A timeline of LGBT+ History

To celebrate LGBT+ History Month have created a timeline of LGBT+ events throughout history and highlighted influential LGBT+ people. We hope this blog inspires you to learn about LGBT+ history both individually and as a WI group.

Please note this timeline contains language that was used at the time stated, but that may now be considered offensive.

The term LGBTQIA+ is also used and this means Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer / Questioning, Intersexed, Asexual / Agender / Ally.

The WI logo in the colours of the Pride flag

  1. Ancient civilizations

    • Sappho (620 – 570 BC)

    Sappho, a great poet, wrote romantic poetry about women. She lived on the Greek island Lesbos which is where the word lesbian originated from.

    • Alexander the Great (356 – 323 BC)

    Alexander the Great is regarded as one of the greatest military commanders of all time. He was always accompanied by his general, bodyguard, and supposed lover Hephaestion.

    • Hadrian (76 – 138 BC)

    The Roman emperor Hadrian was married to a woman but was in love with a young man named Antinous. When Antinous drowned in the River Nile, the city of Antinopolis was built in his honour by Hadrian.

  2. The 1500s onwards

    • The Buggery Act 1533

    This was the first English Act of Parliament outlawing homosexual activity between men. This was part of the effort to move power from the Roman Catholic Church to King Henry VIII and the King’s Courts.

    • 1785: Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832)

    In 1785 Jeremy Bentham, who developed Utilitarianism, wrote a pamphlet arguing that sodomy (anal intercourse between men) should be decriminalised. This was never published.

    • Anne Lister (1791 – 1840)

    Now known as the first modern lesbian, Anne was a wealthy landowner who was well known for always dressing in black and not adhering to the stereotypical feminine fashions. She became known as Gentleman Jack. Anne kept diaries that included a secret code detailing her passionate love affairs with women.

    • The Ladies of Llangollen and their 18th-century porcelain chocolate cups (1739 – 1831)

    Lady Eleanor Butler (1739 – 1829) and Sarah Ponsonby (1755 – 1831), known as the Ladies of Llangollen, had a remarkable relationship. They secretly fled their families in Ireland and set up home together in North Wales. The diaries of Anne Lister also documented a visit to the Ladies of Llangollen in 1822. The chocolate cups were owned by the couple and the view of the house where they lived together for 50 years features on one side.

    • 1835: The last execution for sodomy takes place

    After this, judges gave sentences of imprisonment rather than death. The death penalty is removed for buggery in 1861 by the Offences Against the Person Act.

    • 1885: Gross indecency laws

    The Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 created a new offence punishable by up to two years imprisonment for ‘any male who, in public or private’ who committed ‘an act of gross indecency with another male person’. Gross indecency was not defined.

    • 1895: Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900)

    In 1895, The Importance of Being Earnest was first performed. In the same year, the Marquess of Queensbury accused Oscar Wilde of being a ‘sodomite’. He was concerned about Wilde's relationship with his son Lord Alfred Douglas. Oscar Wilde sued Queensbury for criminal libel. The jury found for Queensbury and Oscar Wilde was then charged with gross indecency, convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment.

Did you know in late 19th century Britain, some men – including Oscar Wilde – would wear a green carnation as a symbol of their sexuality?

    • 1921: Gross indecency between women

    In 1921 the House of Lords rejected a proposed new offence of acts of gross indecency between women which had been included in the Criminal Law Amendment Bill.

    • 1928: The Well of Loneliness

    The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall was published in which the main character was a lesbian. The novel was held to be obscene and copies were destroyed.

    • 1952: Civil Service

    In 1952 there was an attempt to remove homosexuals from the Civil Services and Public Office.

    • The Sexual Offences Act 1956

    This Act decriminalised homosexuality between men over the age of 21 but this did not apply to the Navy, Armed Forces, Scotland, or Northern Ireland. Buggery and gross indecency were not actually removed from the Act, meaning men could still be prosecuted for these actions.

    In 1967 buggery and gross indecency between men was decriminalised so long as they were over 21 and the act took place in private.

    • 1960s: Anthony Edgar Gartside Wright known as Antony Grey (1927 – 2010)

    Antony Grey was the secretary of the Homosexual Law Reform Society which was formed to support calls to implement the Wolfenden Report (this report recommended that homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence). When he died in 2010, Pink News described him as Britain’s first gay-rights activist.

    • 1963: The Minorities Research Group is founded

    This was the UK’s first lesbian social and political organisation.

Did you know in the 1950s lesbians would sometimes wear a pinky ring as a signifier of their sexuality? This sign dates back to the Victorian times when this would signify that you were uninterested in marriage.

    • 1966: The Beaumont Society is founded

    The Beaumont Society, a national self-help organisation run by and for the trans community, is founded in the UK.

    • 1969: The Stonewall Riots

    On 28 June 1969 the Stonewall Inn, a small LGBTQ+ bar in New York City, was raided by eight police officers. This was not an unusual occurrence and usually people had no choice but to surrender to the police, but this time they fought back. This is considered the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement. You can find out more about this here: https://www.stonewall.org.uk/about-us/news/stonewall-uprising-50-years-lgbt-history

    • 1970: The first Pride march is held in the US

    This was held to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and Pride marches are now held around the world each year.

Did you know in the 20th century ‘polari’– a form of slang – was used by members of the LGBT+ community so that they could speak to each other in a coded language? For example, ‘riah’ meant ‘hair’, and ‘dolly’ meant ‘pretty’.

    • 1972: Gay Pride rally is held in London

    In 1972 Gay News (a fortnightly newspaper) was formed between members of the Gay Liberation Front and members of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE), and the first UK Gay Pride rally was held in London with 1,000 people attending.

    • 1975: The Naked Civil Servant

    The Naked Civil Servant – a film focusing on the life of a homosexual man – was shown on prime-time television.

    • 1980s: HIV and AIDS

    Many gay and bisexual men began to show signs of the illness in the early 1980s but no one knew what it was. The illness spread quickly leading to many deaths. The LGBTQ+ community faced prejudice and homophobia as the illness was labelled as the ‘gay plague’, despite facts showing it had not originated from gay men or only infected gay men.

    The NFWI was one of the first organisations to talk about HIV and AIDS following its 1986 resolution ‘to inform the general public of the true facts concerning the disease AIDS’ and used its unrivalled network of local organisations to educate the public and get people talking about the issue.

Did you know that now most people who are HIV-positive do not progress to having AIDS? Prescribed medication can keep the level of HIV low, reduce the likelihood of AIDS, and lower the risk of transmission.

    • 1988: “Section 28” – Talking about homosexuality in schools is prohibited

    Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 forbids ‘the intentional promotion of homosexuality’ by local authorities and ‘the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’. This was repealed in Scotland in 2001 and in England and Wales in 2003.

    • 1989: Stonewall is formed

    Stonewall is formed to campaign against Section 28 (above).

    • 1990: Oranges are Not the Only Fruit

    This BBC TV drama was an adaptation of the 1985 novel of the same name by Jeanette Winterson.  The show follows the life of Jess, a girl growing up in a Pentecostal evangelical household in Accrington, Lancashire, England in the 1970s, who comes to understand that she is a lesbian. The series caused controversy when shown due to the lesbian sex scenes.

    • 1994: Age of consent is reduced

    Age of consent for gay men is reduced to 18. This is now the same as for heterosexual couples.  In the same year, Brookside has a lesbian kiss scene and Save the Children dropped Sandi Toksvig as presenter of their 75th-anniversary celebrations after she came out as a lesbian.

    • 1995: Mermaids is founded

    Mermaids is the UK charity for young trans people. Find out more here.

    • 1999: Trans Day of Remembrance begins

    On the one-year anniversary of the murder of Rita Hester, a Black trans woman, the annual Trans Day of Remembrance was set up to recognise and remember all victims of transphobia and violence.

    • 2001: The age of consent is equalised

    Following the case of Sutherland v UK 1997 which went to the European Court on Human Rights, the age of consent is equalised to 16.

    • 2004: Civil partnerships are legalised  

    The Civil Partnership Act 2004 permitted same-sex couples to become civil partners. This was altered to include opposite-sex couples in 2019.

    • The Gender Recognition Act 2004

    This Act allowed trans people to have their true gender recognised in law.

    • 2005: Jody Dobrowski (1981 – 2005)

    Jody, a gay man, is murdered in a homophobic attack on Clapham Common in London. The prosecution of his killers set a precedent in the UK as it was the first time a judge applied tougher prison sentences for killers who committed an LGBTQ+ hate crime.

    • The Adoption and Children Act 2002

    This Act came into force in 2005 allowing unmarried couples (whether the same or different sexes) to adopt.

    • 2008: IVF parents

    Section 42 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 included provision that where a child is born to a lesbian couple by means of in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), the civil partner of the mother will be presumed to be the parent of the child.

Did you know London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern is one of the oldest LGBTQ+ social spaces in the UK? It began hosting drag shows around the time of WW2. In 2015 the building was the first in the UK to be given protection by Historic England for its importance in LGBTQ+ history.

      • 2014: Same-sex marriage is legalised

      The Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013 came into force 13 March 2014 with the first ceremonies taking place in England and Wales on 29 March 2014.

      • 2016: The UK Parliament has 40 out LGBT MPs

      This is the most of any parliament in the world at the time. In 2017, this rose to 45.

      • 2016: The Stonewall Inn is declared a National Monument

      This is the first US National Monument commemorating the LGBTQ+ rights movement.

      • 2017: The ‘Alan Turing Law’ is passed

      This allows pardons for men convicted of ‘buggery’ and other historical homosexual sex offences. Alan Turing, a pioneer of modern computing, was convicted of gross indecency in 1952 for being gay and was posthumously pardoned in 2013. 50,000 men were pardoned posthumously, but as of 2018 only around 200 living men had received a pardon.

      • 2020: Same-sex marriage becomes legal in Northern Ireland (NI) on 13 January

      Belfast couple Robyn Peoples and Sharni Edwards become the first same-sex couple to marry in NI in February.

    Want to know more?

    Below, you will find some of Simon Gregor's (Denman at Home tutor) personal resource recommendations. Simon’s choices include the film “Beautiful Thing”, the TV series “Queer as Folk” and the play “Angels in America”. He also told us that he has been inspired by public figures like actor Ian McKellen and author Michael Cashman whose book is listed below.

    WI members can check out our Pride 2020 celebrations blog on My WI for more information, resources, a glossary of terms, and Pride quiz.

    If you are interested in becoming a member of the WI, please visit www.thewi.org.uk/become-a-member.


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