The History of LGBT+ Rights in the UK

The history of LGBT+ rights in the UK, shown through significant milestones and progress points.

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An image of a gay rights movement march in Birmingham circa 1975.

The history of LGBT+ rights in the UK has been a long road of ups and downs that continues to this day, so I wanted to share some significant milestones and progress points that were pivotal moments in the UK's LGBT+ movement.

During the Pre-20th Century:

Homosexuality was criminalized in the UK during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Buggery Act of 1533 made sodomy a capital offense, and subsequent laws further criminalized homosexual acts.


The Sexual Offences Act 1967 partially decriminalised homosexuality for men over 21 in private. However, discrimination and prejudice persisted.

The 1980s - Rise of Activism:

The 1980s saw the emergence of LGBT+ activism, notably with the founding of organizations like Stonewall, (check out their website for more information about Stonewall). The HIV/AIDS epidemic brought attention to LGBT+ issues and led to increased activism and solidarity.

Section 28:

In 1988, Section 28 was introduced, prohibiting the "promotion" of homosexuality in schools. It was a highly controversial and damaging policy.

Into the 2000s - Legal Reforms:

The early 2000s witnessed important legal changes, including the equalisation of the age of consent in 2000 and the repeal of Section 28 in 2003.

Civil Partnerships and Same-Sex Marriage:

Civil partnerships were introduced in 2004, granting legal recognition to same-sex relationships. The Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act was passed in 2013, legalising same-sex marriage in England and Wales. Same-sex marriage was legalised in Scotland in 2014 and in Northern Ireland in 2020, following the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Northern Ireland in 1982.

The Gender Recognition Act (GRA):

The Gender Recognition Act 2004 allowed transgender individuals to obtain legal recognition of their gender. Calls for its reform have arisen in recent years.

Recent Developments:

Efforts continue to address issues like conversion therapy, blood donation restrictions, and better protection for transgender rights.

Recognition and Challenges:

While there has been significant progress in LGBT+ rights, challenges like discrimination, mental health disparities, and access to healthcare persist.

The UK has come a long way in recognizing and protecting the rights of the LGBT+ community, with legal changes reflecting broader societal shifts towards greater acceptance and inclusion.

For the first time in over 200 years, the LGBTQ+ community are officially counted as part of the Census. This data will help us campaign more effectively to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people in different areas of our lives – from improving access to healthcare to tackling homelessness. With our communities now more visible in data, we will be able to better understand the issues facing us regionally and nationally – and campaign for the right solutions, backed up with evidence.

Here are five things which you may have already missed from the initial census data drop!

  1. There are nearly as many bi and pan people as there are lesbian and gay people.
  2. 0.5% of the population have a gender identity that is different from the one they were assigned at birth.
  3. There are 28,000 people in England and Wales who identify as asexual.
  4. LGBTQ+ people live and participate in every part of the country, rural and urban.
  5. Brighton and Hove is the most LGBTQ+ place!

There is so much information and education out there for us to read and gather; you may not identify with the LGBT+ community personally, but maybe you have a friend, classmate, family member who does. Reach out and show your support for one another! Especially on campus please be sure to show each other love… a smile a day can help keep the bad thoughts at bay.

Lastly, from the Union we just want to say our door is always open and feel free to reach out to our advice service for any guidance or help you may require, there’s always a friendly face in and around our Union spaces for you to talk to!

You may find the following resources useful for starting research, or discussion. Note that many of these links are for external sites, and we do not necessarily endorse all findings, nor accept responsibility for content. Please note that terminology around gender and sexual diversity may vary in different disciplines.