LGBT+ History - An Abridged Timeline
For LGBT+ History Month 2022 we've highlighted some of the key milestones for LGBT+ people over the centuries. At a time when it can sometimes feel like our existence is up for debate, it's important to remind ourselves that we've always been here. It's just as important to recognise how recently some of our rights were won - and to keep up the fight that those who came before us started.
1533The Buggery Act outlaws male homosexuality in England for the first time.
1753The first statutory legislation in England and Wales, the Clandestine Marriages Act, is introduced.
Until this point marriages had been governed by canon law, and there were few legal requirements. Although canon law did not permit equal marriage, we can speculate that prior to the introduction of legal restrictions it would have been possible for a person ‘living as a man/woman’ to get married with comparative ease. This Act marks a turning point from which who can get married - and how - is increasingly regulated and monitored by the state.
1867Karl Heinrich Ulrichs becomes the first recognisably modern gay rights activist in Europe.
He does so when he pleads in Munich for the repeal of anti-homosexuality laws. He writes extensively on the subject, drawing on Plato to describe homosexuality, bisexuality, and gender diversity as natural and acceptable occurrences.
1885The Criminal Law Amendment Act is widened...
The Act widens the definition of criminal offences in the UK, enabling expressions of affection between men of any kind to be prosecuted. This leads to widespread persecution of both gay men and transfeminine people. Although female homosexuality was not outlawed it was still subject to discrimination, with legal prohibition being considered in 1921.
1919Institut für Sexualwissenschaft founded...
Magnus Hirschfeld founds the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft in Berlin’s Tiergarten. Inspired by the work of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, he builds an LGBT community in and around Berlin and grows an international influence. At the Institut he pioneers the medical techniques that will become the basis of present-day gender-affirming healthcare, and builds a research library dedicated to the history of gender diversity.
1933In 1933 the Institut is destroyed by the Nazis and Hirschfeld’s library is destroyed. It will take generations to recover the knowledge lost.
Michael Dillon is the first trans man in the UK to undergo phalloplasty surgery, later publishing a memoir describing his transition. He writes, “Where the mind cannot be made to fit the body, the body should be made to fit, approximately at any rate, to the mind.” In 1951 Roberta Cowell becomes the first trans woman in the UK to undergo vaginoplasty, and publishes her memoir in 1954.
1957Wolfenden Report released
Rising persecution of LGBT+ people and the high-profile conviction for gross indecency and subsequent death of Alan Turing leads to the publication of the Wolfenden Report. The Report says that homosexuality should no longer be considered an illness, and that the law should change to reflect this.
1966The birth of a movement
A period of intense activity around LGBT+ rights, in the UK and around the world. In ‘66 The Beaumont Society is founded. Initially intended to educate, inform, and combat prejudice around ‘transvestitism’, it goes on to become one of the largest support organisations for trans and non-binary people in the world. In ‘67, the first legislation based on the Wolfenden Report is published in the form of the Sexual Offences Act, partially legalising homosexual sex acts between men in private (Scotland and Ireland do not follow suit until 1980 and 1981, respectively). Discrimination against LGBT+ people is still rampant, but a counter-movement increasingly gathers momentum among the community and allies.
1969Stonewall and the Gay Liberation Front
In '69 the Stonewall Inn Riots bring international attention to the mistreatment of the LGBT+ community by law enforcement, and in '70 the Gay Liberation Front is founded in the UK, putting on the first UK Pride in '72.
Tennis player Renée Richards is outed as a trans woman, leading the United States Tennis Association to introduce mandatory chromosome tests for participants. Although Richards successfully sued the USTA, the test laid the groundwork for regulatory barriers to participation of trans people in sport that persist to the present day.
1988Section 28 made law
The Thatcher administration introduces Section 28, prohibiting the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities or in education. Although the law specifies ‘homosexuality’, it effectively blanket bans any positive discussion of LGBT+ issues. The impact is particularly felt in education, where neither teachers nor students can be out without fear of reprisal. This law will last until 2003.
The UK Passport Office rejects Christie Elan-Cane's application for a passport with a gender-neutral marker. Per goes on to sue the Home Office in 2018 over its refusal to legally recognise non-binary people, eventually taking the case to the Supreme Court in 2021. The Court overturns the case, ruling that the government has no obligation to legally recognise additional gender categories. Elan-Cane promises to take it to the European Court of Human Rights.
1999First legal protections for transgender people
The Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations introduce anti-discrimination laws for ‘transsexuals’, although they apply to all transgender people. These protections apply specifically to employment and vocational training. It is the first time transgender people have been protected from discrimination by law in the UK.
2001Age of consent equality
Age of consent equality is granted in England, Scotland, and Wales.
2002United Kingdom defeated in Strasbourg
Christine Goodwin v United Kingdom is taken to the European Court of Human Rights. Goodwin alleges that she has experienced discrimination and sexual harassment as a trans woman. Although both UK and European courts have repeatedly ruled against transgender people in previous years, on this occasion the Court found that Goodwin’s right to private life and right to marriage had both been breached, a ruling which led directly to the introduction of the Gender Recognition Act.
2004Civil Partnership and Gender Recognition
The Civil Partnership Act allows couples of the same legal gender to form civil partnerships (pictured: Grainne Close and Shannon Sickles, the second couple to register a civil partnership in the UK), and the Gender Recognition Act allows trans men and women to pursue legal recognition of their gender identity. However, the procedure for changing legal gender is costly and difficult, and uptake is extremely low. Many transgender people still cannot have the correct gender recorded on their birth, marriage, or death certificates. Consultations on reforms to simplify the GRA are opened in 2018, but government response is minimal, and by 2022 serious reform has yet to occur.
2006The Equality Act and the EHRC
The Equality Act 2006 consolidates existing human rights laws and seeks to bring the UK in line with the European Human Rights Act. It provides legal protection from discrimination in the workplace to seven protected characteristics, among them sex and gender reassignment. It extends existing protections for transgender people, particularly in the provision of goods and services. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is set up as an independent human rights body to oversee the Act.
2009Equal age of consent across all of UK, as NI catches up
2010The Equality Act 2010
In 2010 the Equality Act is expanded to offer wider protections, including in education, consumer rights, and tenants’ rights. It also introduces protections against discrimination by association. This forms the foundation of present LGBT+ legal protections, although inconsistent application and a lack of clarity in some specific cases has meant that the Act has not always provided effective protection.
The Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act allows people of the same legal sex to marry for the first time. Transgender people in existing marriages can now change their legal sex without needing to first obtain a divorce or annulment. Also in 2013, the Colorado Civil Rights Division rules in favour of a six-year-old trans girl’s right to use toilet facilities in accordance with her gender identity. This sparks a long and ongoing series of legislative battles in the US over ‘bathroom bills’, seeking to protect or prohibit trans people’s access to toilet facilities.
2017Retroactive pardons for 'homosexual' crimes
Parts of the Policing and Crime Act, informally known as Alan Turing’s law, provide retroactive (including posthumous) pardons for some men who were prosecuted for homosexual acts. In 2022 these pardons are expanded to cover a wider range of former offences. Turing himself was pardoned in 2013, over 50 years after his death.
2018May calls for ban on conversion practices
Prime Minister Theresa May calls for a total ban on conversion practices in the UK, calling them “abhorrent”. In 2021 the UK Government opens a consultation on proposed reforms, which are criticised for allowing loopholes for conversion practices in certain settings, particularly faith and healthcare. In 2022 the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a nominally independent advisory body, recommends the exclusion of trans people from any future legislation on conversion practices.
2020Legal protection for non-binary people
Taylor v Jaguar Land Rover sets legal precedent for the anti-discrimination protections of the Equality Act to likely include non-binary people as well as trans men and trans women.
2021Victory for trans youth in Bell v Tavistock
In 2020 Mrs A and Bell v Tavistock the plaintiffs Mrs A and Keira Bell are successful in a judicial review against the NHS Tavistock and Portman Trust which, among other things, claimed that puberty blockers were an 'experimental' treatment and that access to them was too easy for young people. The decision is successfully appealed in 2021 by the Good Law Project, with Gendered Intelligence acting as co-appellant. The Court of Appeal ruled that the initial judgement should never have been made, and that the court should not have exercised judgement on gender-affirming care or on Gillick Competence (the legal mechanism by which under-16s are able to provide informed consent to medical treatment).
2022EHRC backsliding and leaks
The EHRC releases two statements, one on the proposed conversion therapy ban and another on reforms to the Gender Recognition Act. Both are plainly trans-exclusionary, and represent a surprising move away from the Commission's previous position on trans rights. Many LGBTQ+ organisations cut ties with the Commission in response. Not long thereafter leaked documents suggest a relationship between the EHRC and notable anti-trans groups, and an agenda to exclude trans people - in particular, transfeminine people - from single-sex spaces. The EHRC makes broad claims of misinformation but does not specifically deny the leaked documents.