Before 1967 same-sex sexual activity was illegal. Since its legalisation, LGBT+ rights and movements have come along leaps and bounds. Here is a snapshot of some of the stand-out LGBT+ pieces of history in the UK since then.
1967 – Same-sex sexual activity decriminalised in England and Wales
The Sexual Offences Act 1967 was accordingly passed on 27 July 1967, after an intense debate Although it maintained general prohibitions on “buggery” (which included anal sex) and “indecency” between men, it did provide a limited decriminalisation of homosexual acts ,where three conditions were fulfilled. The “act”:
1) had to be consensual
2) had to take place in private
3) could involve only people that had attained the age of 21 (5 years older than heterosexual acts).
These restrictions were overturned in the European Court of Human Rights in 2000.
1972 – First Gay Pride Rally
The First British Gay Pride Rally was held on July 1st 1972 in London, with 2,000 people attending and marching from. 2000 people attended, marching from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park
1980 – Same-sex sexual activity decriminalised in Scotland
13 years after same-sex sexual acts were decriminalised in England and Wales, same-sex sexual activities were legalised in Scotland on the same basis as in the 1967 Act, by section 80 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980. This came into force on 1 February 1981.
1982 - Same-sex sexual activity decriminalised in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland finally amended its laws to decriminalise same-sex sexual activity, and this came into force on 8 December 1982.
1985 – First openly gay character on a TV series
Liverpool-based soap opera, Brookside, featured the first openly gay character on a British TV series. Gordon Collins, who was a teenage character at the time, came out as gay, when his copy of Gay Times was delivered to the family’s neighbours by mistake.
1991 – Freddie Mercury passes away
In 1991, Queen singer and LGBT+ icon, Freddie Mercury, announced that he had AIDS. The following day, he died. Treatment for HIV was poor at this time, but this was about to change… (see 1996!)
1994 – Age of consent for same-sex sexual activities drops to 18
In February 1994, MP Edwina Currie proposed an amendment to current laws, to equalise the age of consent of same-sex sexual activities to 16 (the same as heterosexual sex); this was defeated (307 votes to 280). Another amendment, proposed by Sir Anthony Durant, suggested lowering the age of consent to 18. This passed by 427 votes to 162.
1994 – First pre-watershed lesbian kiss on TV!
Brookside broadcast the UK's first pre-watershed lesbian kiss. Anna Friel, who played Beth Jordache (one of the ladies involved in the kiss) said “I had lots of letters from people saying they were confused and that Beth had helped them to come out. So I'm glad I'm doing something to help.”
1996 – HIV treatment breakthrough
Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART) is found to significantly delay the onset of AIDS in people living with HIV. The NHS makes the treatment available in the UK and deaths and AIDS diagnoses drop significantly.
1998 – First transgender soap character
Julie Hesmondhalgh played British TV’s first transgender character, as Coronation Street’s Hayley Anne Patterson (later Hayley Cropper). Although some transgender campaigners were initially upset that a cisgender woman had been chosen for the part, they later praised Hesmondhalgh's dedication and sensitivity.
2001 – Age of consent for same-sex sexual activities is equalised… at last!
This was quite a bumpy ride. After Edwina Currie’s proposal for the age of consent to be dropped to 16 (in line with heterosexual acts), was rejected back in 1994, there was another attempt to lower the age of consent for same-sex sexual acts in 1998. The House of Commons accepted this, but it was later rejected by the House of Lords, with a majority of 168. In 1999, the equalisation of the age of consent was again endorsed by the House of Commons… only to be turned down, once more, by the House of Lords.
After a lot of debate between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000 was enacted; this came into force throughout the UK on 8 January 2001, lowering the age of consent to 16. This Act also introduced an age of consent for lesbian sexual acts (also 16 btw), as previously there had been no laws around lesbian sexual acts.
2002 – Same-sex couples are granted equal rights to adopt
The Adoption and Children Act 2002 granted same-sex couples in the United Kingdom the right to adopt.
2004 – Civil Partnerships introduced
The Civil Partnership Act in 2004 allowed same-sex couples to obtain similar rights and responsibilities as civil marriage, with a few differences. The contracts of marriage and civil partnerships are very similar, though there are some technical differences. STIs are grounds for annulment of marriage, but not civil partnership; adultery is a grounds for divorce, but not dissolution of civil union and where laws differ for wife and husband, both partners are generally treated like the husband would be. Otherwise, the rules for pensions, survivor benefits, annulment and dissolution are very similar.
2004 – Gender Recognition Act was passed in Parliament
The Gender Recognition Act was passed in Parliament, which allowed transgender people to change their legal gender. It came into effect on 4 April 2000, meaning trans people could now get a new birth certificate, giving them full recognition of their gender in law for all purposes, including marriage.
2014 – Same-sex marriage legalised in England, Scotland and Wales
Legislation allowing same-sex couples to get married came into force in England and Wales in March 2014, closely followed by Scotland in December 2014. This was great news for the LGBT+ community as it gave married same-sex couples the exact same rights and responsibilities as married heterosexual couples. Same-sex marriage was not currently legal in Northern Ireland at this point.
2015 – First openly transgender actor and actress cast for regular roles in UK soaps
2015 was a big year for trans inclusion in UK soaps! In 2015 both Hollyoaks and EastEnders cast only transgender people for their regular roles in the soaps. Hollyoaks cast transgender actress Annie Wallace as Hollyoaks High School's new head teacher, Sally St. Claire, making her first appearance on 29 October and EastEnders cast transgender Riley Carter Millington to play transman Kyle Slater, making his first appearance on 30 October.
2016 – Option to remove historic convictions
In 2012, the government had introduced a scheme, allowing people who had been prosecuted for crimes related to same-sex activity, to have their convictions removed from police and court records. These laws were, thankfully, no longer in place (see 1967!), so they could be pardoned.
In 2016, this was changed even further, so that, if somebody prosecuted under these law had died, their families had the right to apply for these convictions to be removed, even after their death.
2017 – Posthumous pardon for same-sex activity convictions
In January 2017, the Policing and Crime Act 2017 included a pardon for men who had been convicted of any same-sex activity that would be legal today (such as kissing, displays of affection, sex or going to LGBT venues), but had since died. On top of this, the pardon included an apology from the UK Government to everyone, both living and dead, who had been prosecuted under these past laws, recognising the damage that these convictions had caused.
Jan 2020 - Same-sex marriage legalised in Northern Ireland
On 13 January 2020, same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland has been legal since, following the enactment of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019.
The first marriage ceremony took place on 11 February 2020, between Belfast couple Robyn Peoples and Sharni Edwards-Peoples (pictured below)
Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty International said "For too long, LGBT+ people in Northern Ireland have been treated as second-class citizens. So, today is an incredible moment for same-sex couples who can finally marry and have their relationships recognised as equal."
Jan 2020 – First openly pansexual MP
Layla Moran became the first MP in the UK history to publicly come out as pansexual. In an interview with PinkNews, she explained “ Pansexuality, to me, means it doesn’t matter about the physical attributions of the person you fall in love with, it’s about the person themselves.”
Image via Twitter/@LaylaMoran
Dec 2020 – Blood donation review for gay/bi men
The UK reviewed its stance on blood donations from gay and bisexual men, and men who have sex with men. Previously, donations could only be given if the donor had not had any anal or oral sex for 3 months.
Now, as of summer 2021, provided the donor has been in a “monogamous” relationship for at least 3 months, or has not had anal sex with different sexual partners for a 3 month period, they do not have to abstain from sex and sexual contact.