Intersectionality Week: The History of LGBT+ Movements
Posted 19 January 2021JHB tell us about the Intersectionality history of LGBTQ+ movements activists and treatment.
JHB tell us about the Intersectionality history of LGBTQ+ movements activists and treatment.
TW: mention of suicide, treatment of LGBT+ community
Stonewall is a date everyone is familiar with, although it wasn’t the first time a riot started for LGBT+ rights, it was definitely a turning point.
The Stonewall Inn was a pub and a known hotspot for LGBT groups. It became a line in the sand where the community retaliated to the constant raids on their community, and in the early hours of 28 June, the riot began. The first day only saw 10 NYPD officers on the scene in the bar, which then grew as it attracted more than 500 LGBT activists, who were done with the suppression.
These supporters crammed themselves into this bar. The communities had snapped.
This sparked a rebellion against the police raids across the USA and led to the forming of the Gay Liberation Campaign.
The true friction of LGBT culture with police brutality was most linked to women who dressed and acted more masculine, men who were effeminate and the trans community.
The LGBT communities flocked to Stonewall and by the end of the first day a reported 1000 people had appeared and the NYPD received reports dealing with 5 million people during the riots for equality.
The after effect of Stonewall is so key in western queer culture. In the UK the gay liberation movement formed and like their American siblings, took radical campaigning steps: gone were the bladed ideas of just publishing papers.
We’d learnt how to show we were done with being suppressed for being anyone who identified with LGBTQ+. I say ‘we’ because there are sparks of this occurring now, the modern queer poet movement, the QTPOC movements in other areas of the world and the Prep+ up movement.
But we will get to that.
It also took the police 50 years to apologise for their actions and 3 years after Stonewall, The Stonewall Inn became a monument.
One of the most famous people there was African-American activist, Marsha P Johnson, who went on to establish Gay Liberation Front.
Marsha was also a model for Andy Warhol and a close friend of Sylvia Rivera, another gay liberation and tans right activist. Marsha’s death is still being argued - originally the NYPD reported it a suicide, then change it to suspect homicide, to then taking it back to undetermined suicide.
In 1979, years after Stonewall, was the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay rights. This was the largest yet Lesbian and Gay (LG) movement rally, which took place all the way to the capital to raise support for LG rights within the USA. A lot of American groups had been led by QPOC (Queer Person of Colour), as they were upset by groups like the Mattachine Society, which only allowed gay white members.
Bayard Rustin was one of the people who attended this march. He was a close advisor to Martin Luther King and was upset how he had gone from fighting a war to be accepted for his colour, to join a fight to be accepted for his sexuality. Yet within this community, he was still being disregarded for his skin colour. It wasn’t until ‘86 when he came out, and when he did it was due to someone forcing him to come clean about his sexuality. As a result, he became a key member of activism in society.
Formation of modern LGBTQ activist groups.
DOB (The Daughters of Bilitis)
In the fight for loving someone of the same gender, groups like DOB (first lesbian political rights group in the USA) were formed, inspiring people in the UK to do the same.
DOB was formed in San Francisco in 1955 as an alternative to gay bars, in order to provide a safe place for lesbian women to enjoy and express themselves without oppression for men and the bigoted society around them. Their mission statement was "they recognised that many women felt shame about their sexual desires and were afraid to admit them. They knew that...without support to develop the self-confidence necessary to advocate for one's rights, no social change would be possible for lesbians”.
Minorities Research Group (MRG) was the first organisation to openly advocate the interests of lesbians in the UK. It was founded by four women, who got together in response to an article published called the ‘Twentieth Century’.
The group published the ‘Minorities Research Group Newsletter’ all in response to the article. It wasn’t offensive and was written by Esme Langley. Some reactions to this article were from people such as Diana Chapman, who was recovering from a hysterectomy at the time and has stated how nice it was for her to see a good an article about lesbians.
The form of the MRG to the article is stated a key element to the feminism movement in the 1960s. Becoming a group of the liberation of sex for women accepting both bisexual and homosexual women. They went on to support the Homosexual HLRS (Homosexual Law Reform Society) but campaigned for women's rights as well within this act.
In 1964, they debated with 70 members on the freedom of dress. This was about the male decision on what women could wear and went on to strike a lot of debates within society about the oppression of the female sex. (I would have loved to have been there!)
One of the key things I’d like to highlight about MRG is they were all Lesbians or bisexual women, who led their group, whereas the leaders of HLRS, were straight and didn’t think homosexuality was good, just not punishable by law.
They also highlighted, unlike HLRS, that this reform didn’t protect anyone for abuse, just that they could be arrested for it, but police abuse on the matter wasn’t stopped.
Members of MRG who wanted a shift from research to social improvement went on to form Kenric, which is still running (and is the longest-running lesbian social group). Kernic’s main aim was to push the improvement and liberation for lesbians, young and old, to find an output to feel comfortable.
The Gay Liberation Front, was established at the London School of Economics in October 1970 in response to debates across the UK about how LGBT+ people are treated. In 2020, the GLF celebrated its 50th anniversary.
This group was also inspired by the Stonewall rebellion in 1969. In fact, the Stonewall rebellion is seen as a spark for LGBT rebellion in much of western society.
And I use the word ‘rebellion’ to explain the difference from the previous campaigns. We changed how we operated, becoming more of a planned and organised group and moving to change social policy instead. This could be compared to HLS, who had questionable motives around changing legislation, as they arguably did not care for gay rights and just didn’t want the weight of cost on their legal system.
Seemingly after the formation of GLF, the Festival of Light begun to speak out against LGBT+ groups claiming it was a permissive society and homosexuality should not be allowed to marry. This sparked major protest from GFL at the festival itself, causing the speaker to end it early.
In the same year, a splintered group of GFL, called LF, stormed the national Skegness Women liberation conference in retaliation to a speaker being barred due to being queer.
London Icebreakers and smaller splinter groups
During the mid-1980s, more LGBT+ charities and support groups formed, one of these is the London Icebreakers, a call line established to support queer adults with both physical and mental health issues. It was the first support line to be fully supported by a fully queer staff.
This was also the first support line for the queer community that affirmed it was okay to be gay! All those that came before had the idea to push to conversion. They joined a board of queer groups who often met and talked regularly to organise action and support for the queer community at the time. This board consisted of Manchester Gay Alliance, Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE), Manchester Universities Gay and Lesbian Society (M.U.G.L.S.), Manchester Lesbian Society (MLS) and Manchester Transsexual / Transvestite society (M.Ts/v).
M.Ts/v’s leader recently published a book depicting what occurred during this time talking of hate she received and the actions this group of queer groups worked on to help each other. The book is called ‘Our Long Journey From The Shadows’ and is written by Dr Carol Steele.
During Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister, Mark Ashton founded Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM).
Ashton decided to provide support to the miners by raising money as a queer group under the name LGSM. This was to show the joining of the socialist group with another.
This quote is from the entry of a diary of someone who was there and met Mark Ashton: “A loud coliseum of love for unity causes a clash like you’d see on a picket line. But instead of brawls breaking out. Everyone just welcomed each other. And when Mark had come on stage it was so clear he cares for this movement himself. Someone who inspired me to join.’’
Lesbians Against the Pit closures was formed from a schism between members in LGSM, as queer women felt ignored or not listened to by Mark Ashton and the leading men. It’s documented he didn’t listen to other opinions well and arguably lesbian members the least.
LAPC went on to campaign until the end of the protest, joining LGSM in the pride of that year. They went on to be involved with groups campaigning against the closures of conversion therapy treatments.
LGBTQ treatment and onwards.
The LGBTQ community is still seen as less, often used as a highlight or a statement formed into stereotypes of what people have used to oppress the LGBT community.
The UK is in a better place than it used to be, but places like Egypt still arguably abuse their LGBT community. In 2016, I was with hundreds of activists campaigning for the UK to give asylum to those in Egypt. One of these activists was Egyptian writer and activist, Sara Hegazy, who sadly took her own life last year.
Her statement before doing so echoes in so many queer people, reminding them how fresh the scars of our oppression are.
The UK is improving but there are still fights ahead, rights for all LGBT+ people, for intersex equality and equal opportunity.
To understand how oppressed the LGBTQ+ history is we have to start at the 1500s.
Western culture has always been heavily influenced by religion and it has been arguably used to push society and media in directions to control their narrative. This is arguably still even witnessable today.
One could say that religion within the UK tried hard to make homosexuality illegal, with the first act against this being the 1533 Buggery Act, which later became the Offence against Persons Act of 1828.
One note of the development of this legislation was that it was arguably pushed heavily by religious figures, often making mentions at festivals or even now a lot of religious members of parliament oppose change to legislation pro-queer communities or don’t block the barring or conversion therapy, which is highly damaging.
After this, the church carried on to try to banish the thought of loving someone of the same gender, which was recently documented in the series Gentleman Jack, was the story of Anne Lister, an upper-class lesbian. She tried to get married, but the church pushed the law to stop this happening, and ultimately amending the Offence Against the Persons Act.
During the early 20th Century, two suffragettes were arrested alongside the notable Emmeline Pankhurst. These three were originally held in prison for the same amount of time, yet Emmeline’s colleagues were arguably held longer due to them being two queer women.
The Buggery Act never outlined in writing its restriction on lesbians, but it was still used to prosecute queer women, as well and men.
We arrive in the 1950s when Roberta Cowell was the first UK citizen to undergo gender reassignment, which as carried out by Michael Dillon, a transman and a surgeon. After this, sadly he was outed by a newspaper article covering Roberta’s operation. He was removed from position and had to flee the country to avoid harassment and abuse. He died in India in 1961.
Roberta went on to campaign to get her marriage reinstated as the church wasn’t allowing her to, and the government then made articles to make sure she couldn’t.
Later in the 50s, Alan Turing, who was made famous by his work on the Enigma Code during WW2, was arrested and suffered horrible abuse from conversion therapy, which ultimately led to his suicide.
In the late 1950s a report was carried out called the Wolfenden Report, which looked into how public perception saw homosexuality and if it needed to be a crime. The report was completed in 1957 spouting a change to the law, and in fact the change was a complete opposite to the finding of the report, which found that homosexuality should not be a crime.
Introduction of the 1957 Sexual Offences Act to outline sexual activity between same-sex men as illegal, leading to pro-Wolfenden Report politicians to form the Homosexual Reform Society, which was a political group made of academics and lead by straight members such as by Anthony Edwards Dyson.
The group believed homosexuality should not be a crime due to the weight it puts on our society they were not pro protective acts.
Dyson wrote a letter to The Times on 7 March, calling for the reform of laws as said by the Wolfenden Committees’ recommendations. This was signed by Clement Attlee, Isaiah Berlin and Barbara Wootton - all established campaigners.
As most of the founders of this group weren't homosexual, they were often criticised for directing the movement in the wrong direction, yet they were calling out for support of people. They reached out to those who had supported the Wolfenden report to contact them, to help form HLRS Labour.
The House of Lords ran a poll on the public asking if they saw acts of homosexuality as an illness or not; 93% of those who participated stated they saw it as a medical issue.
The HLRS stated that even though this poll shows this of public views the act of homosexuality is a family matter, not a government issue, hence why hormone castration wasn’t proposed to be illegal. MRG stated they believe that reform needs to be a full act not an act of just making something legal without protection.
MP Humphry Berkeley’s suggestion was on the lines of the previous suggestions of the Wolfenden report. Berkeley was known to be gay and unliked by his colleagues for this. He then went on to lose his seat in the 1966 General Election.
The Beaumont Society was a London club for the trans community and intersex alongside the cross-dressing communities.
10 years after the publishing of Wolfenden report Labour introduced the Sexual Offences Act 1967, decriminalising homosexual activities, while also making the legal age 21 in private ( homes that is, not hotels etc). Meaning public displays could be prosecuted as an illegal activity. The reform only applied to England and Wales, not the Isles or Scotland.
These restrictions were not lifted until 2000, by the European courts in the Human Rights Act and the change to this act both left chemical castration and genital manipulation to intersex children legal - and has stayed legal since. Our government still hasn’t made changes to either conversion therapy or, the poor and unequal treatment of the intersex children and adults, which involves nondescript surgeries that aren’t required.
The book Homosexual Among Men was by Wainwright Churchill breaks grounds stating homosexuality as a way of life and normal, not a medical issue. It also introduced the term homophobia.
Then the government passed The Nullity of Marriage Act, which stopped same-sex people getting married. This wasn’t repealed till 2013 by David Cameron’s government.
The first Pride went from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park, with a thousand people joining in with this act of pure activation.
This isn’t an exact timeline of the LGBT+ history as there has been so much more that has happened, but this is just some of the core details I’ve tried to highlight. At times the social inequalities have been so rough and unjust, but the direction of which our society is flowing is still towards improvement. Members of our society still don’t accept us, don’t accept our trans siblings, our intersex family, and they won’t without everyone helping shine a light on this failing.
And then to look at the recurrence of history, I didn’t cover Section 28 heavily because I was leaving it until now.
Section 28 was a clause that Thatcher introduced stopping the ability for LGBT+ education, but it also allowed police to lock up openly queer people under none arrestable offences. It was overruled at the end of the 1990s.
But recently section 28 has been mirrored as we’ve seen LGBT+ education actively protested, with leaders of boards of education considering taking down the framework, which itself is a poor format with hardly any information on PReP, queer identities, and safe sex.
Section 28 is gone. Police treatment towards queer identity is better, but it still could be more the system is still needing change and change needs people to make it happen.
I want to end on a Harvey milk quote: “Hope will never be silent.”
Sources and links
Formation of modern LGBTQ activist groups
Pride by Tim Tate, Published by Jonathan Blake publishing 2017, The Gay Book shop.
LGBT Time line
A content queer diary (none published)