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How the history of LGBT+ rights shaped the queer dating scene in the UK

Oct 13, 2022

How the history of LGBT+ rights shaped the queer dating scene in the UK
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, gender non-conforming and transgender folks have been around for as long as there have been humans on this earth—but our rights? Particularly when it comes to relationships, marriage, and even just being able to hold the hand of your partner out in public? Yeah, those haven’t always been so easy. 

    It’s taken years of dedication, persistence, and collaboration for queer people to get the rights we deserve, making it all the more important we recognise the advancements of our ancestors. After all, we have a lot to be angry about, and it can be refreshing to take a step back and honour just how far we’ve come. 

    While there’s a long way to go before we LGBTQ+ folks are given access to all the rights and appreciation we so deserve, there have been some major milestones over the past few decades. 

    Timeline of LGBTQ+ rights in the UK

    These milestones aren’t just fantastic feats worthy of celebration (but of course… they are that, too!).

    These are landmark moments that paved that way for queer people to be able to more freely celebrate and share their love. For example, an LGBTQ+ dating app like HER would have never been able to exist without all the queer queens who came before us!

    Ready for a quick and dirty history lesson? Below find a quick timeline of some of the biggest advancements for LGBTQ+ rights in the UK throughout history and how they influenced our love and dating lives. 

    The 1950s 

    1951 – Roberta Cowell became the first known British trans woman to undergo gender confirmation surgery. She was also the first known trans woman to have her birth certificate changed and became a downright ICON for progression within the trans community. (We love you, Roberta!) 

    1954 – The Wolfenden Committee was formed with the mission of reviewing and questioning any homophobic laws. A few years later, in 1957, the Wolfenden Committee published a report (known as the Wolfenden Proposals) stating that any same-sex acts of consenting adults in private should no longer be considered a criminal offence. This was a huge moment in LGBTQ+ dating history, as it started to send a wildly important message: queer people shouldn’t have to hide their relationships. 

    1958 – The Homosexual Law Reform Society was founded in response to the Wolfenden Proposals. Their first public event was held at Caxton Hall, and drew over 1,000 people. Many of the attendees report it being an incredible experience, as it was they were able to find a queer community. Now we have all sorts of ways to foster community and build friendships—both digitally and IRL! 

    The 1960s

    1964 – The North Western Homosexual Law Reform Committee was founded in order to advocate for equal rights for gay men, lesbians, and bi folks, and included a mission to make it safe for queer folks to be in same-sex relationships. 

    1966 – The Beaumont Society was founded as a trans support group. The landmark organisation helped provide information and education to medical professionals, legal professions, and the general public regarding pertinent issues for the trans community. 

    1969 – The iconic Stonewall Riots took place in America and sent a major ripple effect into the United Kingdom. Around the same time, the North Western Homosexual Law Reform Committee became an official, UK-wide organisation. It was later renamed the Committee for Homosexual Equality and quickly gained support from leading figures in the arts, medical professionals, and, shockingly, the church. 

    The 1970s

    1970 – The London Gay Liberation Front was established. A part of a larger organisation, the Gay Liberation Front (or GLF) was extremely democratic and comprised of younger folks feeling impassioned and motivated by the Stonewall Riots. This is another incredible example of queer communities forming—both to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights in the UK and foster a sense of belonging. 

    1974 – Jan Morris, a Welsh historian, travel writer, and author, shared a personal account of her transition, creating more empathy for trans folks everywhere. The First National Transgender Conference was held in Leeds.

    1975 – The Liberal Party (or the Liberal Democrats) became the UK’s first political party to publicly advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. This was HUGE, as the Democratic Party would play a foundational role started the long journey of legalising same-sex marriage. 

    1979 –  The Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association was founded. Today, the group is known as the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and continues to do so much for transgender folks, including providing mental health resources, community, and more. 

    Britain’s first Pride was held in 1972 – Source: Bishopsgate Institute

    The 1980s

    1981 – A landmark court case finds that Northern Ireland’s criminalisation of same-sex acts violates the European Convention on Human Rights. While this didn’t have immediate effects, it did start demonstrating the importance of humanizing same-sex lives and relationships. 

     Also, the first bi group in London was formed and aptly named the London Bisexual Group. 

    1983 – The media starts to get a teensy bit more progressive, as the UK’s first national lesbian and gay TV show, One in Five, is shown on Channel 4. While not directly related to marriage and relationship rights, this did give queer folks an opportunity to see themselves represented in the media. 

    1986 – Trans man Mark Rees brings a case to the European Court of Human Rights, where he states that the current UK law prevented him from gaining legal status to be recognized as male. While the case was lost, the court began discussing the severity of issues plaguing trans folks. 

    1988 – Huge milestone for queer love lives! Denmark became the first country in the WORLD to give legal recognition to same-sex partnerships.

    The 1990s 

    1992 – World Health Organisation declassified same-sex attraction as a mental illness (a truly outrageous and false assumption). 

    1994 – The UK House of Commons moves to equalise the age of consent for same-sex relations between men to 16. The vote was defeated and the age of consent was lowered to 18. While the straight age of consent was 16, this was a huge step in making it safer for the queer community to explore relationships. (**Note, women were left out of this bill…likely because women were left out of a lot of laws. But that’s another story) 

    1995 – Mermaids, a group dedicated to supporting trans youth, was formed. This UK charity offered support and resources to young trans kids, their families, and professionals working with gender-variant young folks. 

    1997 –  Another big relationship win: UK Government started to recognise same-sex relationships and partnerships for immigration purposes. 

    1999 – Two holidays, Trans Day of Remembrance and Bi Visibility Day, were founded. Trans Day of Remembrance was founded in order to memorialise folks who were murdered as a result of transphobia, and Bi Visibility Day was started to celebrate bisexuality and combat bi erasure. 

    Source: The Gardian

    The 2000s 

    2001- The age of consent was lowered to 16 for queer folks, FINALLY making it the same age as consent for straight people.  

    2002 – Up until this point, it was almost impossible (if not extremely difficult) for same-sex folks to adopt children. But in 2002, equal rights were granted to same-sex couples applying for adoption… thus kickin of some major progress for queer families everywhere.  

    2003 – Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations became law in the UK, making it illegal to discriminate against lesbians, gay and bi people in the workplace.

    2004 – The Civil Partnership Act of 2004 was passed and granted civil partnership in the United Kingdom, giving same-sex couples the same rights and responsibilities as married straight couples in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. 

    Also, in 2004, the Gender Recognition Act was passed and gave trans people full legal recognition for their appropriate gender. While the act granted trans people to acquire new birth certificates, gender options were still limited to the male and female binaries.

    2007 – The Sexual Orientation Equality Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against queer folks regarding the provision of goods, facilities, services, education and public functions. While this may not seem directly related to dating, it did enable queer folks to begin to eat out in restaurants, stay at hotels, and attend events without facing discrimination. And if they did face discrimination… the business owners could be rightfully persecuted.

    2008 – More advancements for queer families! The Human Fertilization and Embryology Act of 2008 recognises same-sex couples as the legal parents of babies conceived through donated sperm, embryos, or eggs. 

    The 2010s and Beyond 

    2010 – The Equality Act of 2010 officially added gender reassignment (or gender confirmation) as a protected characteristic, making it safer for trans folks to be themselves. 

    2011 – In a landmark case, the UK Court ruled in favour of gay couple Steven Preddy and Martin Hall after the owners of a bed and breakfast refused to provide them with the requested double room. This was huge—it showed that the Sexual Orientation Equality Act could—and would—be enforced. 

    2012 – The first ever Trans Pride took place in Brighton. Again, while this may not seem directly related to dating, it provided an opportunity for more trans folks to meet one another. 

    2013 – The HER app is founded as DATTCH.

    2014 – LGBTQ+ folks can finally say “I do!” and squabble over whose turn it was to do the dishes like old married folks! The Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act of 2013 officially swung into full force, and the first same-sex marriages in Wales and England took place in March 2014. 

    2015 – DATTCH is renamed to HER! We may be biased, but having an all-queer dating app? A HUGE win for the queer community! 

    2018 – The Scottish Government passed a law that issued pardons to all gay and bi men who were convicted of having consensual sex with other men before it had been decriminalised in 1981.

    2019 – The first Bi Pride event is held in the UK. Up until that point, it was the largest bi gathering in history. (And a great way for bi cuties to meet other bi cuties) 

    2021 – For the first time, the UK census recognises questions on gender identity and sexual orientation. And while this may seem like a small thing, having the government question and care about queer issues can lead to BIG changes.

    Amanda Kohr is a bisexual journalist, playwright, and screenwriter. Her plays have been performed throughout the country and her editorial work can be found on VICE, Cosmopolitan, Refinery29, and others. Most recently, Amanda was selected as a fellow for the Outfest Screenwriting Lab. When she’s not writing, you can find her venturing out to the desert, giving unsolicited relationship advice, or on Instagram.

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