February is LGBT History Month. This is a time for celebrating our past and looking to the future. The Sexual Offences Act 1967, the main focus of this year’s LGBT History Month, was a turning point, decriminalising sex between gay men. But what have the last 50 years meant for gay women? The 1967 Act allowed the LGBT rights movement, as a whole, to develop. There has been a collaborative process which has enabled the LGBT community to create change. Gay women, however, have their own vibrant history and identity.
Gay women in politics and the media are more influential and visible today than ever before. Over the last decade, in particular, there has been an emphasis on moving away from stereotyping gay men and gay women. LGBT people are beautiful in their diversity and great female role models, reflecting this, are emerging. My top ten things which have created change for gay women are:
- The founding of the Gay Liberation Front in the UK. This took place in 1970, partly in response to the previous year’s Stonewall riots in the USA.
- Stonewall, the UK’s leading LGBT charity, was set up in 1989.
- In 1997, Angela Eagle became the first MP to voluntarily come out as a lesbian.
- In 2000, Section 28 was repealed in Scotland and then, in 2003, in England and Wales. Section 28 had banned the discussion of LGBT relationships in schools.
- The Civil Partnership Act 2004 gave gay female couples the same legal rights as married heterosexual couples.
- From 2005, gay female couples were allowed to adopt. Only 14 countries globally allow same-sex couples to legally adopt.
- The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 gave gay women access to IVF on the same terms as heterosexual couples.
- In 2013, with the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, gay women were free to marry.
- Worldwide, we have the highest representation of LGBT people in our legislative assembly, with over 30 out MPs. Angela Eagle recently made a bid to become leader of the Labour Party. Justine Greening, the Education Secretary, is an out gay woman. In Scotland, the Conservative and Labour leaders are both out gay women. We still need to work on female representation in politics, but some of the most high profile political figures in the UK are gay women.
- There are diverse role models, ranging from Hollywood’s Ellen DeGeneres to the Christian Vicky Beeching.
Over the last 50 years, as for the rest of the LGBT community, there has been a revolution for gay women. Gay men, gay women and women generally, cannot be complacent. There is still a lot of work to be done. That said, there is much for gay women to celebrate. If you’d like to find out more about LGBT History Month, as a gay woman or as a straight ally, you can check out the wide range of events taking place at www.lgbthistorymonth.org.uk.