What you can do
'Some People Are Trans. Get Over It!' placard at Pride in London 2016 © Andy Tyler

10 events from LGBT history

In case you didn’t know, February is LGBT History Month, run by Schools OUT UK.

This year's event focuses on Citizenship, Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) and Law, as 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales.

It’s important to remember the events which have taken place to bring us to this point in LGBT rights and history about lesbian, gay, bi and trans communities often isn’t included in our school curriculum. 

A lot of campaigning and change has happened over the last half century. We stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us.

So, let’s have a look at 10 significant events from LGBT history and learn more about this community and our movement towards equality!

10 events from LGBT history

1. 1951 – Roberta Cowell is the first known British trans woman to undergo reassignment surgery

Cowell was a racing driver and World War II fighter pilot. She was born in Croydon and studied engineering at University College London (UCL). She underwent a secret procedure in order to get a certificate stating that she was intersex. This enabled her to undergo surgery and get a new birth certificate. In later life, she claimed that being intersex was what ‘justified’ her transition and focused specifically on chromosomes and genetics, an approach which was very much 'of its time' compared to the modern-day discourse around trans and gender identities.

Roberta Cowell. Photo credit​ © British Book Centre, Inc.

Roberta Cowell - the first known British trans woman to undergo reassignment surgery. (Photo credit © British Book Centre, Inc.)

Find out more about Roberta Cowell

2. 1967 – the Sexual Offences Act decriminalises sex between two men over 21 and ‘in private’

However, this didn’t extend to the Navy, the Armed Forces, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Channel Islands, or the Isle of Man, where sex between two men remained illegal.

3. 1969 – the ‘Stonewall riots’ take place in the USA

A series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations occurred. Members of the LGBT community fought against a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan. As Jamilah King writes:

The bar's patrons clashed with police officers, in a raid that would have otherwise resulted in arrests and public shaming. However, this time the patrons fought back, setting off what we now know as the modern LGBT movement, including the tradition of LGBT Pride marches. Two often-forgotten people who made an impact that night were transgender women of colour: Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.

The event triggered the modern LGBT liberation movement in the US and beyond.

Stonewall Inn bar in New York City 1969
Stonewall Inn - the New York City bar that where the Stonewall riots began

Marsha P Johnson Photo credit © Pay It No Mind/ Reduc Pictures
Marsha P Johnson - a leader of the Stonewall riots (Photo credit © Pay It No Mind/ Redux Pictures)

Sylvia Rivera. Photo credit © Valerie Shaff
Sylvia Rivera - a leader of the Stonewall riots (Photo credit © Valerie Shaff) 

Find out more about Marsha P Johnson, Sylvia Rivera and the Stonewall riots

4. 1972 – the first Pride march is held in London, attracting around 2000 participants

Today, Pride in London attracts up to a million people, with other Pride events happening throughout the year and across the UK.

March with Stonewall at a 2017 Youth Pride event

5. 1982 – Terry Higgins dies of AIDS in St Thomas’ Hospital

His partner Rupert Whittaker, Martyn Butler and friends set up the Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s first AIDS charity. A year later, the government banned men who have sex with men from donating blood due to the AIDS crisis.

Read about the Terrence Higgins Trust

6. 1988 – Margaret Thatcher introduces Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988

The Act stated that councils should not "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”, meaning teachers couldn’t speak about same-sex relationships with their students. This included students coming out to their teachers or tackling homophobic bullying.

This prompted Sir Ian McKellen to come out as gay on BBC Radio. He formed Stonewall with Michael Cashman CBE, Lisa Power MBE and others to lobby against Section 28 and other barriers to equality.

7. 1992 – the World Health Organisation declassifies same-sex attraction as a mental illness

The specialised agency of the United Nations, established on 7 April 1948 and headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, declassified same-sex attraction as a mental illness.

8. 1996 – a landmark case rules that an employee who was about to transition was wrongfully dismissed

It was the first piece of case law anywhere in the world which prevented discrimination in employment or vocational education against a trans person.

Explore the ‘P vs S and Cornwall County Council' case

9. 1999 – former British National Party member David Copeland bombs the Admiral Duncan, one of Soho’s oldest LGBT bars

The attack killed three and wounded at least 70. Following the attack, a large open air meeting took place in Soho Square and thousands attended. The Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner delivered a speech at the event, marking a turning point in the relationship between the LGBT community and the Metropolitan Police.

Admiral Duncan Soho pub. Photo credit © Ewan Munro

Admiral Duncan Soho pub. (Photo credit © Ewan Munro)

Have a look at the BBC's article from 1999 on the day of the bombing

10. 2004 – the Civil Partnership Act passes, granting civil partnership in the UK

The Act gave same-sex couples the same rights as married opposite-sex couples. Years later in 2013, the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act was passed, legalising same-sex marriages. The Gender Recognition Act also passed in 2004, giving trans people full legal recognition in their appropriate gender. Right now, gender options are still limited to ‘male’ and ‘female’, so non-binary and gender-fluid people are not currently recognised under the Act.

Now that’s what we call a whistle-stop tour through a few points of LGBT history!

This post looked mostly at the UK's LGBT history and there’s much more to learn, so why not take a look at our detailed list of key dates for lesbian, gay, bi and trans equality?