Stonewall Season: 50 years of inspiration to keep fighting for LGBT rights

Posted by Martha Spurrier on 06 October 2017

It’s been 50 years since the Sexual Offences Act decriminalised homosexual sex between men aged over 21 – and LGBT rights have come a long way since then.

This week, as part of Stonewall Season, we’re celebrating the progress made over those decades as inspiration to keep fighting – because that work is far from finished.

In fact, as the Government grants ministers unprecedented new powers to rewrite our laws after Brexit, we face the grim prospect of a rollback on those rights.

This year, Liberty client John Walker won a victory for the pension rights of same-sex couples across the UK – but the ruling was made under EU law. We’ve been pushing the Government to promise it won’t reintroduce this injustice after Brexit – but have heard nothing but silence.

And, as Stonewall’s recent LGBT in Britain report showed all too starkly, LGBT people still face shocking levels of hate crime and discrimination today.

One in five LGBT people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in the last year. Among trans people, that figure is two in five.

Northern Ireland still hasn’t introduced same-sex marriage. Trans people still live with serious legal inequalities.

Our Government still deports LGBT asylum seekers back to countries where they face punishment and persecution.

But drawing on past progress can help us win future battles – and Liberty’s members have played a key part in the fight over the years.

1967: The Sexual Offences Act decriminalises homosexual acts between two men aged over 21 in private in England and Wales.

1972: Police harassment of gay men

Liberty – then known as the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) – begins a survey of police harassment of gay men.

1975: Rights at work

The NCCL establishes the right of a lesbian midwife to become a health visitor, appealing to the local health authority on the behalf of Veronica Pickles.

1980: Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act decriminalises homosexual acts between two men over 21 years of age in private in Scotland.

1982: Homosexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 1982 decriminalises homosexual acts between two men over 21 years of age in private in Northern Ireland after a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.

1982: Protesting the BBC

The NCCL holds a demonstration against the BBC giving excessive air time to homophobic views.

1984: Gay’s the Word

The NCCL acts for LGBT bookshop Gay’s the Word after customs and excise officers confiscate all their imported books and charged staff with “conspiracy to import indecent or obscene material” – such as works by Oscar Wilde and Tennessee Williams.

All charges are eventually dropped and the confiscated stock returned.

1989: Section 28

When the Government bans the “promotion of homosexuality” in schools, Liberty produces Section 28: a practical guide to the Law and its Implications. The clause was repealed in 2003.

2000: Armed Forces

Graeme Grady and Jeanette Smith are dismissed from the British Armed Forces under the Ministry of Defence policy that "homosexuality, whether male or female, is considered incompatible with service in the armed forces".  

Liberty takes on their case, and the European Court of Human Rights rules that both their dismissal and the intrusive investigations that preceded them violated their rights. The law is changed later that year.

2001: The age of consent for homosexual acts is lowered to 16 after a ruling by the European Commission of Human Rights and several attempts by the House of Lords to block the change.

2004: Civil partnerships are introduced for same-sex couples, giving them most of the rights married heterosexual couples have.

2004: The Gender Recognition Act gives trans people legal recognition of their (male or female) gender.

2007: The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) regulations become law, making discrimination against lesbians and gay men in the provision of goods and services illegal.

2010: Child support discrimination

Liberty’s client JM had been required to pay more in child support because her lesbian relationship was not recognised under rules that resulted in people in heterosexual relationships paying less.

The European the Court of Human Rights rules that treating JM differently on the grounds of her sexuality breaches her rights.

2012: B&B discrimination

Michael Black and John Morgan are refused a room at a Berkshire bed and breakfast because they are a gay couple.

Liberty takes their case, leading to a ruling that the couple had suffered unlawful discrimination.

2014: Same-sex marriage becomes legal in England and Wales, and equivalent legislation is passed in Scotland by the end of the year.

2017: Pension rights

John Walker fought through the courts for years to overturn an exemption in the Equality Act which let employers exclude same-sex partners from spousal benefits paid into pension funds before December 2005.

Liberty represented John all the way up to the Supreme Court, which ruled it was discriminatory under EU law, and struck it down.

Stonewall is asking everyone to Come Out for LGBT and hold an event for equality. Find out how you can get involved.

Help Liberty keep pushing for equality in the UK by joining us today.

Martha Spurrier

Martha Spurrier

Liberty
Director