Wait a minute. Isn’t LGBT History Month in October? Well, yes—in the United States. In the UK and Germany, it’s February. Modern European celebrations of LGBT History Month started around the same times as in the US, though in England they sprung up about a decade ago with the repeal of a law known as “Section 28.”
Establishing LGBT History Month
Hopefully, you’ve never had your life directly affected by Section 28, but its impact was profound and lingers to this day. Section 28 was passed in the late 1980s and banned the discussion of homosexuality in schools. The impact was immediate, with many organizations closing or self-censoring. The law was finally repealed after a long push in 2003, and the occasion was marked by the creation of a national annual LGBT history month.
From the start, the celebration was a huge affair. There were over a hundred events to mark the occasion around the country, and there was significant governmental support—quite a shift from the days when Margaret Thatcher pushed the harmful Section 28.
Initially, the Department for Education and Skills was a financial backer, but within two years the events were so popular they were able to fundraise and sustain themselves with private support (though various police organizations continue to contribute).
Since then, the annual observation has been marked by gatherings at the Tate Modern—one of the world’s most prominent museums—as well as a reception at the Prime Minister’s residence. Not only is it an occasion to demonstrate solidarity, but the month is dedicated to observing England’s lengthy queer history.
Long Legacy of LGBT Law
For example, in the year 43, the Romans adopted the first laws regarding same-sex adultery; and in the fourth century Romans imposed the death penalty for marriage equality.
Over the centuries, England had its share of queer kings, such as Edward the II, who it was said “particularly delighted in the vice of sodomy.” There was also James I—after whom the Bible translation is named—who had male lovers named Robert Carr and George Villiers. Villiers was later knighted as a “Gentleman of the Bedchamber.” King William had various male lovers.
In more recent British history, it’s important to note the contributions of the Gay Liberation Front, established in 1970s in London. They led protests against homophobic events, and participated in the first Pride rally in 1972. That corresponds roughly to the rise of Pride in the United States, as well as the formation of the International Lesbian and Gay Association, a Coventry-based organization that united civil rights struggles across oceans.
Progress in England tended to come a bit faster than in the United States over the following decades; laws barring military service were repealed in 2000, adoption was equalized in 2002, and nationwide civil unions passed in 2004.
Nevertheless, challenges remain. On his first visit to the United Kingdom, Pope Benedict XVI stirred up dangerous bigotry when he attacked the country’s equality laws; and even to this day, some politicians continue to push for exemptions to nondiscrimination laws. It’s a reminder that as far as the country’s come, there’s still people who object to the progress that’s been made. And that’s what makes annual celebrations like LGBT History Month so important.