LGBTQ+ History By The Decade: (1990s)
4 min read
This series, By The Decade, takes a look at recent LGBT history in the UK to see how the community has been affected, celebrated, and been a catalyst for change.
Let’s throwback to the 1990s and explore the key moments in LGBT history during this decade!
LGBTQ+ history during the 1990s
At the start of the 1990s, the LGBTQ+ community was more mobilised than ever before (following the difficulties of the 1980s, which you can all read about here).
The community was now ready to fight for their rights;
And they did just that.
Here are some key LGBTQ+ history highlights…
1990: The founding of OutRage!
In April of 1990, the gay actor Michael Boothe was kicked to death in West London by a group of six young men. His murder was the trigger for 35 queer rights activists forming the group OutRage!
This activist group was committed to radical, non-violent direct action and civil disobedience, and took their place in LGBTQ+ history:
- In June 1990, at the toilets in London’s Hyde Park, Outrage! protested against the Metropolitan Police and their entrapment of gay men.
- In September 1990, Outrage! organised a ‘kiss-in’ at London’s Piccadilly Circus, in protest at the arrests of gay men for kissing in public. A protestor even climbed up and kissed the statue of Anteros in protest!
These stunts and protests proved to be effective — between 1990 and 1994, the number of men who were convicted for consenting gay sexual acts fell by over 65%.
1990: The Lesbian and Gay Police Association (GPA)
Founded by Constable James Bradly, the GPA represented the needs and interests of gay and bisexual police officers and police staff across the UK. Their objectives of the GPA were to:
- Promote equal opportunities for gay and bisexual men and women in the police service.
- Offer advice and support to gay and bisexual men and women in the police service.
- Improve relations between the police service and the wider gay community.
One of GPA’s most outstanding achievements came over a decade later, in 2003, when — thanks to the actions of the group — police officers were allowed to march in uniform in gay pride marches. It was agreed that Pride was a legitimate celebration of LGBT history, life and culture, and participating in uniform demonstrated the diversity within modern-day police forces.
1992: The publication of ICD-10
The International Classification Of Diseases (ICD), published by the World Health Organisation (WHO), is the go-to document on all things to do with human disease and ill health. Before the 1990s, the ICD classified homosexuality as ‘a sexual deviation that was presumed to reflect an underlying personality disorder’.
Then, in 1992, a new version (the ICD-10) was released;
Homosexuality had now been removed from the list of mental disorders. This change was seen to reflect both emerging human rights and the lack of empirical evidence supporting the previous claims. An important turning point in LGBTQ+ history!
1994: A change in the age of consent for gay men
Shout out to an ally in LGBTQ+ history: The Conservative Member of Parliament Edwina Currie introduced an act to lower the age of consent for gay men — which at the time was 21 years old — to be the same as the age of consent for heterosexual and lesbian acts (16 years old).
Did the vote pass?
No, it was defeated — but the age of consent for gay men was lowered to 18.
1994: The London Lesbian Avengers
The direct action group, the London Lesbian Avengers, was formed in 1994 by ex-members of OutRage! to take their place in LGBTQ+ history by fighting for lesbian visibility and equal rights:
- In June 1994, the group surrounded the Queen Victoria Monument (near Buckingham Palace in London) to demonstrate against Queen Victoria’s assertion that lesbians do not exist.
- In October 1994, they protested against Save the Children after the charity dropped newly-out comedienne Sandi Toksvig from their 75th-anniversary event. They entered the Barbican in London and handed out hundreds of leaflets accusing the charity of being ‘homophobic bigots’.
- Throughout the 90s, they handcuffed themselves to desks at the Sunday Times offices, protested against MPs, and rode on an open-topped bus around London with a megaphone protesting Section 28.
1995: The Mermaids charity
In the mid-90s, a group of concerned parents with gender-nonconforming children came together to share their experiences, find answers, and look for ways to keep their children safe and happy while also raising the conversation about their rights.
The result of this meeting? Mermaids was founded.
Mermaids aims to support transgender, nonbinary and gender-diverse children, young people and their families. Since its inception in 1995, Mermaids has since become one of the UK’s leading LGBTQ+ charities.
1998: The Bolton Seven
In 1998, in a key moment in UK LGBTQ+ history, OutRage! came to the aid of seven men — known as The Bolton Seven — who had been convicted of gross indecency under the Sexual Offences Act 1956, and age of consent offences under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
Gay sex between two consenting adults had already been decriminilised, but these seven men (Gary Abdie, David Godfrey, Mark Love, Jonathon Moore, Craig Turner, Norman Williams and Terry Connell) were convicted because more than two men had sex together — which was still classed as illegal.
So Outrage! got involved and led a high-profile campaign:
- They presented over 400 letters to the court in support of the men — including letters from MPs, bishops, and human rights groups — asking the judge not to give custodial (prison) sentences.
- Amnesty International pledged to declare the men prisoners of conscience, should they be imprisoned.
The campaign worked, as none of the men received custodial sentences. Some years later, six of the men appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, and they were each awarded £15,000 in compensation.
1999: The first Transgender Day of Remembrance
Gwendoline Ann Smith — a transgender activist, writer, and graphic designer — co-founded Transgender Day of Remembrance to remember people who have been killed as a result of transphobia. Gwendoline set this up in honour of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who had been murdered the year before.
“Transgender Day of Remembrance seeks to highlight the losses we face due to anti-transgender bigotry and violence. I am no stranger to the need to fight for our rights, and the right to exist is first and foremost. With so many seeking to erase transgender people — sometimes in the most brutal ways possible — it is vitally important that those we lose are remembered, and that we continue to fight for justice.” — Gwendoline Ann Smith
Transgender Day of Remembrance takes place each year on 20 November, and this important day in LGBTQ+ history is now an international day of action observed in over 185 cities in more than 20 countries.
LGBTQ+ history in the 2000s
The UK LGBTQ+ community showed real determination and mobilisation in the 1990s, and their progress was starting to show the wider world that change were needed.
Did the progress continue apace in the 2000s?
Read all about LGBTQ+ history in the 2000s here.
Let us know over at @ncs the moments of LGBTQIA+ history that most resonate with you.
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