The Struggle for Equality

A Gay Liberation Front march in the 1970s

The impact of the Stonewall Riots was felt immediately. Within two months, two organisations were formed in the US and by the early 1970s there were organisations across the US and the world.

Newspapers were set up, as the mainstream media often refused to even mention the word gay.

Gay Liberation Front

The Gay Liberation Front was one of these organisations with the mission to completely transform society, opposing institutions such as heterosexual marriage and the nuclear family but also sexism, racism and militarism.

Initially the GLF were in favour of direct action and civil disobedience, inspired by the anti-war and civil rights movements, rejecting the peaceful tactics undertaken by earlier groups. They would also use performance and radical drag, with a view to change societal norms and cultural values, instead of chasing legal reform.

To mark the one year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the first gay pride marches took place on the 28th June 1970 in New York and other cities across the US. These marches were of great historical importance. Not only were they about visibility, through peaceful protest they also called for the respect of their fundamental human rights and fought the legal and social situation that oppressed them. Pride marches have taken place every year since across the world.

A Gay Liberation Front march in the 1970s

Demonstration, with Gay Liberation Front Banner, c1972
© IMAGELIBRARY/1370 LSE Library.

Law Equality in the UK

Campaigner Peter Tatchell believed it would take around 50 years from Stonewall to achieve legal equality for gay and lesbian people in the UK. He was right.

In the UK, male homosexual acts were illegal until 1967 with the introduction of the Sexual Offences Act, which was a partial decriminalisation of homosexual acts made in private. However, it would be another three decades before LGBTQ+ people started to feel real progress towards legal equality, meaning much work was still to be done. Today, the struggle continues.

Section 28

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher introduced Section 28 of the Local Government Act in 1988. It stated that local authorities “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality”.

This symbolised the continuing criminalisation of LGBTQ+ communities and caused many groups to self-censor and limit their activities at risk of breaching it. Many groups, such as the GLF, campaigned against it, arguing it made gay and lesbians second class citizens. Stonewall UK was set up in response to Section 28 and still continues today.

Section 28 was introduced during the HIV/AIDS crisis. The disease was reported in the early 80s and was first associated with gay and bisexual men by the media and the medical profession. Whilst the UK government was fast to produce national HIV campaign materials, the fear of AIDS was used to gain support for Section 28 and led to an increase in homophobia. The crisis had a huge impact on LGBTQ+ campaigners, with many focusing on demanding help and support for those who were diagnosed and denied treatment, and trying to remove the stigma associated with it.

The fastest, most successful law reform campaign in British history”

— Peter Tatchell

Legal Reform in Early 2000s

The early 2000s saw a series of reforms that were a step towards legal equality for LGBTQ+ people. Section 28 was repealed, the age of consent was made the same for non- LGBTQ+ people and civil partnerships were introduced. In 2013, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act was passed. 

These were not the result of any one group, but the culmination of decades of campaigning on a global scale by thousands of people.