LGBT History Month takes place every February. It’s an annual showcase and celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) history.
To mark the occasion, I’d like to reflect on the contributions the LGBT community has made to civil rights and how times have changed over the years. It’s also a time to look at the ongoing inequalities, help combat prejudice and raise our profile in the continued fight for change.
In lots of ways, it really feels like British society has never been more accepting of the gay community: In parts of the UK it’s not unusual to see 2 people of the same sex holding hands in public. We see gay celebrities hosting TV shows, and LGBT characters on mainstream TV. In my lifetime there has been real progress in civil rights for our community.
I’ve found DWP Digital and the wider Civil Service to be a great place to work, where diversity and inclusion are celebrated and supported at the highest level. Yet prejudice against the LGBT community still exists within many UK workplaces.
According to the LGBT rights campaign group Stonewall:
19% of LGBT employees have experienced verbal bullying because of their sexual orientation
26% of LGBT workers are not open to colleagues about their sexual orientation
42% of trans people are not living permanently in their preferred gender role and feel they are prevented from doing so because they fear it might threaten their employment
So there is still more to be done! And to highlight progress, these are some of the changes made within my lifetime that have made a difference to me and my ability to be myself in the world today.
In the 1980s I lived through the anti-gay hysteria that accompanied the HIV crisis. I saw friends’ lives cut short, their suffering worsened by their families’ homophobic response when they told them that they were gay and had AIDS. I also saw my community come together, fight back and support one another in the face of a devastating crisis.
I also remember the day in 1999 when the Admiral Duncan, a gay pub in Soho, was targeted and bombed killing 3 people. I recall frantic phone calls to friends to find out if they were OK, hugging those close to me closer as we watched the news reports of those who had suffered and died in the blast.
It’s almost unbelievable to look back and realise that it wasn’t until 1992 that the World Health Organisation stopped classifying same-sex attraction as a mental illness.
Campaigning groups such as Stonewall, Outrage, and ACT-UP have worked in collaboration with straight allies to make changes happen. Some highlights along the journey include the 1991 formation of ‘Press For Change’ – a key lobbying and legal support organisation for trans people in the UK. And, Stonewall UK was formed in 1998 in response to Section 28 – the legislation that banned the “promotion of homosexuality”.
In 2001 the age of consent for same-sex relations was changed to 16 making it the same as the age of consent for heterosexual people.
Equal rights were granted to same-sex couples applying for adoption in 2002.
In 2004 The Civil Partnership Act was passed, giving same-sex couples the same rights and responsibilities as married heterosexual couples in the UK. And, in the same year the Gender Recognition Act 2004 was passed, giving trans people full legal recognition in their appropriate gender.
In 2014 the first same-sex marriages in England and Wales took place.
These landmark events and the progress they represent are intertwined with other equality campaigns to end racial discrimination, disability discrimination and women’s equality.
In 2017 the British Government issued a posthumous pardon to all gay and bi men who were convicted in the last century under pernicious sexual offences laws, which criminalised people for being gay or bisexual.
My life and the lives of my friends has been enhanced by the battles won over the decades through working together. It’s important that we continue to recognise the changes that are being fought today to make LGBT people in society safer, happier and more-able to shine to their full potential.
Find out more
Find out more about the support available to LGBT civil servants by visiting the Civil Service LGBT+ Network website.