February is LGBT History Month. It’s a time for re-evaluating the contribution LGBT people have made to our shared history and for understanding LGBT identities as we move into a new bi-centenary.
We invited gay rights activist Philip Christopher Baldwin to share some of the key moments of the past-half century and reflect on the future for the LGBT community.
This LGBT History Month is particularly important as it’s the fiftieth anniversary of the decriminalisation of gay men in England and Wales. The Sexual Offences Act 1967 was a turning point and allowed the LGBT rights movement to develop.
Not before many hundreds of gay men were criminalised, shamed and chemically castrated for their sexuality, leading to unhappy marriages, depression and sadly often suicide.
Since 1967, there has been a huge shift in the way that LGBT people are perceived. It was only in 1980, the same year that Stonewall was founded, that being gay was decriminalised in Scotland and 1982 in Northern Ireland.
(Philip Christopher Baldwin)
Chris Smith became the first openly gay MP in 1984.
Widely considered now to be the ‘transformational decade’ for sexuality issues, the eighties were still a difficult time, 1988 seeing the introduction of Section 28, which stipulated that students could not be taught about LGBT issues in schools.
Of course the widespread panic of ‘the gay disease’, HIV and Aids, along with the loss of many well-known gay men to the disease also came to prominence in this period, along with strong messages around safety.
Overall, throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, being LGBT became more acceptable though. In 1994, the age of consent was lowered from 21 to 18 and in 2001, from 18 to 16, the same as the age of consent for straight people.
The noughties onwards have seen huge progress. In 2000, Section 28 was repealed in Scotland and then, in 2003, England and Wales. 2004 saw the passing of the Civil Partnership Act.
From 2005, LGBT people were allowed to adopt. Finally, in 2013, with the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, LGBT people were free to marry.
We now live in a society where, with a few exceptions, being LGBT is no barrier to achievement. We have the gayest Parliament in the world, with over 30 ‘out’ MPs. In Scotland, the Conservative and Labour leaders are both out gay women.
More and more people feel comfortable discussing their sexuality openly. It is important that people feel comfortable in who they are and can express themselves, no matter what their age.
It can still take a long time for an individual to achieve full acceptance around their sexuality.
In the media, there are inspiring figures, such as Clare Balding, who entered into a civil partnership in 2006 and the Christian Vicky Beeching, who came out in 2014.
Straight or LGBT, we all go through stages whereby we become more comfortable in ourselves. This is, particularly, the case for LGBT people. Coming out is liberating and can be tough, but is easier now than ever.
With the passing of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, Sandi Toksvig renewed her vows the day after the legislation came into force. With this legislation a lot of people, who had been in committed long term relationships, were finally able to get the same status as their straight counterparts.
There is still a significant amount of work to be done within the Church of England, which distinguishes between “Equal Marriage” and “Holy Matrimony”.
Faith is an important component of many people’s lives and the Church of England is taking steps to make all churches welcoming for LGBT people.
There are increasing numbers of LGBT families. LGBT parents at the school gate are not an unusual sight. LGBT people can finally be parents. The UK is one of only 14 countries where same-sex couples can legally adopt.
We have progressed to being one of the most tolerant countries in the world. LGBT people do not need to hide who they are.
We have fought hard for a society which is, increasingly, equal for everyone. Let’s celebrate LGBT History Month!
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