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LGBT rights first came into prominence in the United Kingdom following the decriminalisation of sexual activity between men in England and Wales in 1967. Scotland followed suit with the decriminalisation of sexual activity between men in 1980 and then Northern Ireland in 1982. Interestingly, sexual activity between two women has never been a criminal offence.
Under the Buggery Act 1533, gay and bisexual men could face a maximum sentence of life in prison. the text of the Act described ‘buggery’ as a ‘detestable and abominable vice’. The first individual to be prosecuted under the Act was Walter Hungerford, a Baron born in 1503. Walter was beheaded on 28th of July 1540 at Tower Hill in London, a place where high profile individuals were taken to be executed.
London’s first Pride parade was held in 1972, with around 1,000 members of the LGBT community in attendance. At the time, this was seen to be an enormous amount of individuals - it is important to remember that in 1972 it was nowhere near as common to express your sexual orientation if it deviated from what was known as the social ‘norm’. The individuals marching for their rights were determined to make themselves visible whilst demanding LGBT liberation.
During this time, it was clear that although the law had changed to accept gay relationships, society was proving slow to catch up. In a vast comparison and perhaps a clear indicator of social shift in attitude toward the LGBT community, around 1 million people descended on London in 2018 in order to participate in London Pride.
In 1988, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher amended the Local Government Act 1988 to include a clause, now infamously known as ‘Clause 28’, effectively barring state schools from encouraging or teaching the ‘acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’. Clause 28 was seen to be a catalyst for a surge in widespread gay activism having left the LGBT community and its allies outraged. In 2003 the government backed a successful attempt to repeal the ‘unnecessary and undesirable measure’. Clause 28 was repealed in Scottish law in 2000, and Northern Irish law in 2003.
In terms of the rate of legislative change, it appears that once LGBT rights became a recognised mainstream concern, new bills were passed with quick succession. The new legislation made some important and positive changes, including allowing gay people to adopt children and join the Army.
Encouragement of homophobic hatred was criminalised in 2008, whilst same sex marriages were recognised in 2014 under The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. Many gay couples married their partners at the stroke of midnight on the 29th of March 2014, when the law formally came into effect. Scotland legalised gay marriage in December 2014 and the Republic of Ireland followed suit in November 2015. While it still remains illegal in Northern Ireland, there is mounting pressure for a change in the law. Gender reassignment is protected under the Equality Act 2010, previously there was no specific law relating to being treated differently due to being transsexual.
Although, there have been many positive examples of change across the UK influenced by LGBT movements, these extraordinary developments are often forgotten amongst the discrimination and unfair treatment that remains. The path toward justice for LGBT rights is still one being forged through formidable barriers and the fight for equality is most definitely still on.
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