Welcome to this edition of The Wellington Street Review. We are so pleased and proud to present this to our readers. For both of us, the theme of Pride is close to our hearts. We are passionate about supporting our community and so we’d like to take the opportunity with this letter to recognise the courage of those who came before us, and the activism still taking place.
In 1966, Humphrey Berkeley ascribed his defeat in the General Election to his stance on the decriminalisation of homosexual acts. In 1967, the Sexual Offences Act 1967 was passed after one of the most intense nights in Parliamentary history. The Sexual Offences Act maintained general prohibitions on buggery and indecency between men except for a limited decriminalisation of homosexual acts where three conditions were met; 1) the act had to be consensual, 2) the act had to take place in private and 3) the act could involve only people that had attained the age of 21. This was a higher age of consent than that for heterosexual acts, which was set at 16. This act extended only to England and Wales. Legalisation in Scotland would take place in 1981 (Criminal Justice [Scotland] Act 1980) and Northern Ireland in 1982 (Dudgeon v. United Kingdom)
As a child growing up in Lisburn (not Lisbon, as some are so keen to confuse it), I can remember listening to radio debates about the ethics of refusing a double bed in a hotel to a same-sex couple. I remember being sat in a PSD lesson next to my friend Jess as we had a quiz in Year Nine (aged 13-14) about sex laws in the UK. She was saying “Age of consent laws are both 16! I’m sure!” I didn’t know what age of consent meant. Anyway.
In July 1997, the European Commission of Human Rights found Articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights violated by a discriminatory age of consent, on the ground that there was no objective and reasonable justification for maintaining a higher minimum age for male homosexual acts (Sutherland v. United Kingdom; female acts had never been technically illegal). Those campaigning against the amendment claimed they were acting to ‘protect children’. Baroness Young, the leader of the campaign against the amendment, said, “Homosexual practices carry great health risks to young people”. She meant victims of HIV/AIDs. She never mentioned the victims of HIV/AIDs and the government did not try to lessen the effects of HIV/AIDs on the community.
The UK’s last ‘anti-gay’ law (sections 146(4) and 147(3) of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, relating to homosexual relations in the Merchant Navy) was repealed in 2017.
From 2010, gender reassignment remains protected under the Equality Act. The title ‘Mx’ is recognised by the Higher Education Statistics Agency. In September 2015, the Ministry of Justice responded to a petition calling for self-determination of legal gender, stating that they were not aware of “any specific detriment” experienced by non-binary people unable to have their gender legally recognised. Protection for non-binary people and the ‘x’ marker on passports has been on hold since 2016. Legal access to gender-related medical treatment and full protection under hate speech crime laws is still lacking in both Scotland and Northern Ireland (North West Lancashire Health Authority v A, D and G pertaining only to England and Wales; Criminal Justice Act 2003). This is not giving any space to the growing TERF rhetoric in UK politics.
While the UK is moving forward with its legislation to include and protect LGBT people in society, the shadow of colonial influence is still felt in many countries. LGBT people around the world face the risk of imprisonment and execution. At the Wellington Street Review, we are free to read and submit. We hope always to be. However, this month we are asking our readers to make a donation to Rainbow Railroad.
This charity works to uphold the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in countries where they are under threat, often liberated British colonies. In some cases, they help them to flee. You can find the donation buttons on our page or the charity’s official website.
Happy Pride. The fight’s not over yet.