The History of LGBT Rights in the UK

The UK has had a very long and varied history and its LGBT community has also struggled for equality.

LGBT Timeline

1290 – First mention in English law of homosexuality and punishments that may occur.

1541 to 1558 – Herny VIII passed the Buggery Act which became Englands first civil sodomy laws. After Henry died his children all made amendments to the Buggery Act. This act was designed to guard the public from any unnatural sexual act that may incur the wrath of God. The punishment for buggery was execution by hanging, the punishment was the same for both men and women. In 1558 Elizabeth I, passed the buggery act into law, to make things more permanent.

1566 to 1625 – King James I sat on both the English and Scottish thrones. James had homosexual tendencies and during his reign had sexual relations with several important men calling them his ‘favourites’ and he promoted them in rank and stature. These men were Esmé Stewart, Robert Carr and George Villiers. Despite having homosexual urges and lovers James did nothing to revoke the Buggery laws passed by his predecessors.

1680 to 1682 – Singer Arabella Hunt married James Howard in 1680. After only six months of marriage Arabella abandoned James and asked for her marriage to be annulled on the grounds that James Howard was a woman called Amy Poulter. Amy was examined by five midwives who ruled that Amy was in fact a woman. In 1682 the marriage was officially annulled as two women could not legally marry.

1835 – The last two men to be executed in Britain for buggery.

1861– The death penalty for Buggery in England and Wales was abolished.

1885 – An amendment to the Criminal Law Act made gross indecency an criminal offence, this act was used to prosecute homosexuality. Oscar Wilde was imprisoned because of this act.

1954 – Appointment of the Wolfenden Committee in August to consider how the law in Britain could change relating to homosexual offences.

1967 – A New Sexual Offence Act was passed by parliament which decriminalised homosexual acts between two men over the age of 21, however this act did not apply in Scotland and Ireland or the armed forces.

1970 – The UK’s First gay demonstration took place in Highbury Fields in Islington.

1972 – Scottish Minorities Group started a campaign to decriminalise homosexuality in Scotland.

1972– The first UK Pride marched through London.

1974 – Gay right groups applied to the European Court of Human Rights to force Scotland, Ireland and the armed forces to convene to the 1967 Sexual Offences Act.

1975 – Action for Lesbian Parents founded after high-profile custody cases where lesbians were refused custody of their own children based on their sexuality.

1980 – Male homosexuality was decriminalised in Scotland.

1981 Ken Livingstone, then the leader of the Greater London Council pledged his support to gays by giving the first ‘gay grant’ to The London Gay and Lesbian Switchboard, which is a company that provides phone support to gays and lesbians that are having problems with their sexual orientation.

1982 – Male homosexuality was decriminalised in Northern Ireland.

1984 – Chris Smith, Labour MP for Islington in South London became the first serving gay MP.

1985 – South Wales miners joined the the London Pride march to thank the lesbians and gay community for their support during the coal miners strike.

1988 – A bill preventing the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality by local authorities, came into force this caused mass protests in both London and Manchester. Foreign ministers put pressure on the British government to revoke the bill.

1992 – London hosted the first Euro Pride march.

1994 – The Gay male age of consent was reduced by the house of Commons from 21 to 18.

1995 – The first challenge to the ban on openly gay men serving in the armed forces was presented to the High Court.

1996 – The Inland Revenue recognised the right of same sex couples in regards to pensions.

1997 – In May Labour won the general election, Tony Blair became prime minister and two seats were given to Ben Bradshaw and Stephen Twigg who were openly gay. Later that year Chris Smith became the first gay cabinet minister.

1998– Waheed Alli became the first gay politician to have a seat in the House of Lords. Till this day Waheed is one of a handful of gay muslim politicians in the world.

1999 – In April a bomb was detonated outside the Admiral Duncan Pub in Soho. The Admiral Duncan was known as being a gay pub and was deliberately targeted by a lone anti-gay extremist. Three people died due to the explosion and several more were injured. The European Court of Human Rights overturned the ban on gays in the armed forces. Additionally, a five year ban on gay and lesbian partners fostering and adopting children was lifted. The House of Lords ruled that same sex partners should be treated as family and should have the same rights as spouses.

2001 – The first same-sex partnerships were registered in London.

2002 – Equal rights were given to gay and lesbian partners looking to adopt children in England and Wales.

2004 – The Civil Partnership Bill was introduced, same sex partners can now apply for a civil partnership but cannot get married. In 2004 the Sexual Offences Act abolished the crimes of buggery and gross indecency – way over 460 years after it was first introduced.

2007 – The Equality Act is introduced making discrimination against lesbians and gays illegal.

2008 – 65 countries along with the UK singed a UN declaration calling for the global decriminalisation of homosexuality.

2009 – Scotland gave same-sex couples equality when adopting and fostering children.

2013 – Government unveils its Marriage Bill which passes in the House of Commons by a vote of 366 to 161.

2014 – Same-sex marriage is legal and the first same sex marriages are performed in March.

LGBT Rights

When you study the timeline you can see that it took over 460 years for homosexuality to be decriminalised in the UK. You can also see that the government has made several ‘u turns’ on bills and polices in the past. Even as late as 2013 one third of the House of Commons were against gay marriage. This is a great example of why we as a community still need Gay Pride and still need to campaign for equal rights. We should never forget that for 400 years our community was treated as second class citizens and faced death for being born gay. We should also never forget that in some countries, being gay is still punishable by death.

Corby Taylor

  • Louise

    I’m glad someone’s finally made a time line of this! It just shows how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go!