Updated: Jun 25, 2022
- Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, leaders of the Stonewall Riot -
Someone recently told me they fail to understand why sexual orientation is an issue and that discussion was irrelevant. They rightly suggested that equal human rights for all should be the benchmark. A statement with which I wholeheartedly agree. There's so much positivity around sexual orientation and gender identity in the UK media at the moment; the monumental success of Alice Oseman's Heartstopper Netflix adaptation, Blackpool FC play Jake Daniel's coming out, Ncuti Gatwa becoming the first black, gay Doctor Who and being joined by Yasmin Finney, the first trans Doctor Who companion, it's easy to see why the conversation around LGBTQ+ rights might be viewed as irrelevant. I think it’s a mark of how far British society has come in our lifetimes that we generally don’t see race, age, sexual orientation or religion as issues.
However, data published by Statista shows that there was nearly 18,500 sexual orientation motivated, and over 2,500 trans motivated, hate crimes perpetrated in the UK in 2020/21. UK LGBTQ+ rights organisation Stonewall's research into Conversion Therapy found that:
"one in twenty LGBT people (five per cent) have been pressured to access services to question or change their sexual orientation when accessing healthcare services. This number rises to nine per cent of LGBT people aged 18-24, nine per cent of Black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT people- and eight per cent of LGBT disabled people."
- Conversion Therapy Ban protests, London 2022 - Getty Images -
Despite the numbers, the UK Government are still flip-flopping around what a ban on Conversion Therapy would look like and who should be covered by any protections the ban would write into law. Currently, the ban does not include the trans community.
For me, growing up bisexual in Lincolnshire in the 80's & 90's was not actually the horrific experience people imagine. I have a loving family who, for the most part, allowed me to come out easily. My friends were supportive too. I used to joke that I was “the only gay in the village” until I realised that within a year on either side of his school year there were 13 LGBT+ kids living in the village. There were of course a few stand-out moments of homophobia but overall the transition out of the closet was painless.
- Andy and friends circa 1987 ish -
Activism around sexual orientation through lobbying, marches - or as they're more widely recognised now, Pride Parades - and even the odd act of civil disobedience has been an integral part of my adult life. What people don’t seem to realise, and indeed take for granted as we enter the second decade of the 21st century is just how much has changed in such a very short period of time.
The UK LGBT rights movement started in 1958 with the formation of The Homosexual Law Reform Society and globally was highlighted in 1969 by a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, Manhattan. The Stonewall Riots were the key event that triggered the modern LGBT liberation movement in the US and beyond. In 1977, the first gay and lesbian Trades Union Congress (TUC) conference took place to discuss workplace rights. In 1992, the World Health Organisation declassified same-sex attraction as a mental illness.
Thanks to a nasty piece of legislation known as Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 all schools were banned from offering any information about sexual orientation, which meant that Andy knew practically nothing about safe sex or healthy relationships when he left school. Equal age of consent was only achieved in 2000 and three years later Section 28 was finally repealed.
- Scrap Section 28 Banner, Pride March, 1998 -
Between 2003 and 2013 we saw some monumental changes to the law pertaining to LGBT rights. Regulations came into force which prohibited employers from unreasonably discriminating against employees on grounds of sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation. This came 26 years after the TUC originally tabled workplace rights for lesbian and gay people. We won the right to Civil Partnership, and later, marriage; we won the right to be recognised for our appropriate genders - a battle that still rages on today, the right not to be discriminated against in the provision of goods and services. We won further protection against discrimination in the workplace and in education. We saw a decade of rapid change that allowed us more freedom, security and acceptance than ever before.
Often nowadays I get asked why we still need a gay rights movement, pride parades or even LGBT+ History Month? I think people don’t realise what a rapid rollercoaster of change we’ve been through to achieve the basic human rights we now, perhaps, take a little for granted in the UK. What makes me more heartsick than this is the insular view that LGBT+ equality isn’t a continuing evolution within our own country and the wider world.
- "Chechen mothers mourn their children" - Anti-gay purge protest, 1st May 2017 -
You only have to look at Russia to see the continuing struggle for LGBT+ rights. The 2013 LGBT Propaganda law prohibited the promotion of "non-traditional sexual relationships" – Russia’s very own Section 28. Since then, homophobic hate crimes have skyrocketed. Gay men continue to be rounded up in Chechnya and herded into a concentration camp where they are subjected to electric shock torture and beatings. This is clearly a human rights atrocity, but it’s the Russian perception that gay men are 'less than human' that’s the problem here. While the discussion of sexual orientation in UK might seem irrelevant (which statistics say it's not!) it's perhaps more important than ever that we acknowledge how far we’ve come and how far as a species we still have to go.
Remember, the first “pride parade” was a riot. We cannot afford to forget where we've come from and the continued global struggle for ALL human rights.