Following on from the first part, we count down the remaining five moments that defined LGBTQ history.
5. The AIDS Crisis
In the 1980s a new virus made its way into the spotlight. While there had been few cases reported in the 1970’s, it wasn’t until 1981 that HIV/AIDS hit headlines. Before this point there is no knowing how many people had been infected nor how it even started; the most common theory is that it spread from chimpanzees to humans decades before. It was believed that by 1980 HIV/AIDS could have possibly spread to 5 continents. Up to 300,000 people may have already been infected.
The first official cases became known in 1981 when a group of healthy, young, gay men suddenly became ill with a rare lung disease (Pneumocystis cabrini pneumonia, or PCP for short) in LA. There were reports around the same time of groups of men in New York and California suffering from an aggressive cancer, Kaposi’s Sarcoma. Cases of PCP were reported in people who injected drugs soon after. By the end of 1981 there were 270 reported cases of severe immune deficiency in gay men. 121 of them died.
The next year, 1982, saw the syndrome being linked to sexual activity. All the cases so far had been linked to gay men. This was the reason why it was given the name Gay-Related Immune Deficiency, or GRID for short. It wasn’t until later that year, when the term AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) was first used.
Meanwhile, AIDS cases were reported across Europe and Doctors in Uganda were faced with cases of a deadly wasting disease that they called “slim.” While the epidemic grew, several AIDS-specific organisations had been set up across the world like the San Francisco AIDS Foundation (SFAF) or Terrence Higgins Trust. The Terrence Higgins Trust remains the leading charity for HIV and AIDS awareness in the UK. It was named after Terry Higgins who was among the first known people in the UK to have died from AIDS related illnesses in July 1982.
In 1983 the first cases of AIDS were discovered in females, dispelling the myth that it was a “gay only” disease. Following this discovery, came reports of children infected with the virus. While some feared that it could be passed through contact, it was found that the children had been infected with AIDS from the mother around the time of birth. By September 1983 transmission by casual contact, food, water, air, surfaces was ruled out but it didn’t stop people’s paranoia. By the end of 1983 the number of cases in the USA alone had reached 3,064 of which 1,292 people had died.
In 1984 blood tests were created that could detect the virus and scientists hoped for a vaccine within 2 years. By October saunas and sex clubs in San Francisco closed because of the high risk activity. New York and LA followed within the year. By the end of 1984, 7,699 AIDS cases had been reported in the USA with 3,665 deaths. 762 cases had been discovered in Europe. Despite the care in preventative measures it was spreading unstoppably.
The next few years saw a massive rise in cases spreading around the world. The epidemic began to cause even more wide-spread fear and spurred hatred towards the LGBTQ community. Homophobia rose and hate crimes were increasingly common. Even the governments used this to further persecute and undermine LGBTQ people. Section 28 was passed in the UK, which banned “Homosexual propaganda” in schools (more on that soon)
Despite the information about HIV/AIDS, the general public remained uneducated on the subject and stigma was attached to LGBTQ people even though it was a known fact that HIV affected heterosexuals too. The “death” motif followed hand in hand with all AIDS related stories and advertising which furthered fear among the public.
There were however, some beautiful stories of people who stuck by their friends and family during their battles with HIV/AIDS and never left their sides. The most notable of these people was Ruth Coker-Burke, an American woman who cared for AIDS victims who had been abandoned by their families. She used her own money to care for people who had nobody and even buried them in a graveyard owned by her family when they passed. Ruth was a true hero of our community who worked tirelessly to make people’s lives more comfortable without expecting anything in return. You can read more about her moving story here.
We are lucky now to live in an era where HIV isn’t as terrifying as it used to be. However, there is still a stigma placed upon those who live with the virus, a stigma that we must dispel. With effective treatment, anyone living with the virus becomes “undetectable” which means that tests can’t tell they have the virus. In this condition it is not possible to transmit the virus to another person through sex. This has been proven by studies and surveys which have monitored unprotected sex between couples where one person was HIV-Positive and the other, HIV-Negative over a prolonged period of time. 1,000 couples were surveyed and after 58,000 sexual acts, there was not a single transmission of the virus. Despite this, scientists are still hesitant to confirm 100% as with all things there can be rare cases where things happen by fluke.
Through the 1980’s and the 90’s, even though treatments were developed that could help people live with HIV/AIDS, it was still thought to be a deadly disease. Too many people lost their battle with it. Luckily treatments have become more effective as time has gone on and now, those living with HIV can expect an average life-span.
In 2012 PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) became known as an effective treatment. One pill per day essentially prevents the virus from copying itself in the body if it is come into contact with. In turn this prevents the virus from being able to attack the body in the way it normally would and it lowers the chance of catching HIV by more than 90%. Combining this with practicing safe sex increases safety even further. PrEP must be taken consistently for it to work effectively; like most medication missing too many doses can have an adverse effect its reliability.
4. Section 28
Section 28 began in 1988, under Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government. It was a product of fear and homophobia brought about by the AIDS crisis and the homophobia of the time. Section 28 sought to drive a hard divide between “us and them” by banning all promotion of homosexuality in schools.
The 1980s were a turbulent time for LGBT people. Int started off promisingly. The early 80s saw London Council begin funding and donating to LGBT groups. Alliances were formed in the most unlikely places, by the most unlikely people. The LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) and LAPC (Lesbians Against Pit Closures) were well known for coming together in a mutual hatred for Thatcher’s cold approach to her politics. The story of the former became so famous that it spawned a film in 2014 named Pride. However, in 1983 the Daily Mail reported a book “Jenny lives with Eric and Martin” had been found in a school library that was run by a Labour group. It supposedly told a story of a young girl who lived with her father and his male companion. This combined with the AIDS crisis created an atmosphere of tension and hostility towards LGBTQ people.
The Conservatives saw this as a time to strike. During the 1987 election campaign the Tories issued posters attacking the opposition. It stated that Labour wanted to put books about homosexuality into schools. Tories claimed the books with titles like “Young, Gay and Proud,” “The Playbook for Kids About Sex,” and the ominously titled “The Milkman’s On His Way,” were being taught to children as young as five and six. According to Jill Knight, MP, the books featured “brightly coloured images of sick men showing the children how to have homosexual intercourse and, indeed, glorified it, encouraging the youngsters to believe it is better than any other sexual way of life.”
This was the start of a long, slippery slope that ended up with wide-spread fear that children would be allowed, by the left-wing, to be taught about homosexuality. Section 28 was their answer to that. Part of the “Local Government Act 1986 (Amendment Bill) also known as “An act to refrain local authorities from promoting homosexuality,” it passed the House of Lords and was passed through the first stage at the House of Commons. At this time, though, the election had taken over importance and it failed.
It ought to have been a stroke of luck that it fell through but in December 1987 it was brought back by David Wilshire, MP. It was here that it became known as Clause 28 (or Section 28) This legislation banned all promotion of homosexuality. Teachers were banned from even mentioning that it was possible for same-sex couples to exist. Libraries were not allowed to keep books or films that openly featured themes of homosexuality. It was a dangerous move. In a world where HIV and AIDS were taking lives, education could have saved lives. Instead all information, help and support for young people became illegal. Small LGBT groups still existed but how would anyone, especially young people who needed the services most, know about them if they weren’t allowed to promote?
Section 28 was the first piece of homophobic legislation in a century and was met with strong opposition. It was a huge step backwards for a community that had been doing so well. In retaliation, activists rushed into a live broadcast of the BBC 6 o’ clock News on 23rd May 1988. They handcuffed themselves to cameras and disrupted the entire broadcast to draw attention to the issue. Meanwhile in Manchester more than 20,000 people joined together in a protest March. It was here that actor, Sir Ian McKellan, came out publicly so that he could stand against Section 28.
Section 28 remained firmly in place until it was repealed in Scotland in 2001. England and the rest of the UK followed in 2003. While it was no longer illegal to teach about same-sex relationships and transgender issues, they simply just weren’t talked about. Section 28 ended sixteen years ago and most schools still haven’t adapted. Their students are still denied decent representation and education on their relationships. A majority of teachers still feel uncomfortable to approach the subject of LGBTQ relationships, even though it’s perfectly allowed. Now, in 2019, steps are being made to ensure that schools are finally doing the right thing. In the UK, LGBTQ issues will be officially addressed in Sex and Relationship education for the first time from 2020.
3. Russia’s Anti-Gay Propaganda Laws and The Chechnyan Purge
While we look back now and find it shocking that something like Section 28 ever existed, for the people of Russia this is still their reality. In 2013, the Russian government created a law that makes it illegal to promote homosexuality. No books, no films, no songs, no flags, no LGBT groups. Nothing. People in Russia can’t even use apps to meet people without fear of being caught out. Many innocent people have gone to meet someone and been ambushed by groups who have then filmed their violent attacks. Tactics used to humiliate their victims involve shaving their heads, beatings, urinating on them, forcibly raping them with broken bottles. Some have not survived their encounters, and those who do are too scared and ashamed to seek medical attention. It is a dangerous and brutal country.
In neighbouring Chechnya a gay purge has been taking place for roughly two years. The Head of the Chechnyan Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov consistently denies the existence of the purge and of gay people, claiming that there are no gay people in Chechnya because their own families would kill them. This is exactly what has been happening. Those who have managed to flee the country speak of being locked up in cells, being beaten by police who interrogate and torture them to give information about other LGBT people. The Chechnyan singer, Zelimkhan Bakayev has been missing since August 2017. He visited his family for his sister’s wedding and was never seen again. He, too, is believed to have been murdered by his family. This has even been ominously confirmed by Ramzan Kadyrov, himself.
It’s terrifying and disturbing that this can happen in a modern world. You can learn more about the Chechnyan Purge in the video below.
2. Admiral Duncan and Pulse
In 1999, London was shocked by string a horrific terrorist attacks which involved bombings across the city. One in Brixton, one in Brick Lane and the third in the Admiral Duncan pub. It was the last of these bombings that was deliberately aimed at the LGBTQ community.
The attacks took three lives and injured 140. All three deaths occurred at the Admiral Duncan, and 70 of the injured were from the Admiral Duncan too. Some of those hurt, suffered from life changing injuries including loss of limbs.
This vile attack was carried out by neo-Nazi terrorist and BNP member, David Copeland. Copeland intended to stir up hatred and fear and instigate a war between minority groups. He was sentenced to fifty years in prison.
The reaction to the Admiral Duncan bombing was one of support and unity in London. A massive meeting was organised in Soho Square on the Sunday following the attack. The meeting was attended by thousands and many speeches were made, including the Metropolitan Police who attended to show their support to the LGBTQ community. They promised that a crime scene van would remain at the scene until the attacker was caught. Not only that, this van would be run entirely by LGBTQ officers who could be approached with any information. Until then, this had absolutely been unheard of as the police and LGBTQ communities had suffered a rocky relationship to say the least.
Sadly attacks on the LGBTQ community are still ongoing and in 2016 we suffered the most devastating blow. On 12th June of that year, the Pulse nightclub in Orlando was propelled into headlines. In the biggest mass shooting in American history Omar Mateen opened fire inside the club and killed 49 people. He injured over 50 more. The majority of the victims were young and had their whole lives ahead of them. They were guilty of no crime and were just going about their lives and having fun. Mateen’s wife, Noor Salman confessed that she knew of her husband’s intent to carry out the attack. She even scouted the nightclub with him. She should have been charged with aiding and abetting terrorism. Sadly, in another cruel twist of injustice, a jury found her not guilty.
The Pulse shooting is one of the most heartbreaking events in our LGBTQ history and is a sobering reminder that there are some out there who still actively seek to harm us despite all the progress we make. However, at the darkest time for our community, we fought back with love and light. LGBTQ communities and allies gathered in their thousands and held emotional candle lit vigils and memorials worldwide to remember and pay respect to the victims. We will always remember them.
- Civil Partnerships and Marriage Equality
Civil Partnerships were introduced in 2004 as a compromise and marriage alternative to same-sex couples which allowed them to have their relationships legally recognised. While being very similar to marriage, there are a few differences. Unlike marriage, and probably the most important difference is that there is no need for vows or even a ceremony. It just involves signing a document to register the civil partnership. Marriage ends in divorce, whereas a civil partnership is ended by a Dissolution Order. Marriage certificates include only the father’s name while civil partnership documents include both parents and when it comes to overseas travel, some countries recognise civil partnerships while marriage is recognised all over. Sadly, even with the event of same-sex marriage, some countries do not accept our marriages so they still count for nothing in those places.
Civil partnership was a massive step forward for same-sex couples and allowed us another step towards being equal to heterosexual couples. However, religious groups insisted that our relationships are “less than” or “not equal” to those of heterosexual marriage. They also believe that our fight for marriage equality would “redefine” marriage and disrespect the word of the Bible.
This became a fight that would be ultimately won in England and Wales in 2013. parliament finally voted that same-sex couples should be given the right to be legally married.
The proposals of the bill included to allow same-sex couples to access civil marriages in a registry office or any licensed premises. It never intended to trample over religious marriage, as some claimed. Religious marriage remained only for heterosexual couples until a little later when certain progressive churches welcomed same-sex ceremonies but had to have religious content cut. Civil partnerships remained an option and for those who already had a civil partnership, the option was there to upgrade to marriage and the final point was to allow individuals to change their gender without being made to end their marriage.
Scotland followed England and Wales in 2014 by allowing same-sex marriage across the border. However, six years have passed and Northern Ireland are still falling behind. While the subject has been voted on five times (the fifth time being a marginal win in favour of the marriage equality) DUP leader, Arlene Foster, continues to defend her position on the subject. Foster claims that she will use a Petition of Concern to block any bill that tries to ever pass same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. Any married same-sex couples entering Ireland from a place where their marriage is recognised will only be accepted as being in a “Civil partnership” while in Northern Ireland.
The complete opposite of Ireland, the Netherlands, recognised domestic partnerships between same-sex (and heterosexual) couples from1998 and was the first grant same-sex marriages from April 1st 2001.
The subject of equal marriage had been very divisive among the LGBTQ community. Some weren’t happy because of the connotations of religion and heteronormativity whereas others just wanted to have the equality of being able to call their relationship marriage because Civil Partnership, as close as it was to marriage legally, felt very different. It isn’t as strongly protective as marriage and the name sounds more like a legal term. Civil Partnership doesn’t carry the weight and the respect that marriage does. It was essentially just another divide that separated LGBTQ people and perpetuated an “us and them” culture.
In the years since the bill passed, same-sex marriages have been on the increase and civil partnerships have dropped. However, in 2018, a bill was passed that would give heterosexual couples a choice between Civil Partnership and marriage so that their relationships may be legally recognised without having to be married.
The fight for marriage equality was long but when the bill passed there was an overwhelming sense of triumph in the community. It was a definite, legal equality the likes of which some had never seen coming. Some of those first couples to marry had lived through times where they could have been imprisoned for their sexuality, some had lost loved ones in the AIDS crisis and many had been victims of hate crimes because they weren’t seen as being worth equal to straight people.
Over the years LGBTQ people have struggled and faced a tough journey filled with heartache and horror. We have suffered injustice and pain and we will likely continue to suffer while people remain ignorant. Going into the future, it’s up to us to do our best to live honestly, love openly and always meet hatred with education. Make friends with older LGBTQ people, listen to their stories and share them. Only together can we educate and help to end the horrors that are still faced around the world. It is our actions that will lead to the next important moment in the history of our beautiful, rainbow community.
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