly most frightening about the various gay rights achievements is that they have all happened within our relatively short lifetimes. Indeed, everyone at this very university, reading this today, will have been born into a society where the simple act of marriage or even serving our country would have been illegal for people who were born into a different sexual orientation. And while the actual legislation for full gay rights equality has only been put in place over the past 15 years, it was the groundwork we’ve seen in the decades leading up to it that were truly vital.

2015: the end of our journey. We can see gay rights, on a legislative basis, at their strongest ever. While perhaps society as a whole is yet to see the LGBTQ+ community as fully equal, with phrases like ‘gay’, ‘fag’ and ‘batty boy’ still being brandished around as negative and derogatory adjectives, what we can see is our UK legislators have finally done their bit for gay rights after a long, long struggle.

Although there is still plenty of work to be done, let us celebrate where we’ve come from and where we are now as a community. See you at Pride 2016!

 

Daniel Parker

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Get the best viral stories straight into your inbox!

Don't worry, we don't spam

Leave a Reply

Join the Badger Team

Apply today!

Latest Posts

Union obliterates the debate – unwritten requirement used to shut down free speech debate
Campus News
516 views1
Campus News
516 views1

Union obliterates the debate – unwritten requirement used to shut down free speech debate

Jordan Wright - April 27, 2018

Student society Liberate the Debate’s most recent event was cancelled over a lack of compliance with the Students' Union's (USSU) requirement for a neutral chair - a…

Verve Couture – Musicality, kitsch & ignition: the beginning of a series
Arts
60 views
Arts
60 views

Verve Couture – Musicality, kitsch & ignition: the beginning of a series

Ricardo Reverón Blanco - June 17, 2018

Pictured: Zac Black At Proud Cabaret audiences were spellbound as if at night at the circus, yet this was not like Angela Carter’s magical realist novel; Verve…

Fleabag on stage at The Old Market – review
Arts
100 views
Arts
100 views

Fleabag on stage at The Old Market – review

Florence Dutton - June 11, 2018

[caption id="attachment_35513" align="alignnone" width="2400"] Fleabag at Soho Theatre[/caption] Last Monday at 8pm at Brighton’s The Old Market, I sat myself down in my theatre seat eagerly awaiting…

Fleabag preview
Arts
98 views
Arts
98 views

Fleabag preview

Florence Dutton - June 2, 2018

[caption id="attachment_35513" align="alignnone" width="2400"] Fleabag at Soho Theatre[/caption] Following the mass success of the Bafta award-winning BBC Series, DryWrite and Soho Theatre are about to hit the…

Brighton Festival: Ezra Furman at the Dome
Arts
124 views
Arts
124 views

Brighton Festival: Ezra Furman at the Dome

Georgia Grace - June 1, 2018

Having completed my final semester of university with modules on punk history and queer arts, it was fitting that I rounded off my end-of-assessment celebrations by attending…

Arts
143 views

The Tempest review

Georgia Grace - May 30, 2018

As the sun begins to set over Hove Green, tinnies of Red Stripe are cracked open, tartan blankets are strewn, and families tuck into their picnic hampers.…

A Glass Half Empty review
Arts
154 views
Arts
154 views

A Glass Half Empty review

Georgia Grace - May 27, 2018

For those of us coming to the end of another year of university study, the prospect of careers, marriages and babies may seem a long way off.…

DollyWould at The Old Market review
Arts
144 views
Arts
144 views

DollyWould at The Old Market review

Alex Hutson - May 27, 2018

Sh!t Theatre’s DollyWould is a hilarious, thoughtful and experimental performance piece. The award winning show has the Sh!t Theatre duo integrating comedy, storytelling, personal experience and music.…

UCU Launch Petition to End the ‘Hostile Environment’ at Sussex
Campus News
233 views
Campus News
233 views

UCU Launch Petition to End the ‘Hostile Environment’ at Sussex

Billie-Jean Johnson - May 26, 2018

The Sussex branch of the University and College Union (UCU) has launched a petition calling for Vice-Chancellor Adam Tickell to end the 'hostile environment' at Sussex. The…

Arts
110 views

Shakespeare in the sun – The Tempest preview

Georgia Grace - May 24, 2018

In a world of dystopian King Lears and female Hamlets, Shakespeare’s classics are constantly being reimagined for the modern day. There’s something oddly refreshing then about the…

Review: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)
Arts
217 views
Arts
217 views

Review: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)

Sophie Coppenhall - May 23, 2018

What a phenomenal contrast these two films present when watched side-by-side. In essence, together they are capable of tracing inner and outer metamorphoses of their subjects. The…

Dollywould at The Old Market preview
Arts
143 views
Arts
143 views

Dollywould at The Old Market preview

Alex Hutson - May 22, 2018

From the 22nd May - 25th May 2018 DollyWould will be showing at The Old Market. An exciting new show, presented by Sh!t Theatre, who won the…

Exhibition: Io-sono Fedilouu
Artist Focus
214 views
Artist Focus
214 views

Exhibition: Io-sono Fedilouu

Ricardo Reverón Blanco - May 16, 2018

Last week artist Fedilou made her debut exhibition in the downstairs space of Morelli Zorelli, a quaint vegan Italian restaurant in Hove, featuring a collection of intimate…

Interview with Philosophy faculty and COGS director Ron Chrisley
Interview
151 views
Interview
151 views

Interview with Philosophy faculty and COGS director Ron Chrisley

Nikolaos Manesis - May 15, 2018

Ron Chrisley is a Reader in Philosophy, on the faculty of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, and is the director of COGS (Centre for Cognitive Science).…

Adam review
Arts
218 views
Arts
218 views

Adam review

Ketan Jha - May 13, 2018

If you have been a stranger to the stage this spring and decide to see one contemporary show, let it be Adam. This reviewer went in entirely…

Brighton Fringe Preview: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)
Arts
240 views
Arts
240 views

Brighton Fringe Preview: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)

Sophie Coppenhall - May 13, 2018

In celebration of iconic Brighton local, legendary alt-rock musician (and episodic actor) Nick Cave, TOM’s Film Club are hosting a double-bill screening of his films at The…

Whimsical fairy-tale meets class war – Standard: Elite review
Arts
279 views
Arts
279 views

Whimsical fairy-tale meets class war – Standard: Elite review

Georgia Grace - May 11, 2018

Meta-theatricality and interactivity are becoming all the more vogue in contemporary theatre, and in a world where the arts are becoming increasingly open and democratised, I find…

A Year of Art Society: The Best Picks
Artist Focus
194 views
Artist Focus
194 views

A Year of Art Society: The Best Picks

Alex Leissle - May 9, 2018

  [gallery type="slideshow" ids="35385,35386,35387,35388,35389,35390,35391,35392,35393,35394,35395,35396,35397,35398,35399,35400,35401,35402,35403,35404,35405,35406,35407,35408,35409,35410,35411"]

More Brit(ish) than ever: A review of Afua Hirsch at Brighton Festival
Books
204 views
Books
204 views

More Brit(ish) than ever: A review of Afua Hirsch at Brighton Festival

William Singh - May 9, 2018

Afua Hirsch’s 2018 book - part memoir, part polemic - provokes mixed feelings. So too did her discussion of the topic at this year’s Brighton Festival. Don’t…

Ethnic-bioweapons: between conspiracy and reality
Science
259 views
Science
259 views

Ethnic-bioweapons: between conspiracy and reality

Luke Richards - May 8, 2018

Bioweapons exist, while ethnic-bioweapons are whispered conspiracies. Pandemics can fairly hazardous to human life, the 1918 Flu Pandemic killed 20-50 million people. A man made pandemic could…

Breaking: Spring referenda results announced
News
269 views
News
269 views

Breaking: Spring referenda results announced

Jessica Hubbard - May 4, 2018

Students have voted to support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, reject Prevent and adopt new Gender Equality policies. Results for the Students' Union referenda were…