Six decades of LGBT challenges and progress in my lifetime
Every February we celebrate LGBT History month and there are many historical figures and moments we need to remember as they set a foundation for the rights and respect we have today and also remind us that many of our LGBT brothers and sisters still face oppression and persecution across the world. It is a good time to reflect and renew our commitment to LGBT rights and to our shared, common and different struggles as well as support for freedom, equality and respect for everyone (however they identify).
I have chosen a few highlights of a moment, person or group from each of the six decades of my life; even if the events pre-dated my teens in the mid to late 70s when I first began to explore and realise my own sexuality.
For the 60s and 70s, I have no real personal experience or involvement to share, other than being a confused teenager living in a Catholic community.
The 1960s – A new LGBT Revolution
In the 1960s there were some major highlights, including in 1967 with the decriminalisation of homosexual sex between men in the UK and the Stonewall riots that followed in America in 1969.
What is less well known is that in 1965/6 the first UK Trans support group was established by Alice, Giselle, Alga and Sylvia. Seems a bit strange that 50 years later, there is still a fierce debate raging about gender identity.
The 1970s – Pride and Profile
The first London Pride event was held in 1972. Despite threats of violence and a heavy police presence that included overt homophobia, it was a peaceful celebration with a carnival atmosphere.
The most famous of the small organising committee may well be Peter Tatchell, but all of the veterans of London Pride 1972 deserve our thanks
1974 also saw the first out lesbian MP Maureen Colquhoun, ten years before Chris Smith was the first openly gay MP.
The 80s and 90s is when I became active in the LGBT community. I was involved in the NUPE and then UNISON Lesbian and Gay Group (as it was then), attended Pride and even spoke on the radio a number of times.
These were two very different decades; the first very bad, the next seeing a step change in LGBT rights and visibility.
The 1980s – Rest in Peace and Dignity
This being the decade that HIV and AIDS came to prominence it is right to highlight Terry Higgins and all those that worked tirelessly to support people fighting both AIDS and the ignorance and intolerance that surrounded it.
Set up by his partner Rupert Whitaker and some friends, it has gone on to be one of the leading organisations in the UK supporting people with HIV and tackling the prejudice faced by those with the virus.
Also, to great shame, this was the decade that saw Section 28 introduced and its attack on recognition and respect of LGBT people and families, which led to my first activism in LGBT rights.
The 1990s – A Decade of Change
During the 90s we had the first Pride event in Northern Ireland, legal changes in Jersey and the Isle of Man, an unequal age of consent (18 not 16), followed by an equal age of consent six years later, to the forming of Mermaids (a family support group).
It was not easy to select one historical group, but Rank Outsiders, which was set up in 1995 to end the ban on LGB people (achieved in 2000) in the military is my choice. The TV programme I remember was The Investigator about Caroline Meahger. It was more powerful, but less fun than Queer as Folk, which arrived with a bang in 1999.
At the turn of the new millennium there was a lot of hope and more progress around visibility and greater equality; with the introduction of civil partnerships and better pensions rights. I’m not sure if it was growing older, moving into the management sphere, or what, but my personal involvement began to wane. Alas, there are increasing signs of concern as shown by the reversal of LGBT rights in the USA, the continued oppression of the LGBT community in Russia, and the intolerance, physical danger, torture and terror still faced by many LGBT sisters and brothers across the world.
The 2000s – A decade of progress
Adoption rights, equal age of consent, the first out gay Conservative MP, the employment equality (sexual orientation) regulations, Goodwin vs. UK allowing trans people to be issued with new birth certificates followed by the Gender Recognition Act, the end of Section 28 with a later apology from David Cameron, civil partnerships (December 2005; June 2006 for me) and a Welsh Rugby Union star coming out.
While not a great decade for bisexual visibility, it was increasing between 1999 with the first ‘Bi Visibility Day’. In 2010 there was also the Equality Act, finally including bisexuality in Law.
Although becoming more famous from 2012, Cara Delevingne started her career in 2009 and openly identifies as bisexual and gender fluid.
2010 – No time for Complacency
Despite all that has been achieved in my lifetime (1964 - ), there is no time for complacency. It’s important to remember and reflect on the challenges and persecution that LGBT people both here and across the world continue to face. With the rise of the far right and the reversal of LGBT rights – not just in the USA – it is important to defend our rights as LGBT citizens.
Last year I attended a Stonewall event where I met some fantastic role models; one of whom, Phyll Opoku-Gyamah, is a visible champion of Black Pride, LGBT, women, and black and Minority Ethnic Rights.