LBGT+ History Month is an annual month-long event in February which aims to observe the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history and the history of the gay rights and related civil rights movements. LBGT+ History Month opens up honest conversations about what it is like to be LGBT+ and this year’s theme is ‘Body, Mind, Spirit’.
As a member of the LGBT+ community, I have been able to witness first-hand how far we have come in terms of equality. I am able to celebrate at Pride parades, I am able to marry my partner legally and I am allowed to adopt. Analysing the history of the LGBT+ history is important for me to appreciate the sacrifices that others have made, which allow me to live my life the way I do today.
Unfortunately, despite this, discrimination towards the LGBT+ community is still very much prevalent in our society and the work must continue. In the UK, one in five LGBT people have experienced a hate crime or incident based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identify in the last 12 months and two in five trans people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the last 12 months.
I have had numerous incidents in the past and one that sticks in my mind is when I was working at a bar part-time whilst I completed my law degree. A customer entered the bar and when I asked what he would like, he proceeded to say his order with ‘hold the AIDS’ and then asked to be served by another member of the team as he didn’t want to ‘catch’ anything. Imagine not being able to even work your part-time job without being discriminated against. Unfortunately, this is a trivial case compared to what other members of the LGBT+ community have faced and will face.
I have just finished watching Channel 4’s new series ‘It’s a Sin’ (available to stream on All4) and it definitely deserves a mention in this article as it depicts the experiences of what it was like to be LGBT in the 1980’s in the United Kingdom. It is a five part series which examines the lives of a group of young gay men who move to the city of London for new opportunities when they are hit by the outbreak of HIV. Another programme which deserves a mention is Netflix’s ‘Pose’ which is about New York City’s Black and Latino LGBT+ and gender nonconforming drag ball culture scene in the 1980’s.
There are also many ‘unseen’ harms as some LGBT people don’t experience overt discrimination and instead, witness subtle behaviour which leads them to change how they behave to fit into society’s norms. I remember the first time I held the hand of my partner walking through the town centre, whilst nobody hurled abuse at us, I felt the glares, the facial expressions, my heart pumping out of my chest, I just felt uncomfortable and out of place.
There are however many moments in recent history to celebrate:
· In 2012, the Protection of Freedoms Act was passed meaning men with historical convictions for consensual gay sex could apply to remove them from criminal records;
· In 2013 the first Trans Pride event took place in Brighton;
· In 2014 the marriage of same sex couples became legal in England, Scotland and Wales;
· In 2017 the deferral period for gay and bisexual men wishing to donate blood was reduced from 12 months to 3 months;
· In 2018, the UK government published its LGBT Action Plan which included an end to so-called conversion therapy (although it is still legal today in the UK);
· There are also new criteria being implemented by summer 2021 in relation to blood donation which aims to take a more individualised risk approach, acknowledging that all donors have the potential to carry infections including heterosexual men and women.
Alan Turing was a computer pioneer, maths genius and codebreaker. Turing played a crucial role in cracking intercepted coded messages that allowed the allies to defeat the Nazis in the war. Unfortunately, following this, Turing was more so recognised for being gay, and like many men in the 1950’s, this also labelled him a criminal. Instead of going to prison, Turing was chemically castrated after having an affair with another man.
Turing’s treatment was part of a ‘witch hunt’ of gay and bisexual men which led to 1,000 people being imprisoned at any one time during the 1950’s.
Today, Alan Turing is not only an icon for the LGBT+ community, but an iconic figure for the whole of society in the UK. To celebrate his life he is being included on the new £50 bank notes which will be in circulation towards the end of 2021.
What can junior lawyers do to help?
There are many simple ways junior lawyers can help make a difference to the LGBT+ community and here are a few ideas for you to try:
1. Joining a diversity committee and being actively involved. It is important that both LGBT+ people and allies participate to raise awareness of various issues that LGBT+ people face;
2. Research a firm’s LGBT/diversity policies and what they are doing to help. Personally, this was always something I looked at when researching firms whilst applying for training contracts;
3. Following various LGBT+ networks on LinkedIn for example Queer Lawyers of Tomorrow and myGwork;
4. Being aware of people’s individual perspectives and asking for a wide ranging of opinions throughout your professional life;
Whilst nothing can ever right the way LBGT+ people were treated, it’s vital that we learn from the past in order to better the future. Everyone deserves the right to be truly themselves and to be proud of who they are without fear.
Let’s make LGBT+ oppression history.