Freddie Mercury with his cat Tiffany by Richard Young, 1988 © Richard Young
Freddie Mercury with his cat Tiffany by Richard Young, 1988 © Richard Young
Freddie Mercury with his cat Tiffany by Richard Young, 1988 © Richard Young
This timeline highlights some key milestones and cultural moments in British history in relation to LGBTQI issues.
Christopher Marlowe’s play Edward II is published.
The philosopher and social reformer Jeremy Bentham argues for the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
The last two men to be hanged for buggery in England, James Pratt and John Smith, are executed outside Newgate Prison, London.
The Criminal Law Amendment Act is passed and given Royal Assent the following year. Section 11 of the Act makes ‘gross indecency’ a crime punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment, with or without hard labour. Between 1885 and 1967 at least 49,000 men are convicted under the Act.
Oscar Wilde’s novel The Portrait of Dorian Gray is published.
The trials of Oscar Wilde. The playwright is sentenced to two years’ imprisonment with hard labour in Reading Gaol for ‘gross indecency’ following his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas.
This first British medical textbook on the subject of homosexuality, Sexual Inversion by the physician Havelock Ellis and the poet and literary critic John Addington Symonds, is published. The authors argue that homosexuality is not a disease and should be accepted, not treated. The book is banned for obscenity.
The Austrian writer and translator Frida Strindberg opens London’s first gay bar, the Cave of the Golden Calf, in Heddon Street.
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann is published.
The British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology is founded with Edward Carpenter as President.
Radclyffe Hall’s seminal lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness is published.’ A press campaign to suppress the book leads to a trial and a ban for obscenity.
Virgina Woolf’s Orlando: A Biography is published, inspired by her lover Vita Sackville-West.
Noël Coward writes the song Mad About the Boy.
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein is published.
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh is published.
The physician Michael Dillion completes Self: A Study of Endocrinology and Ethics and becomes the first known British trans man to undergo female-to-male sex reassignment surgery. The phalloplasty is performed by the pioneering British plastic surgeon Sir Harold Gillies.
Amid cold-war paranoia, arising in part from the exposure of the Cambridge spy ring (gay Soviet agent Guy Burgess and fellow traitor Donald Maclean defect to Moscow in 1951), the persecution of homosexual men intensifies on the pretext that they are vulnerable to blackmail by communist agents. By the middle of the decade, more than 1,000 men each year are convicted for ‘gross indecency’.
Roberta Cowell, a racing driver and Second World War fighter pilot, is the first known British trans woman to undergo male-to-female sex re-assignment surgery. The vaginoplasty is carried out by Sir Harold Gillies. Cowell successfully changes her birth certificate.
Alan Turing, the British mathematician and Enigma codebreaker, is arrested and convicted of ‘gross indecency’. To avoid prison he accepts treatment of the female sex hormone oestrogen: ‘chemical castration’ intended to neutralise his libido. His government security clearance is revoked ending his work for GCHQ.
Sir John Gielgud is arrested for cruising in a public toilet and fined. His first stage appearance after the incident is greeted with a standing ovation. He never publicly acknowledges being gay.
Edward Montagu, 3rd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, is imprisoned along with landowner Michael Pitt-Rivers and journalist Peter Wildeblood for homosexual acts. The Montagu case highlights concerns among the public and politicians about the victimisation of gay men and underhand policing methods used to secure convictions.
Alan Turing dies on 7 June from cyanide poisoning. The coroner’s verdict is suicide.
The Government establishes the Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution, chaired by former headmaster Sir John Wolfenden.
James Baldwin’s novel Giovanni’s Room is published.
On 4 September, after three years’ deliberation, the Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution publishes what came to be known as the Wolfenden Report, recommending that ‘homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence’.
The Homosexual Law Reform Society is founded, following the Wolfenden Report, to campaign for the legalisation of homosexuality in the UK. It holds its first public meeting in May 1960.
The groundbreaking film Victim, starring Dirk Bogarde as a barrister being blackmailed for his homosexuality, is released.
The Minorities Research Group, the first organisation to openly advocate the interests of lesbians in the UK, is established.
A Single Man, by Christopher Isherwood, is published. A film adaptation directed by Tom Ford is later released in 2009.
Round the Horne is broadcast on BBC Radio. Created by Barry Took and Marty Feldman it includes the sketch ‘Julian and Sandy’ with Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams.
The Beaumont Society is founded to support people who cross-dress, are transvestite, or transgender, and to provide information to the public. Originally a UK Chapter of the secret American organisation Full Personality Expression, the group is renamed the Beaumont Society after the eighteenth-century French diplomat and spy the Chevalier d’Eon of Beaumont.
Lord Arran introduces the Sexual Offences Bill in the House of Lords.
Leo Abse MP introduces the Sexual Offences Bill to the House of Commons with the support of the Home Secretary Roy Jenkins. The Bill is passes 101 votes to 16. The Bill receives Royal Assent on 21 July 197, ten years after the Wolfenden Report. The Sexual Offences Act decriminalises homosexual acts in private between two consenting men over the age of twenty-one in England and Wales, excluding members of the armed forces. The law is not changed in Scotland until 1980 and Northern Ireland until 1982.
The Stonewall Riots take place in Greenwich Village, New York. Widely seen as a turning point in the fight for LGBT rights globally, major gay-rights groups are established in the United States, Canada, Australia and Western Europe in response.
The Scottish Minorities Group is founded.
The Committee for Homosexual Equality is formed, changing its name to the Campaign for Homosexual Equality in 1971.
The Gay Liberation Front is founded in London.
The first gay demonstration in the UK is held at Highbury Fields, London.
Maurice by E.M Forster is published posthumously. Forster had written it in 1914, after meeting Edward Carpenter.
The UK’s first gay newspaper, Gay News , is founded.
The first UK Pride festival is held in London.
Cabaret is released. Directed by Bob Fosse and adapted from Christopher Isherwood’s 1939 novel Goodbye to Berlin.
The Campaign for Homosexual Equality, founded by Allan Horsfall and Colin Harvey, holds the first British gay-rights conference in Morecambe, Lancashire.
The Gay Switchboard helpline, now known as the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, is launched.
The writer Jan Morris gives a personal account of her transition from male to female in her book Conundrum.
Maureen Colquhoun becomes Britain’s first openly lesbian Member of Parliament. She is later deselected by the Labour party for her sexuality.
A television adaptation of Quentin Crisp’s 1968 autobiography The Naked Civil Servant starring John Hurt is screened on ITV.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is released at the cinema. Directed by Jim Sharman.
The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement is founded.
The first gay and lesbian-focussed Trade Union Congress conference takes place.
A Bill to reduce the age of consent for gay men from twenty-one to eighteen is defeated in the House of Lords.
Amnesty International takes up the campaign against gay and lesbian persecution.
The National Film Theatre presents a season of thirty films called ‘Images of Homosexuality’. Questions are raised in the House of Lords over the use of public money.
Tom Robinson’s song ‘Glad to Be Gay’ is released with the telephone number of the Gay Switchboard helpline on the sleeve.
The assassination of one of the first openly gay officials in the United States, Harvey Milk in San Francisco.
Armistead Maupin publishes Tales of the City.
BBC Two screens A Change of Sex, a documentary about British trans woman Julia Grant. It is one of the first documentaries about transition and highlights the work of the Gender Identity Clinic at Charing Cross Hospital, London.
The Self Help Association for Transsexuals (SHAFT) is formed.
The first Black Gay and Lesbian Group is formed.
Gay Life, commissioned by London Weekend Television, is the first British TV series devoted to gay issues.
The gay night-club Heaven opens in London.
The first British case of AIDS is recorded when a man suffering from PCP (pneumocystis carinii pneumonia) dies at Brompton Hospital, London.
Tennis player Billie Jean King comes out as a lesbian. Martina Navratilova comes out first as bisexual then later as a lesbian.
Terence Higgins, a 37-year-old barman and disc jockey, dies of AIDS in St Thomas’ Hospital, London. His partner and friends establish the Terence Higgins Trust to raise funds for research and awareness of the illness that was then called Gay-Related Immune Deficiency. It is the first charity in the UK to be set up in response to HIV/AIDS.
Chris Smith declares ‘I’m the Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury, and I’m gay’. He is the first openly out gay politician in Parliament.
Gay Times is launched.
Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners is formed to raise money for coal-mining communities struggling through the miners’ strike. The story is later dramatised in the film Pride (2014).
AIDS hysteria grows when cruise passengers discover a person with AIDS aboard. Health Minister Kenneth Clarke enacts powers to detain people with AIDS in hospital.
The American actor Rock Hudson dies of an AIDS-related illness, becoming the first major celebrity to be associated with the disease. The revelation has an immediate global impact on the visibility of AIDS and on funding of medical research for the disease.
My Beautiful Laundrette is released. Directed by Stephen Frears from a screenplay by Hanif Kureishi.
A major national AIDS awareness campaign, ‘Don’t Die of Ignorance’, is launched in the UK, with TV adverts and a leaflet delivered to every household in the country in an attempt to support understanding and halt misinformation.
The first appearance of an openly gay character, Colin, in Eastenders played by gay actor Michael Cashman, later a prominent campaigner for LGBT rights.
Princess Diana opens the UK’s first purpose-built HIV/AIDS unit at London Middlesex Hospital. By shaking hands with patients, she publicly challenges the notion HIV/AIDS is passed from person to person by touch.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher introduces Section 28 of the Local Government Act which bans local authorities from ‘promoting’ homosexuality or ‘promoting the teaching...of pretended family relationships’. It prevents councils spending money on educational materials and projects perceived to promote a gay lifestyle. It is known as ‘Clause 28.’
Princess Margaret opens the first UK residential support centre for people living with HIV/AIDS in London.
Sir Ian McKellen comes out on BBC Radio in response to Section 28 and influenced by the support of friends.
The LGBT-rights organisation Stonewall UK is founded by Sir Ian McKellen, Lisa Power and Lord Cashman.
The militant gay activist group OutRage! is founded following the murder of gay actor Michael Boothe.
The UK Lesbian and Gay Police Association is established.
Footballer Justin Fashanu comes out as gay. His careers founders, and in 1998 he commits suicide.
Paris is Burning is released. Directed by Jennie Livingston.
Sir Ian McKellen meets John Major. The first time any sitting Prime Minister has met with LGBT activists.
Derek Jarman makes a film of Marlowe’s Edward II referencing the gay rights movement and the Stonewall Riots.
Freddie Mercury dies the day after announcing he has AIDS.
My Own Private Idaho is released. Directed by Gus Van Sant.
The Crying Game is released. Written and Directed by Neil Jordan.
The World Health Organisation declassifies homosexuality as a mental illness.
Elton John establishes the Elton John Aids Foundation to support HIV prevention, education and care.
Kenny Everett and Holly Johnson announce they are HIV positive.
Philadelphia is released. Directed by Jonathan Demme.
Edwina Currie MP tables an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill to lower the age of consent for male homosexual acts from twenty-one to sixteen in line with that for heterosexual acts. Although the proposal is defeated, a later amendment succeeds in lowering the age of consent for gay men to eighteen.
Sandi Toksvig comes out at as gay. Save the Children drop her as compere of their seventy-fifth anniversary celebrations. They later apologise.
Derek Jarman dies of an AIDS-related illness at the age of fifty-two.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is released. Directed by Stephan Elliot.
Mermaids is established by a group of parents to offer support and resources to families, carers and professionals working with gender variant young people.
The Archers introduces its first openly gay character, Sean Myerson, played by Gareth Armstrong.
A breakthrough is made in the treatment of HIV/AIDS. Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART) is found to significantly delay the onset of the disease. The NHS makes the treatment available.
Stephen Twigg and Ben Bradshaw are the first openly gay politicians prior to their election.
Angela Eagle is the first Member of Parliament to come out voluntarily as a lesbian.
Happy Together is released. Directed by Wong Kar Wai.
Baron Waheed Alli is created a life peer, becoming the first openly gay member of the House of Lords and one of the few openly gay Muslim politicians in the world.
Maggi Hambling’s sculpture A Conversation with Oscar Wilde, the first public monument to the playwright, is unveiled at Charing Cross, London.
George Michael is arrested in Los Angeles for a ‘lewd act’ in a public toilet. Three days later he comes out as gay.
A bomb attack on the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho, London kills three and wounds seventy.
The British Museum pays £1.8 million to save the Warren Cup from export – the single most expensive item ever acquired by the museum at that time. Dating from around AD10, the silver drinking vessel is decorated with scenes depicting homosexual acts between Greek and Roman men and boys.
Queer as Folk, the groundbreaking Channel 4 series by Russell T Davies, is first broadcast.
Peter Tatchell and members of Outrage! attempt to make a citizen’s arrest of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe for his record on gay rights. Tatchell tries again in 2001.
The age of consent for gay men is lowered to from eighteen to sixteen. Consensual group sex for gay men is also decriminalised.
Judges rule in the Goodwin v the United Kingdom case that the Government should accommodate the needs of trans people by issuing new legal documentation such as birth certificates and National Insurance numbers.
Far From Heaven is released. Directed by Todd Haynes, it pays homage to director Douglas Sirk.
Section 28 is repealed in the rest of the UK.
Discrimination at work on the grounds of sexual orientation is made illegal.
The Civil Partnership Act is passed; giving same-sex couples the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual couples.
The Gender Recognition Act gives trans people full legal recognition.
The Civil Partnership Act 2004 comes into effect. The first civil partnership between Matthew Roche and Christopher Cramp takes place at St Barnabas Hospice, Sussex.
The Adoption and Children Act 2002 comes into effect, allowing unmarried couples and same-sex couples to apply for joint adoption.
Brokeback Mountain wins three Oscars, including Best Director for Ang Lee.
The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations outlaws the discrimination of the provision of goods, facilitates, services, education and public functions on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The National Portrait Gallery, London, establishes Queer Perspectives as a regular feature of its public programme. Hosted by the artist Sadie Lee, invited guests share their perspectives on the Collection.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act recognises same-sex couples as legal parents of children conceived through the use of donated sperm, eggs or embryos. The Act also enables same-sex couples and un-married couples to apply for an order allowing them to be treated as parents of a child born using a surrogate.
Milk, is released. Directed by Gus Van Sant and written by Dustin Lance Black.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown issues a public apology for the way Alan Turing was treated.
Opposition leader David Cameron apologises on behalf of the Conservative Party for the introduction of Section 28.
Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas comes out as gay.
The National Portrait Gallery’s Gay Icons exhibition opens. The exhibition concept is proposed by Copyright Officer Bernard Horrocks and results in an invitation to ten people to select their personal icons. Chaired by Sandi Toksvig the curators include Waheed Alli, Alan Hollinghurst, Elton John, Jackie Kay, Billie Jean King, Ian McKellen, Chris Smith, Ben Summerskill and Sarah Walters.
Dame Carol Ann Duffy becomes the first openly homosexual Poet Laureate.
The Equality Act officially states there should be no discrimination against trans people.
An amendment to the Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) Regulations, tabled by Waheed Alli, permits civil partnerships in religious buildings.
Ruth Davidson is elected to lead the Scottish Conservatives. She is the first openly gay leader of a British political party.
The passing of the Protection of Freedoms Act enables historic convictions for consensual sexual activity between men to be removed from criminal records.
Alan Turing is granted a posthumous royal pardon for his conviction.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act is passed in England and Wales.
Olympic diver Tom Daley confirms he is in a relationship with a man in a home-made video he posts online.
Nikki Sinclaire, Member of the European Parliament for the West Midlands (2009–14), comes out as transgender, becoming the UK’s first openly trans Parliamentarian.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act comes into effect on 29 March. Peter McGraith and David Cabreza are among the first to take advantage of the new law marrying shortly after midnight at Islington Town Hall. Sandi Toksvig marries her partner onstage at the Royal Festival Hall before of a crowd of 2,000 people.
The Queen praises the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard on their fortieth anniversary, the first time a British monarch has publicly supported the LGBT community.
The Royal Vauxhall Tavern becomes the first building in the UK to be given special listed status based on its LGBT heritage.
The Republic of Ireland votes by a large majority to legalise same-sex marriage, becoming the first country in the world to do so by means of a referendum.
A gunman opens fire in a gay night club in Orlando, Florida, killing forty-nine and injuring fifty-three
President Obama declares the New York gay bar the Stonewall Inn, scene of demonstrations in 1969, America’s first US national monument to LGBT rights.
Prince William appears on the cover of gay magazine, Attitude.
The British Film Institute names Carol the best LGBT film of all time. Directed by Todd Haynes, the film is based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel The Price of Salt.
Nicholas Chamberlain is the first bishop in the Church of England to come out as gay, after a newspaper threatens to ‘out’ him.
The Government enacts the so-called ‘Alan Turing law’, pardoning thousands of gay and bisexual men – including Oscar Wilde – who were convicted of sexual offences.
Moonlight directed by Barry Jenkins wins Best Film at the Oscars.
National and local organisations around the UK commemorate the two anniversaries – sixty years since the publication of the Wolfenden Report and fifty years since the Sexual Offences Act – with exhibitions and events planned throughout the year.