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LGBT+ civil rights since 1967

26 February 2021

4 mins

Author: Catherine Armstrong

The previous three blog entries have explored the hidden histories of LGBT+ people in the past and argued that it is important to see the histories of the communities coming under this umbrella as diverse and not reflective of a linear narrative of progression. Nonetheless, it is important to acknowledge that considerable strides towards civil rights have been achieved in recent decades. Following the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain in 1967, grassroots activism increased and community groups became more visible and radical. On both sides of the Atlantic, LGBT+ activists worked with other civil rights campaigns, including those campaigning for African Americans, indigenous people, women and disabled people.

The stark reality of the 1970s was that legal equality had not always produced cultural equality, nor a more accepting society. While gay and trans people became more visible in popular culture, the reality of their lives was often diminished and belittled with resorting to stereotypes. As LGBT+ people became more visible, anxieties from more conservative parts of mainstream society grew and a backlash, suggesting that minorities were attempting to aggressively take over and convert people. This set the movement for equality back considerably. In the UK in the late eighties, the fight over Section 28 exemplifies this struggle. The campaigning organisation Stonewall was founded in response to this legislation which prevented the teaching of LGBT+ lives in schools and harmed a generation of young LGBT+ people who felt marginalised and excluded as a result. Those young people are still feeling the impacts of Section 28 in their adult lives, often manifesting itself as caution and anxiety over expressing their identities. This legislation was not repealed until 2000 in Scotland and 2003 in England and Wales.

Some parts of society such as mainstream elite and grassroots sport have been slow to welcome LBGT people, encouraging a culture of fear of disclosure. On the positive side, this exclusion and fear has led to the creation of a large number of LGBT+ friendly sports clubs, which have offered safe spaces to those wishing to participate in individual and team sports while not denying or hiding their sexual or gender preferences. Work continues to make mainstream sport more LGBT+ friendly, especially focusing on transgender and non-binary people who face the most hostility in sports spaces.

In the 21st century, the struggle goes on. The emergence of powerful far right populist leaders, intent on appealing to their base by rolling back many of the civil rights acquired by marginalised groups, shows that progress is not always one way. For example in Poland last year, over 100 towns and regions – a third of the country – declared themselves to be LGBT ideology free zones, depicting campaigns for LGBT+ rights as a threat to family life. Trans people have had to fight for their right to be recognised and acknowledged, often on the challenging battlefields of social media.  Ironically, those seeking to deny them often cloak their hate speech in the language of defending the rights of ‘real’ women. Legal fights for trans civil rights continue in 2021, for example around self-certification for the Gender Recognition Certificate. But the range of trans and non-binary experience, represented by figures such as Paris Lees, Jack Monroe, Sam Smith and Eddie Izzard, has led to an increasing visibility of trans and non-binary people and is changing the way that many people think for the better, as well as acting as role models for LGBT+ youth seeking guidance and reassurance about the validity of their own life journeys.

Further reading

Finding out : an introduction to LGBT studies / Deborah T. Meem, Michelle A. Gibson, Jonathan F. Alexander.

Gay histories and cultures : an encyclopedia / George E. Haggerty, editor ; John Beynon, Douglas Eisner, assistant editors.

Lesbian histories and cultures : an encyclopedia / Bonnie Zimmerman, editor.

Playing with fire : queer politics, queer theories / edited by Shane Phelan.

Pride : the story of the LGBTQ equality movement / Matthew Todd

Queer sites : gay urban histories since 1600 / edited by David Higgs.

Sporting gender the history, science, and stories of transgender and intersex athletes. / Joanne Harper. (E-book)

The Third pink book : a global view of lesbianand gay liberation and oppression / edited by Aart Hendriks, Rob Tielman, and Evert van der Veen.

Transgender history/ Susan Stryker. (E-book)

The transgender studies reader 2 / edited by Susan Stryker and Aren Z. Aizura.

Transgender warriors : making history from Joan of Arc to RuPaul / Leslie Feinberg.

The way out : a history of homosexuality in modern Britain / Sebastian Buckle.

We are everywhere : historical sourcebook in gay and lesbian politics / edited by Mark Blasius and Shane Phelan.

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Posts and articles from the Loughborough University LGBT+ staff network

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