TofflerAnnIn 1791, as included in the new penal code of the revolution, France decriminalised homosexual acts, becoming the first Western European country to do so.
France, Netherlands, Brazil, Portugal, Turkey, Japan, Italy, Poland, Denmark, The Philippines, Uruguay, Iceland, Switzerland, Sweden, Greece, Jordan, Thailand, Czechoslovakia and Hungary all decriminalised homosexuality before good ol’ Blighty finally caught up in 1967. The Sexual Offences Act decriminalising homosexual acts between consenting males ‘in private’ over the age of 21 (lesbianism has never actually been illegal in the UK).
For those who are unaware, this month is LGBT+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) History Month. It is dedicated to remembering the sad history of discrimination towards LGBT+ individuals throughout the world, whilst recognising how far many societies have come, particularly in the last century. LGBT+ History Month is about pushing society towards a more accepting environment for all LGBT+ individuals whose lifestyle has been demonised for centuries.
LGBT+ History Month also reveals something that is not focused on about the LGBT+ community: the fact that LGBT+ history goes back literally thousands of years. For example, sexual depictions in Neolithic and Bronze Age drawings reveal a ‘third sex’ – a human figure with female breasts and male genitalia – which could be as much as 8,000 years old. One of the oldest and most celebrated classical Greek lyrical poets, Sappho, born on the isle of Lesbos, wrote many lesbian themed poems giving her name and homeland to the very definition of lesbianism, or the less widely used ‘sapphism’. The Roman Emperor Nero married two men in his life, which is definitely something to consider before claiming that marriage has ‘always’ been between a man and a woman.
“They’re legal now, what more do they want?” was a common phrase heard by many during the gay rights campaigns of the 70s. Today, “they can get married now, what more do they want?” is more common. It’s certainly a big step, but some people are still ignorant to the discrimination that LGBT+ individuals face in the UK and on campus today.
Men who have had anal or oral sex with another man cannot give blood unless a 12 month period has passed since their last sexual encounter. It’s a ridiculous law, as all blood donated is tested, and a 12 month period makes no difference to whether an STI is present in the blood, particularly HIV.
Transgendered people still receive a massive amount of transphobia in society, and even LGBT+ charity organisations fail to effectively campaign for transgender rights. Recent attention was brought to Stonewall’s advertising campaign where their posters show two people pictured with the phrase “One is gay. If that bothers people then our work continues.” Some posters also feature “one is bisexual”, but Stonewall did not produce a single poster which included “transgendered” or “transsexual.”
Last year’s Anti-Bullying Week also focused on homophobic bullying in schools, and how such bullying can seriously affect the confidence of young LGBT+ people. Homophobic bullying has been completely ignored in the past, and shedding light on the issue is extremely important. Especially considering that the anti-gay legislation of Section 28 of the Local Government Act in 1988, which prohibited the promotion of “teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”, was only repealed in 2003.
Up to 98% of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people hear phrases like ‘you’re so gay’ in schools, with only 10% saying that staff intervene every time they hear homophobic language. It was also revealed last year that many schools, particularly religious schools, still enforce their own ‘Section 28’ rules.
In a report revealed by the Union of UEA Students in 2012, 52.8% of LGBT+ students participating in sport felt unable to disclose their sexuality to their team mates. 50% of respondents also stated that on at least one occasion they had hid their sexuality when attending social events or training.
LGBT+ History Month is about revealing these prejudices in the UK, and helping to end them. Even on an international level, LGBT+ History Month can give hope to LGBT+ individuals living in the 83 countries where it is illegal to be gay thanks to the internet and new ways of global communication. It can show them that change is possible, the ignorant can be educated, and that there are happy individuals living their lives who also openly, and with pride, consider themselves LGBT+.
For information on how to get involved, attend LGBT+ History Month lectures or any socials on campus visit www.facebook.com/ueapride or for events around Norwich visit www.lgbthistorymonthnorfolk.org.uk/events.