Collage of prominent figures from the LGBT community by Finn Souter with LGBT flag by Chickenonline at Pixabay. Top, l to r: Gilbert Baker, Frida Kahlo, Louise Brookes, Alan Turing. Middle, l to r: Laverne Cox, Nina Simone, Bayard Rustin. Bottom, l to r: Harvey Milk, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Oscar Wilde.
Grace Egan explores the challenges of her LGBT+ predecessors to raise visibility and create change
February is LGBT+ history month. It’s primary aim is to teach young people about the history of the gay rights movement and to promote an inclusive modern society. This isn’t to be confused with the Pride celebrations in June.
Being part of the LGBT+ community, I’m compelled to find out more about its turbulent, rich and radical history.
As I began my research, I felt angry and devastated about what I was discovering. I channelled these emotions into shining a light on LGBT+ issues, sexuality and activism.
My experience with sexuality is personal and unique, as is everybody’s. For me, the ability to love another woman is a gift.
However, it did take me a long time to fully understand what that meant to me, and to be able to express who I am, with no hesitancy.
Exploring who you are, including your sexual preferences is a journey and is one that can be made harder by a judgmental and heteronormative society.
Sexuality is to be embraced! It shouldn’t be turned into something we’re afraid of disclosing.
In the UK, homosexuality was officially banned between men by Henry VIII with the Buggery Act 1533
During the past two decades, only 29 countries have passed laws legalising gay marriage. It took the UK until the Marriage Act 2013 to allow same-sex marriage. This shocked me. I didn’t realise that within my lifetime, gay marriage had been illegal.
In April 2001, the Netherlands was the first country to grant same-sex couples the right to marry, divorce, and adopt, followed closely by Belgium in 2003 and Canada and Spain in 2005. In a report by the Pew Research Center the most recent additions to the list were Northern Ireland in 2019 and Costa Rica in 2020.
In the UK, homosexuality was officially banned between men by Henry VIII with the Buggery act of 1533. Under this law, homosexuality was punishable by death.
Hundreds of years later, in 1861 the Offences Against the Person Act updated the punishment to up to ten years in prison – how incredibly sweet and open-minded of government! Victorian society watched the beloved 19th-century poet and playwright Oscar Wilde incarcerated for two years under this very act.
Nearly a century later Alan Turing, famous for cracking the ‘Enigma’ code, which played a crucial role in defeating the Nazis in World War II, was prosecuted in 1952 for homosexual acts. He endured chemical castration treatment, as an alternative to prison. Turing sadly died in 1954 of cyanide poisoning – there is speculation he took his own life – and was never fully recognised until he received a royal pardon in 2013.
Section 28, part of the Local Government Act 1988, banned any promotion of homosexuality by authorities and in UK schools
Unfortunately, these horrific laws continued to stay in place for an exceptionally long time.
In 1988, Margret Thatcher introduced Section 28, part of the Local Government Act, which banned local authorities from promoting homosexuality. This resulted in no LGBT+ sex education in Britain’s schools, no support with contraception and no representation of the community anywhere to be seen.
Section 28 was a clear and targeted violation of human rights, and it’s heartbreaking to discover how recently it was ordered.
Right now, I believe schools and local authorities should do much more to educate young people about LGBT+ history, as well as increasing support for those who are confused or anxious about their sexuality.
Our LGBT ancestors fought incredibly hard to raise visibility with demonstrations, music, art and literature. The Stonewall Riots in 1969 were the most significant protests, for gay rights and liberation.
Further demonstrations followed with the Gay Liberation Front Youth Group taking to the streets in London the following year. The Stonewall Riots acted as a catalyst to the LGBT+ movement leading to the June pride celebrations today.
Gay Liberation Front Youth Group demonstration, London. August 1970
There’s so much interesting information about the LGBT+ community, past and present; from the account of the first gender reassignment surgery in 1951 to Harvey Milk, the first openly gay political activist in the 1970’s. Click here for more.
I found out that it was Milk who collaborated with artist and gay activist, Gilbert Baker, to create the global symbol of equality and inclusion – the pride flag in 1978. Beautiful!
We, Gen Z, pride ourselves as the generation of change, yet there is still so much work to be done. Accepting someone’s sexuality or gender identity should be a simple process. It isn’t a big deal who people love!
Yet today a report by Human Dignity Trust shows that in 72 countries, private consensual homosexual acts between men are criminalised. In 44 countries, the same goes for women. Worst, homosexuality is still punishable by death in 11 countries, including Nigeria and Afghanistan.
It’s a disgrace to humanity; so much still needs to change!
I’m lucky to be sheltered from discrimination or homophobia. Woodhouse College and my family are both loving and accepting of me.
If you need to talk about any issues you’re facing I can highly recommend: LGBT Switchboard.