LGBT History 1800 - 2014



A brief timeline of LGBT history in the UK from 1800 onwards.

We start at 1800 to limit the discussion to a period where LGBT history is better documented, there’s no doubt that LGBT history in the British Isles goes back for at least as long as they’ve been inhabited, but the evidence is understandably lacking, it’s usually no better than gossip, slander or historical revisionism from a competing royal lineage.

King John II may well have been a gay man that was murdered for his preferences by way of the insertion of a red hot poker up his bum – but there’s no evidence for this. Richard II likewise may have slept with the King of France, or more likely this was a malicious rumour. The same for James I (VI Scot.)

It’s also true that due to differing societal values, there’s comparatively little recorded of lesbian history before more modern times, bisexual were, and still largely are ignored unless discovered by the law – and the trans community has relatively little recorded history, as they tended to be lumped in with everyone else. It should also be noted that for most of the history that we do have, it focusses largely on the upper-middle and aristocratic classes.

At this starting point – there are no laws against homosexual relations between women. The buggery laws, which replaced the ecclesiastical courts, had be at various times introduced and repealed, outlaw the act of anal intercourse, the sentence is death, any other homosexual act was charged as either attempted buggery, sodomy, or attempted sodomy, at various times punished by death or another severe punishments, almost always including the loss of land, title, property and chattel. The mode of death depended on the social class of the individual and the time period in which they lived.


• Buggery Act 1533 repealed, replaced by Offences against the Person Act (1828), buggery remains a capital offence.
• The death penalty for buggery is abolished, a total of 8921 men had been prosecuted since 1806 for sodomy with 404 sentenced to death and 56 executed.
• Marriage legally defined as being between a man and a woman.
• An attempted amendment to the Criminal Law Amendment Act to classify homosexual acts between women as ‘gross indecency’ is defeated in the Lords.
• The Sexual Offences Act 1956 is the first time sexual assault on a woman by another woman is recognised in English and Welsh law.
• Leo Abse and Roy Jenkins, both of Labour introduced the Sexual Offences Bill 1967. It sought to decriminalise consentual homosexual acts between men over the age of 21, in private places in England and Wales.
• The Sexual Offences Act 1967 became law on 27th July 1967.
The Gay Rights Movement
• The Nullity of Marriage Act is passed, explicitly banning marriage between two persons of the same biological sex.
• Homosexuality is decriminalised in Scotland, in line with the conditions imposed in England and Wales.
• Following an EHCR ruling the law in Northern Ireland is changed in line with that of the rest of the UK.
• Kenneth Clarke enacts emergency legislation to detain persons with AIDs against their will.

• Following the speech given at the previous years party conference, the government enacted Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988.

Under the Act no Local Authority - "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship".

No-one was ever prosecuted under this section of the Act, but it lead to intense self censorship in public organisations before its repeal, homosexuality for all intents and purposes ceased to exist within the public sector, the damage it did is incalculable. Attacks on the LGBT reached a fever-pitch.
• Edwina Curry campaigns to have the age of consent for homosexual relations reduced from 21 to 16, she lost, but a compromise was found at 18.

• Jersey decriminalises homosexuality.
• The Isle of Mann repeals their sodomy laws, but homosexuality remains illegal until 1994.
• The Labour Party attempt to lower the age of consent to parity, but are overturned by the Lords.
• The Labour Party again attempt to gain parity, but are prevented by the Lords.
• Following an ECHR case, the ban on homosexuals serving in the armed forces is defacto lifted (contrary to statements at the time, it doesn’t appear to have affected the MoDs inability to win a war).
• The Labour Party attempt to repeal Section 28, but are defeated by a coalition of the Conservatives, the Bishops and the Lords.
• Scotland, however repeal their domestic version of Section 28.
• The government uses the Parliament Acts to overrule the House of Lords and equalises the age of consent, while decriminalising sex between more than two participants.
• Same sex couples are given the equal right to adopt.
• Section 28 is repealed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
• It becomes illegal to discriminate against Lesbians, Gays or Bisexuals in the workplace.
• Civil partnerships become law.
• The Gender Recognition Act becomes law, allowing trans people to alter their birth certificate and be treated as their gender for all intents, including marriage.
• The Equalities Act 2006 makes it an offence to discriminate in the provision of goods and services to persons on grounds of sexual orientation is given royal assent.
• The above comes into effect.
• Treatment of lesbian women and their children is equalised in terms of fertility treatment.
• Gay men in England, Wales and Scotland are allowed to give blood, providing they haven’t had sex within the past 12 months.
• The Coalition government spend years pushing through legislation to enable same sex marriage, against widespread party opposition – the Act finally becomes law in 2014, marking complete legal equity between homosexual and heterosexual couples.


• First phaloplasty performed on a trans male.
• Roberta Cowell recieves the first male-to-female surgery.
• Scotland Yard is among other police forces in cracking down on prostitution and homosexual activity, in line with the moral panic over a loss of morality in post-war Britain and in light of several spy scandals. Undercover police officers would solicit sex in public spaces and arrest anyone that was mildly receptive for gross indecency. A general crackdown on LGBT persons holding jobs within the public sector was launched.

• The arrests Pitt-Rivers/Wildeblood of the upper echelons of British society and caused a scandal that so embarrassed the establishment that it was decided some decisive action had to be taken, the only question was what.
• Wildeblood et al. Are found guilty, Maxwell-Fyfe agrees to appoint a committee to discover the extent of the moral decay and make recommendations on actions to take.
• The report commonly known as the Wolfenden Report is issued, the report recommends the decriminalisation of prostitution and homosexual acts in private. This provoked and immediate backlash.
• The Lord Arran, like many before him over the previous years since Wolfenden proposes a motion that homosexual acts between men should be decriminalised, a survey of the public at the time suggests that 93% of those polled found homosexuality to be an illness to be treated and not a moral failing to be punished.
• Humphrey Berkely, a Conservative MP, and openly gay submits a private members bill to decriminalise homosexual acts between men. It reached the stage of second reading, but falls upon the dissolution of parliament. Berklely loses his seat in this election.
• In the year following the passing of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, police arrests for homosexual activity increased to the levels last seen in 1954, attacks on gay men, and murders increased exponentially, but were rarely reported as such.
• The first gay rights group ‘The Campaign for Homosexual Equality’ is founded.
• Buoyed by the change in legislation and by the Stone Wall Riots of the previous year in the US, the Gay Liberation Front is formed by students at the LSE.
• Campaigns against the permissive society, led by those including Mary Whitehouse begin – the GLF interrupt their ‘Festival of Light’.
• Lesbian groups storm the stage at Women’s Lib conference in Skegness to demand equality within the movement.
• The first Gay Pride parade is held in London on 1st July.
• Gay News is published for the first time.
• The first UK AIDS patient is admitted to the Brompton Hospital, he died 10 days later.
• The Terrence Higgins Trust is founded.
• Britain has 17 AIDS cases.
• Christ Smith, of Labour comes out and becomes the first openly gay MP in parliament.
• The First Bisexual rights group is founded.
• Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners.
• Britain has 108 cases of AIDS, with 46 deaths.
• AIDS becomes a pandemic, the stigma surrounding AIDS increases, gay bashes increases.
• Press reporting on the pandemic is misleading and bigoted, the ‘Gay Plague’, and ‘I’d shoot my son if he had AIDS, says vicar’ are two famous examples.
• Margaret Thatcher, who’d voted in favour of decriminalisation in 1967, gave a speech in support of ‘traditional family values’, in it she’s quoted as saying ‘Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay’.
• The first dedicated HIV ward was opened by Princess Diana of Wales, she caused a minor sensation by interacting with HIV sufferers without protective equipment.
• AZT, an experimental drug for the treatment of HIV/AIDS first becomes available.
• The Lighthouse, the first dedicated residential centre for AIDS sufferers is opened by princess Margaret.
• Stonewall is set up to fight to oppose Section 28.

• In response to the high profile murders of several gay men, the group Outrage is formed.
• The Lesbian & Gay Police Association is formed.
• The first Manchester pride takes place.
• The first pride parade in Northern Ireland takes place.

• The first of the experimental anti-retrovirual drugs become available, making AIDS no longer a certain death sentence.
• The Admiral Duncan pub is blown up by the neo-nazi David Copeland. Three are killed and seventy are wounded.
• The Lighthouse is merged in to the Terrance Higgins Trust
• HIV charities shrink as effective treatment now exists.
• The first civil partnership takes place at 11:00 on 5th December.
• Pope Benedict the condemns UK equality legislation etc etc.
• Christ Grayling believed that it should be legal for businesses to refuse service on the grounds of sexual orientation, causing him to be passed over for the role of justice secretary in the coalition government.

Justice System

• Last two men to be put to death for buggery are hanged on November 27th of this year.
James Pratt and John Smith - Wikipedia
• The Boulton Park Trial, defendants no guilty, cross dressing not in itself sodomy.
Boulton and Park - Wikipedia
• The Cleveland Street Scandal shakes high society.
Cleveland Street scandal - Wikipedia
• The Oscar Wilde Trial sets the legal tone for the next several decades.
Oscar Wilde - Wikipedia
Homosexuality, which at this point had been silently tolerated in high society is now in the open, this leads to a wave of repression and prosecutions.
• George Bedborough is convicted of obscenity for selling a copy of Ellis’s ‘Studies in Psychology’.
• A landmark case found that a trans person could not legally marry and that a gender on a birth certificate could not be changed.
• The European Court of Human Rights rules that the prohibition on consenting acts between adults in Northern Ireland is unlawful .
• Operation Spanner leads to the criminalisation of consensual acts of BDSM in the UK.
• The ECHR find the disparity in ages of consent unlawful.
• The Bolton7 were convicted under the Sexual Offences Act 1957 for acts that would otherwise have been legal if they were heterosexual.
• The Supreme Court in an immigration case finds ‘To compel a homosexual person to pretend that his sexuality does not exist or suppress the behaviour by which to manifest itself is to deny him the fundamental right to be who he is’.

Media & Arts
• Carmilla is published, the first book to feature and openly lesbian character, even if they were a vampire.
• Havelock Ellis publishes ‘Sexual Inversion’, the first part in a series on the physchology of sexuality, this volume argued that homosexuality was not a disease to be treated, and could be found throughout the animal kingdom. The book was banned for obscenity until 1936.
• The transgender writer Irene Clyde publishes ‘Beatrice the Sixteenth’
• ITV broadcasts the first gay drama.
• ‘Victim’ becomes the first film in the English language to use the word ‘homosexual’.

• Quentin Crisp’s film the ‘Naked Civil Servant’ is released.


• James Barry, a distinguished army doctor, was found upon his death to have the anatomy of a woman.
• George Cecil Ives organises the first homosexual rights groups in England (the Order of Chaeronea).
• Dr Helen Boyle and Mabel Jones, set up the first women-run general practice in Brighton.
Boyle also founded the ‘National Council for Mental Hygiene’ – known today as MIND.
• Dr Louisa Martindale, a lesbian, set up a private practice in brighton. Along with other Brghton feminists she championed the creation of the New Susses Hospital for Women and Children, where she was the senior surgeon. She later developed novel treatments for cervical cancer, and courted controversy by publishing openly on the topic of venereal disease.
• Gay poet W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood first meet at boarding school.
• British athletic champion, Mark Weston transitioned from female to male.
• Alan Turing, the father of modern computing commits suicide on the 7th of June by biting in to an apple dosed in cyanide, he was 41. His mother never believed the official account of events. For many years his only lasting memorial was a stretch of a ringroad named ‘Alan Turing Way’.
• The first openly lesbian MP, Maureen Colquhoun, comes out and is immediately shunned by her party.
• Ian McKellen comes out as gay on BBC Radio 3, in response to Section 28.
• Justin Fashanu becomes the first openly gay footballer, but sadly commits suicide.
• Freddie Mercury announces he has AIDS, he dies the following day.
• Kenny Everett and Holly Johnson announce they have AIDS. Everett dies in 1995.
• Colin Ireland is sentenced for the murder of five gay men.
• Save the Children dropped Sani Toksvig as an ambassador after she came out, but were forced to backtrack by the ‘Lesbian Avengers’.
• Derek Jarman dies of AIDS.
• Angela Eagle is the first MP to voluntary come out.
• Lord Ali becomes the first openly gay member of the House of Lords.
• Stephen Twigg became the first openly gay MP to be elected by an electorate that knew he was gay.
• Jody Debrowski is murdered in a homophobic attack on Clapham Common.
• Chris Smith becomes the first MP to admit they have HIV.
• Michael Causer dies at the age of 18 after a homophobic assault.
• Gordon Brown apologises on behalf of the British Government for the treatment of Alan Turing.
• David Cameron apologises for (Section 28 amongst others).

• Gareth Thomas becomes the first openly gay top level team sportsman to come out.


Staff member
Nov 1, 2013
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Cheshire, England
So many facts.....
I had no idea that it was Edwina Currie who championed the reduction in the age of consent


Staff member
Nov 10, 2009
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This is amazing. Thank you, I have read several sections but will be doing more reading over the forthcoming weeks.