LGBT rights have been fought for for hundreds of years. While early on in time homosexuality was tolerated, there were numerous religious laws incriminating gay people within their religion. In the 16th century, Henry VIII, along with disbanding multiple monasteries across the country, introduced his own law making male homosexuality punishable by death. After being reenacted three times, it was decided that it would be in force ‘for ever’. During the 17th century, despite there still being laws incriminating homosexuality, King James I had many male lovers. Near the end of the 18th century an essay was written by philosopher Jeremy Bentham that explained how homosexuality was not damaging to men, or the population. However, due to beliefs at the time, this essay was never published.
Moving into the 19th century, the 16th century law was repealed, only to be replaced by another law which again made homosexuality punishable by death. 30 years later, this law was abolished. This, however, was not the end. Another 30 years later, the criminal law amendment act meant homosexuality was yet again illegal, although no longer punishable by death. The 20th century brought more drastic changes to the lives of the LGBT community. More gay clubs and societies began appearing, then the war began. When World War I began, the men left, meaning homosexuality between women was more common. It had seemed too little a problem when the laws were first introduced, however the war made it more prominent, so the criminal act was amended to include women.
After the war, homosexuality became a topic of public discussion, due to songs and books being published which brought the subject into the public eye. Not long after discussions began, the first cases of gender reassignment surgery appeared. A book was written about a man named Maurice in 1932 called ‘Amazing Change of Sex’, making the public aware of what was happening. During this time, homosexuality was still illegal, and was often punished in horrific ways. One of the most famous cases being Alan Turing, who undertook chemical castration instead of going to prison in a bid to continue his work, however the treatment eventually drove him to insanity. After many deaths and centuries of fighting, in 1967, homosexuality was decriminalised in England. While the laws only extended to men over the age of 21, the LGBT community was finally making progress towards equality.
Things progressed quicker after the law was introduced. In 1972, the first London Pride Rally was held, which is still celebrated today. Through the 1980s, the criminal justice act extended to Scotland and Northern Ireland. With the discovery of AIDS and the link to homosexuality, things did not become any easier for gay people, as they were constantly avoided and frowned down upon. Eventually, in 2001, laws were amended to give gay people the same rights as straight people, however it was another 5 years before anti-discrimination laws were put in place. In 2004, same-sex couples were allowed to form a civil partnership, but it was in 2014 that they were allowed to marry. This was the first time the crown had openly supported the LGBT community, with the Queen making the comment to the Lesbian and Gay Switchboard on their 40th anniversary: ‘Best wishes and congratulations to all concerned on this most special anniversary.’
A step back was taken in 2010, when the Pope heard about the new laws, saying they went against natural law, however pride parades continued, and progress continued towards full equality. Now, we have more LGBT characters in literature and film than ever before, meaning younger generations are more open and accepting. There are openly gay celebrities and it is usual to see pride across social media platforms. Despite coming a long way, the fight is not yet over. There is still discrimination and homophobia across the world. The US are fighting for the right to fight in the army for trans people, and often LGBT people will encounter homophobia during their everyday lives.
We are a spectrum of people, and the rainbow has come a long way, but we’re still striving to reach the pot of gold at the end.