Related news

Why LGBT+ History Month is so important

LGBT+ is an acronym which represents different sexual orientations and gender identities. The acronym stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. According to the website 'my LGBT+', the '+' represents "[…] all identities to make our community feel welcomed and ensure that nobody is left out. We make it a goal to not have a closed focus mind of the continuing ways people define themselves as. And yes, straight allies are included in our LGBT+ acronym!1

LGBT+ History Month is held every February and celebrates LGBT+ activism, peace and reconciliation regarding sexuality. The month proffers the slogan 'Outing the Past', and encourages everyone to review significant events which have affected the LGBT+ community. This year marks 53 years since the Stonewall Riots, which is described as a "pivotal moment in LGBT+ rights and history"2.

The Stonewall Riots took place in the early hours of June 28th 1969 in New York City, and saw members of the LGBT+ community violently demonstrate against a police raid. It is shocking that such momentous landmarks occurred only 50 years ago, and it is fair to say that progress has been made to fight discrimination against the LGBT+ community. However, it is important to review the tumultuous fight which has been necessary to get to where we are today, and to appreciate how much further we have to go to reach total equality.

The Stonewall Riots were accompanied by many other events which helped the progress of LGBT+ rights and acceptance. The following timeline shows some key events in the LGBT+ fight for equality:3

1951 - Roberta Cowell becomes the first British transgender woman to receive gender reassignment surgery and have her gender legally changed.

1957 - The Wolfenden Committee publish the Wolfenden Report which contained recommendations for laws regarding sexual behaviour. The report attracted a large amount of publicity.

1967 - The Sexual Offences Act decriminalises sexual activities between two men over the age of 21 'in private'. However, this did not apply to the Armed Forces or Merchant Navy, Scotland, Northern Island, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man.

1969 - North West Homosexual Law Reform Committee attract support from leading figures in the medical profession, the arts and the church, gaining more publicity for the LGBTQ+ community.

1969 - The Stonewall Riots.

1970 - The Corbett vs Corbett Divorce Case ruled that an individual cannot legally change their gender in the United Kingdom.

1971 - The Nullity of Marriage Act was passed, which forbade same-sex couples marrying in England and Wales.

1972 - The first Pride celebrations are held in London, with over 2,000 participants.

1972 - Britain's first gay newspaper, Gay News, is published.

1973 - The first British gay rights conference is held in Lancashire.

1974 - Support line; 'London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard' is founded.

1975 - The Liberal Party (now known as the Liberal Democrats) became the first political party to fully support LGBT rights.

1977 - A bill aiming to reduce the age of LGBT+ consent to 18 is defeated in the House of Lords.

1977 - Gay News Magazine is successfully prosecuted for 'blasphemy' by social conservative Mary Whitehouse.

1981 - A monumental court case discovers that Northern Ireland's criminalisation of homophobia is a violation of the Human Rights convention.

1982 - The Homosexual Offence order decriminalises sex between two men over the age of 21 'in private' in Nothern Ireland.

1983 - Homosexual males are asked not to donate to UK blood banks due to the AIDS crisis.

1988 - Margaret Thatcher introduces Section 28 of the Local Government Act which states that the government will not "intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality". In response, actor Sir Ian McKellen came out on BBC radio.

1988 - Denmark becomes the first country to legally recognise same-sex partnerships.

1992 - The World Health Organisation declassifies homosexuality as a mental illness.

1999 - Trans Day Of Remembrance is founded in the USA.

2000 - The UK allows lesbians, gay men and bisexual people to serve in the armed forces.

2000 - Stonewall's campaign which intended to reduce the age of consent between same sex couples to 16 is successful, alongside the decriminalising of group sex between men.

2002 - Same sex couples applying for adoption are granted equal rights to straight couples.

2002 - The Goodwin vs The United Kingdom cases sees judges rule that the UK Government need to accommodate transgender people's needs by allowing new birth certificates to be issued and allowing a trans individual to marry someone of the opposite gender.

2003 - Section 28 is repealed in England, Wales, and Northern Island, which means that the ban on schools from teaching the acceptability of homosexuality.

2003 - Sue Wilkinson and Celia Kitzringer marry in Canada, but the British Law refuses to recognise their marriage.

2004 - The Civil Partnership act is passed which allows homosexual couples to have the same rights and responsibilities as married straight couples.

2004 - The Gender Recognition act is passed, allowing trans people to have full legal recognition of their gender and allows them to acquire a new birth certificate.

2008 - The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act recognises that same-sex couples can be legal parents of children conceived through donated sperm, eggs, or embryos.

2010 - Incitement of homophobic hatred becomes a legal offence in the UK.

2014 - The Marriage (Same Sec Couples) Act comes into force with the first homosexual marriages in England and Wales happening on the 29th March 2014.

The importance of LGBT+ month is paramount, and although society has progressed so much, many members of the LGBT+ community still face discrimination. Even in 2019, individuals do not feel comfortable with their sexuality, and gay conversion therapy is still legal in the UK, despite activists campaigning for its end.

The Office for National Statistics claims that only 1.5% of individuals identify as gay, lesbian and bisexual in the UK, despite the Kinsey report concluding that the figure is actually 10%4. This suggests that there is a preeminent taboo surrounding non-heterosexuality, and that people across the UK ignore their sexuality in order to avoid stigmatisation. These issues particularly affect individuals from older generations, or those who live in more conservative parts of the United Kingdom4. With more than one in five LGBT+ individuals being verbally or physically attacked as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity over the last year, 'coming out' can be dangerous5.

Some countries seem to be going in the opposite direction by introducing new laws strengthening existing penalties for members of the LGBT+ community6. Last year during a police raid at a hotel in Lagos State in Nigeria, over 40 men were arrested for participating in homosexual acts, facing up to 14 years imprisonment7.

Nigera has also outlawed same-sex marriages, gay groups, and shows of same-sex public affection6. Russia has recently introduced a new legislation which aims to prevent anybody under the age of 18 receiving any information about homosexuality. This law sees any adult who disperses such information issued with a fine6.

Even for individuals who live in LGBT+ approving societies, 'coming out' is often a monumental milestone. Even though wider society is accepting of this community, coming out can often have adverse effects within the individual's social and family structure. A national survey of 760 students, indicated that within the microcosm of school, students who are gay, or are thought to be gay are the most likely group to be bullied8. In a sample of nearly 3,500 students aged thirteen to eighteen, one-third of students reported that their peers are frequently harassed because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation8. Coming out can also cause issues within families. During an interview with The Colorado Springs Independent, 24-year-old Lewis Hines discussed his fear of coming out as a transgender man to his extended family for fear of emotional abuse9.

Sheffield Hallam Students' Union's LGBT+ Representative, Emily Greenwood, is available to discuss any issues surrounding the LGBT+ community with students. Within the Students' Union, there are many resources made available to you if you need any support regarding your sexuality or homophobia. At The HUBS, the Student Advice Centre is available for free, confidential advice. Sheffield Charity, SAYiT also work with young LGBT+ people to provide support around LGBT+ life, sexual health, HIV and mental wellbeing10. SAYiT offers one-to-one sessions and group meetings to discuss these issues and help resolve any issues affecting the LGBT+ community.