Securing an equal age of consent for gay and bi men was a long process and provoked ugly debates grounded in harmful stereotypes.
Since 1967, the UK’s age of consent had been set at 21, even though for opposite-sex couples the age of consent was 16. In 1991, 169 men who’d had sex with another man were convicted of underage sex in England and Wales, and 13 of them sent to prison.
On 5 April 1993, Stonewall backed three young gay men - Hugo Greenhalgh, William Parry and Ralph Wilde - at the European Court. It was argued that the law banning ‘homosexual acts’ was a breach of their human rights and interfered with their private lives. The date was a significant one in LGBT history as it was the 98th anniversary of Oscar Wilde’s arrest in London, which later led to his prosecution and imprisonment for sexual acts with another man.
In 1994, the age of consent for men who have sex with men was reduced to 18 – a compromise Stonewall would continue to challenge until an equal age of consent was finally secured in 2001. Northern Ireland’s age of consent was set at 16 in 2008, in line with the rest of the United Kingdom.