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Celebrating LGBT+ History Month

In many ways, it’s a great time to be part of the LGBT+ community.

It’s increasingly normal to see same-sex couples holding hands in public. We now celebrate marriage between two people of the same sex. Being transgender is no longer deemed a 'disorder'.

And yet, recent months have seen divisive arguments about the role of LGBT+ teaching in children's education, and a survey released last month suggests that more than two-thirds of LGBT+ people in the UK have been sexually harassed at work. LGBT+ people can also face an increased risk of mental health problems.

There’s a lot left to fight for.

Extraordinary people through history that have battled for gay rights

As LGBT+ History throughout February let’s remember some of the extraordinary people who have battled for gay rights.


Alan Turing: Mathematician who cracked the enigma code

Alan Turing

Alan Turing was not a well known figure during his lifetime, but today he is famous and celebrated for the crucial part he played in the victory over Nazi Germany in WW2.

Turing was a mathematician who cracked something called the Enigma code, which is thought to have shortened the war by several years.

He was also a victim of mid-20th Century attitudes to homosexuality and in 1952 was arrested because being homosexual was illegal in Britain at this time.

In 2013 he was pardoned for this 'crime', and in 2017 the government agreed to officially pardon men accused of 'crimes' like this, meaning they will no longer have a criminal record.

This pardoning has come to be known as the Alan Turing law.

In 2019 Turing was named the most "iconic" figure of the 20th Century and his face now appears on the £50 note.

Oscar Wilde: Famous playwright

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde is one of the famous playwrights of all time, in fact, you might even have studied 'The Importance of Being Earnest' - one of his most famous plays - at school.

He was married to a woman and had two sons, but was later accused of being homosexual. After details of his private life were revealed during a court case had started, he was arrested and tried for gross indecency. 

He was sentenced to two years of hard labour, and his wife took their children to Switzerland.

His time in prison severely affected his health and once he was released he spent the rest of his life in Europe.

Maureen Colquhoun

Maureen Colquhoun

Maureen Colquhoun was the first openly lesbian MP, as well as the first openly LGBT MP.

When she was first elected, Maureen was married to a man and the couple lived in Sussex with their three children, but in 1976 she moved to London to live with her new partner who was a woman.

Although she hadn't spoken publically about being gay, a newspaper found out and printed the news against her will. Afterwards, she was deselected by her party, and although she still managed to stand in the election, she lost her seat to the Conservative candidate.

Marsha P. Johnson: African American transgender rights activist

Marsha P Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson was an African American transgender-rights activist, whose work in the 1960s and 1970s had a huge impact on the LGBT+ community.

At this time, being gay was classified as a mental illness in the United States. Gay people were regularly threatened and beaten by police, and were shunned by many in society.

In June 1969, when Marsha was 23 years old, police raided a gay bar in New York called The Stonewall Inn. The police forced over 200 people out of the bar and onto the streets, and then used excessive violence against them.

Marsha, who was living and working in New York at the time, was one of the key figures who stood up to the police during the raids.

Marsha resisted arrest, but in the following days, led a series of protests and riots demanding rights for gay people.

News of these protests spread around the world, inspiring others to join protests and rights groups to fight for equality.

Alan Horsfall: The grandfather of teh gay rights movement

Alan Horsfall

These days he's often called the grandfather of the gay rights movement, for openly campaigning as a gay man when homosexuality was still illegal.

In 1964 Allan Horsfall and a group of friends set up the North West Homosexual Law Reform Committee, even giving out his home address as the base for the organisation. To be so open at that time was very brave.

It became the first campaigning organisation outside of London set up and run by gay men, and its work directly led to homosexuality no longer being illegal.

Later the North West Committee was transformed into the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE), which was the largest LGBT organisation there has ever been in the UK, with more than 5,000 members and 120 local groups all over the country when it was at its biggest.

It's role in the removal of the stigma of criminality from homosexuality remained his crowning achievement.

Phyll Opoku-Gyimah: British LGBT+ rights activist and anti-racism campaigner

Phyll Opoku-Gyimah

Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, better known as Lady Phyll, is a British LGBT+ rights activist and anti-racism campaigner.

She is the co-founder of UK Black Pride, which began in 2005 as a day trip to Southend-on-Sea in England. It now attracts nearly 8,000 people every year.

Lady Phyll created the event to promote unity and co-operation among all LGBT+ people of African, Asian, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and Latin American descent in the UK, as well as their friends and families.

She is also the Executive Director of the charity Kaleidoscope Trust, which campaigns for the human rights of LGBT+ people in countries around the world where they are discriminated against.

Magnus Hirschfeld: The father of transgenderism

Magnus Hirschfield

Hirschfeld is believed to have coined the term ‘transvestitism’.

He established the world’s first gender identity clinic, whose clients included Einar Wegener (the protagonist of 2015’ The Danish Girl, who transitioned to become Lili Elbe - one of the first people to undergo gender reassignment surgery).

Hirschfeld began researching sexuality after moving to Berlin in 1896, where he lived as an openly gay man, and campaigned for gay rights.

He was once described by Hitler as “the most dangerous Jew in Germany”, and the entire library of his Institute for Sexual Science was burned by the Nazis.

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs: The first gay person to publicly speak out for homosexual rights

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs was a civil servant in Germany until he was forced to resign in 1854 on account of his homosexuality.

He became an activist and published 12 volumes of work about sexuality, including what’s believed to be the first theory about homosexuality. He argued that it is an ‘inborn condition’ not a learned corruption - as was the prevailing wisdom at the time.

Ulrichs is thought to have been the first gay person to publicly speak out for homosexual rights. In 1867, he urged the German government to repeal anti-homosexuality laws, which firmly established himself as the pioneer of the gay rights movement.

Barbara Gittings: The mother of the LGBT civil rights movement

Barbara Gittings

Barbara Gittings was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1932, and moved to Philadelphia, USA at 18.

Legend has it she would hitch-hike to New York at the weekends dressed in male drag.

Gittings headed up the New York branch of the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) in the 1950s - the USA's first lesbian civil rights organisation.

In the 1970s, she was a prominent member of the American Psychiatric Association’s fight to get homosexuality removed from the list of psychiatric disorders.

In 2006, The APA recognised her work by awarding her its first annual civil rights award.

Harvey Milk: The first openly gay person elected to public office

Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk was born in New York in 1930, and became a prominent gay rights activist.

He found his voice in gay rights activism after moving to San Francisco in 1972.

In 1977, he became the first openly gay person elected to public office, winning a seat on the San Francisco City Council Board. He had previously run for the seat twice, unsuccessfully.

Milk was shot and killed in 1978 by Dan White, a fellow City Council board member.

Harvey Milk’s life has been celebrated in a plethora of books and films, including the award-winning Milk (2008) starring Sean Penn.

Audre Lorde: The lesbian warrior poet

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde described herself as a 'black lesbian mother warrior poet'.

Born in New York in 1934, Lorde worked as a librarian for many years before she published her first volume of poetry, First Cities, in 1968.

Her work covered everything from civil rights (The Black Unicorn) and sexuality, to her own battle with breast cancer (A Burst of Light, for which Lorde received an American Book Award).

She inspired Barbara Smith to found Kitchen Table: Women of Colour Press, the first U.S. publisher by, for, and about women of colour.

From 1991 until her death a year later, Lorde was the New York State Poet Laureate.

In 2001, the Audre Lorde Award was launched to honour works of lesbian poetry.

Bayard Rustin: the gay civil rights hero

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin was a close advisor to Martin Luther King, and an openly gay activist.

He was a key organiser of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King gave his historic ‘I have a dream’ speech.

Walter Naegle, Rustin’s partner for the last decade of his life, has said that he was “someone who was working to expand our democratic freedoms and increase our civil liberties and our individual freedoms”.

In 1948, Rustin served time in prison for refusing to go to war. His prison records describe him as an “admitted homosexual” – one reason, perhaps, why Rustin hasn’t received the same recognition as others in the civil rights movement.

Christine Jorgensen: The transgender ex-GI

Christine Jorgensen

Born George Jorgensen in the Bronx, New York, Jorgensen underwent a year and a half of hormone treatment and gender re-assignment surgery in 1952.

Christine stepped off an aeroplane wrapped in fur, following her surgery in Denmark.

The Danish doctor Teit Ritzau, who knew Christine well, has said, “The young Jorgensen identified himself… as a woman who happened to be in a man’s body.”

Returning to New York, Jorgensen was pored over by the media and triggered national discussions about gender identity.

In 1952, she was crowned Woman of the Year by the Scandinavian Society in New York.

Jorgensen herself acknowledged how revolutionary her case was, saying, “We didn’t start the sexual revolution, but I think we gave it a good kick in the pants!”

She died in 1989.


Source credit: 

Taken from BBC website downloaded 28.01.22

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