ARTICLE: It's 50 years since the first Pride, has anything changed?

Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, leaders of the Stonewall Riot

Someone recently told us they fail to understand why sexual orientation in the workplace is an issue and that discussion was irrelevant. They rightly suggested that equal human rights for all should be the benchmark. A statement with which we wholeheartedly agree. We think it’s a mark of how far British society has come in our life times that we generally don’t see race, age, sexual orientation or religion as issues. Although this too is in question in recent months in light of the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests around the world and the fact that only this month the US Supreme Court ruled to grant LGBT+ American citizens workplace protections - meaning that LGBT+ employees can no longer be dismissed on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity - a protection introduced in UK law in 2004.

LGBT+ Workers Rally, 8th October 2019

For our founder Andy, growing up gay in Lincolnshire in the 90's was not actually the horrific experience people imagine. He has a loving family who, for the most part, allowed him to come out easily. His friends were supportive too. He used to joke that he was “the only gay in the village” until he realised that within a year either side of his school year there were 13 LGBT+ kids living in the village. There were of course a few stand out moments of homophobia but overall the transition out of the closet was painless.

Activism around sexual orientation through lobbying, marches - or as they're more widely recognised now, Pride Parades - and even the odd act of civil disobedience have been an integral part of Andy's adult life.  What people don’t seem to realise, and indeed take for granted as we enter the second decade of the 21st century is just how much has changed in such a very short period of time.

The UK LGBT rights movement started in 1958 with the formation of The Homosexual Law Reform Society and globally was highlighted in 1969 by police raid on the Stonewall Inn, Manhattan. The Stonewall Riots were the key event triggers the modern LGBT liberation movement in the US and beyond. In 1977, the first gay and lesbian Trades Union Congress (TUC) conference took place to discuss workplace rights. In 1992, the World Health Organisation declassified same sex attraction as a mental illness.

Thanks to a nasty piece of legislation known as Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 all schools were banned from offering any information about sexual orientation, which meant that Andy knew practically nothing about safe sex or healthy relationships when he left school. Equal age of consent was only achieved in 2000 and three years later Section 28 was finally repealed.

Scrap Section 28 Banner, Pride March, 1998

Between 2003 and 2013 we saw some monumental changes to the law pertaining to LGBT rights. Regulation came in to force which prohibited employers unreasonably discriminating against employees on grounds of sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation. This came 26 years after the TUC originally tabled workplace rights for lesbian and gay people. We won the right to Civil Partnership, and later, marriage; we won the right to be recognised for our appropriate genders - a battle that still rages one today, the right not to be discriminated against in the provision of goods and services. We won further protection against discrimination in the workplace and in education. We saw a decade of rapid change that allowed us more freedom, security and acceptance than ever before.

Often nowadays we get asked why we still need a gay rights movement, pride parades or even LGBT+ History Month? We think people don’t realise what a rapid rollercoaster of change we’ve been through to achieve the basic human rights we now, perhaps, take a little for granted in the UK. What makes us heartsick more than this is the insular view that LGBT+ equality isn’t a continuing evolution within our own country and across the wider world.

"Chechen mothers mourn their children" - Anti-gay purge protest, 1st May 2017

You only have to look at Russia to see the continuing struggle for LGBT+ rights. The 2013 LGBT Propaganda law prohibited the promotion of "non-traditional sexual relationships" – Russia’s very own Section 28. Since then, homophobic hate crimes have skyrocketed. Just days ago more gay men have been rounded up in Chechnya and herded into a concentration camp where they are subjected to electric shock torture and beatings. This is clearly a human rights atrocity, but it’s the Russian perception that gay men are less than human that’s the problem here. If you're as outraged by this as we are you can sign this petition from Amnesty International. So, while the discussion of sexual orientation in UK workplaces might seem irrelevant its perhaps more important than ever that we acknowledge how far we’ve come and how far as a species we still have to go.

Remember, the first “pride parade” was a riot. We cannot afford to forget where we've come from and the continued global struggle for ALL human rights.

Continued global injustices have highlighted the importance of the voices of those who are marginalised. Therefore we're offering, and will continue to offer, FREE scholarship places on our 'Own The Room' programme. We passionately believe that your voice brings change. Apply now by completing the scholarship discover form.

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