LGBT History Month: Peace, Activism and Reconciliation

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The LGBT community have faced many a struggle over the course of history, having been outlawed for centuries in the UK. The Buggery Act of 1533 forbade sodomy as an ‘abominable vice’ and this was a capital offence until 1861 in England and Wales. In 1885, the Criminal Law Amendment Act criminalised ‘gross indecency’, meaning all sexual acts between men. Peter Wildeblood was a journalist who spent eighteen months in Wormwood Scrubs for buggery. He published Against the Law in 1955 to detail his persecution at the hands of the law. In 1957, the Wolfenden Committee published its report made up of three years of testimony and agreed on the decriminalisation of homosexual acts between consenting adults (over the age of 21). This was made law in 1967 in the Sexual Offences Act, yet even those in support of this change still called homosexuality a ‘disability’ that carried a ‘great weight of shame’ (Huffington Post). In 1972, London celebrated its first Pride Parade; over 2000 gay men and women marched.

In 1972, London celebrated its first Pride Parade; over 2000 gay men and women marched

In 1988, Margaret Thatcher‘s Section 28 amendment to the Local Government Act banned state schools from teaching ‘acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’. This led, predictably, to widespread outrage, a surge in gay activism and the founding of Stonewall UK. Stonewall is a charity named after the Stonewall riots that took place in Greenwich Village, New York in 1969 when Stonewall Inn, the most popular LGBT bar in New York at the time, was raided by police on the 28th of June, leading to violent protests and the subsequent organisation of queer activist groups and three LGBT newspapers. Exactly a year after the Stonewall riots, there were the first Pride marches in New York, LA, San Francisco and Chicago.

Marsha P. Johnson was a key activist in the Stonewall Riots, a black, gender non-conforming drag queen; an often-unsung hero. The transgender rights movement is still fighting to not be labelled as a psychiatric disorder, as the Green Party proposed to do in 2010. The Gender Recognition Act (2004) was a hugely important piece of legislation so that individuals can change their legal gender, though there are still improvements to be made to the requirements enforced by this act.

The transgender rights movement is still fighting to not be labelled as a psychiatric disorder

February 2019 marks the UK’s 14th LGBT history month. The idea started in the US in 1994 when Rodney Wilson, a man from Missouri, wanted to commemorate gay history. As October the 11th was already National Coming Out Day it was decided it should take place in the same month in the US and Canada. In the UK, the tradition was started in 2005 by Sue Sanders and Paul Patrick who volunteer for Schools Out UK as an event focused on education of youth in LGBT issues. February was the chosen month as it was in February 2003 that Section 28 was abolished. In the first UK LGBT history month, 150-200 events took place when only 15-20 were expected. The theme this year is ‘Peace, Activism and Reconciliation’, and events are happening up and down the country.

For this month, it is a time of celebration of how far we have come and to push for more education in queer issues. However, it is also a time to remember the brave people of all genders on whose shoulders we stand as a community and how we must continue to fight in their name for equality and visibility for queer people of all genders, races and classes.

Photograph: Pixabay

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