Introducing BBGAY+ – a whistle-stop tour of UK legislation impacting LGBT+ people
I am the chair of Bolt Burdon Kemp’s LGBT+ network – “BBGay+”. Over the course of the last eighteen months a select bunch of queer staff and allies have met to socialise, discuss current events and educate themselves and the firm about LGBT+ issues the world over.
In our enlightened times it is easy to forget the level of ignorance and prejudice previous generations have experienced… There is much to be done… but we have come so far.
I recently emailed the firm with a whistle-stop tour of the key pieces of legislation impacting the lives of LGBT+ people in the UK and we thought it might be a good way to introduce the rest of the world to BBGay+ if we shared it on the Bolt Burdon Kemp website… so… here you go!
The snappily named Buggery Act 1533 was passed during the rule of Henry VIII… The first time in English History that a law actively targeted gay men for persecution, The Buggery Act outlawed all sodomy with convictions punishable by death. This law was applied throughout the British Empire – an export of bigotry and hatred causing suffering throughout the world for centuries and still impacting millions of people today.
Some three hundred and twenty eight years later… in the optimistically named Offences Against The Person Act 1861, parliament saw fit to abolish the death penalty for sodomy but…
…before the Victorian LGBT+ crowd could paint their penny-farthings the colours of the rainbow and celebrate their love in the sewage stained streets… parliament thought that they better clarify that all homosexual acts between men were illegal in the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885. This effectively outlawed even an affectionate letter between lovers and was the law that saw Oscar Wilde sent to prison.
Despite parliament’s fixation with making being a gay man illegal, lesbians avoided such scrutiny until the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 1921 – which failed because law makers decided that they didn’t want to “encourage” women to be gay when there were only “a few” lesbians in society.
The language used even by those supporting the insultingly named Sexual Offences Act 1967 would make most liberal minded people wince today… but finally… as the seventies approached… sexual liberation for gay men arrived (as long as you kept it private, alright???).
But… don’t go thinking that the tide had turned… oh no… at the height of the AIDs epidemic with thousands of young men dying… in an act of unfounded bigotry and ignorance the Thatcher government enacted the Local Government Act 1988, section 28 of which outlawed the “promotion of homosexuality” effectively stopping the discussion of anything LGBT+ in schools and impacting the lives (even causing the deaths) of thousands of gay people for years to come… until it was repealed in February 2003(!).
Good news came in the form of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 allowing legal same sex unions for the first time in UK history… and
The Gender Recognition Act 2004 was a step in the right direction for the equality of trans people, giving them full legal recognition of their gender… a law that has come under scrutiny recently with a drive to make self-recognition legal faltering under the current government and discussions over the binary nature of gender not bearing legislative fruit…
The Equality Act 2010 gave LGBT+ employees protection from discrimination, harassment and victimisation at work and…
The Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013 allowed gay people to marry each other for the first time ever!! Woo hoo!!!!
This summary of a few key pieces of legislation does not scratch the surface of the history of gay people… who have always lived and loved despite the evolution of an insane legal structure in England and Britain over the last 500 years.
It is, however, a good snapshot of how ridiculous and divorced from reality the law can be…