January 4, 2010
The 8 biggest LGBT news events of the 2000s
It’s no exaggeration to say that the past ten years has seen momentous changes for LGBT people in the UK, writes Milly Shaw. Cultural attitudes have improved vastly, and we have more legal protections than ever before. Of course there’s still a long way to go – casual discrimination is still sadly an everyday occurrence for many people, and homophobic murders still hit the headlines depressingly often.
But to remind us of how far we’ve come, we present to you (in reverse order) the 8 most important changes to the law for LGBT people in the UK from the past decade.
8. End of ban on gay soldiers (2000)
The British Armed Forces finally gave up its ban on openly LGBT personnel in 2000 – but only after a legal challenge from gay rights group Stonewall. Ten years on and gay people are in, but exactly how many there are or how they’re treated isn’t so well publicised – “It’s not something we monitor,” Captain Guy Sutcliffe told the Times newspaper. “It’s not relevant.”
7. Both mums on the birth certificate (2009)
Changes to the fertility law in 2009 meant that the partners of lesbians undergoing fertility treatment would have the same rights as the male partners of straight women. Fertility clinics no longer had to consider ‘the need for a father’ when providing treatment, and both women could automatically be listed on the child’s birth certificate as parents.
6. Right to adopt (2002)
Before 2002 only married couples in England and Wales could adopt children. With the Adoption and Children Act 2002 single people and unmarried couples could adopt too – including same-sex couples. Despite this, there are still are around 4,000 children needing adoption every year in the UK.
5. The right to goods and services (2007)
In 2007 it became illegal in the UK to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of goods, facilities, services, education and public functions. So b&b owners couldn’t refuse to offer a gay couple a double room, and sports clubs couldn’t refuse to allow a gay person to join. Conspicuously exempt from the Sexual Orientation Regulations 2007, however, is the National Blood Service, which still won’t accept donations from gay or bisexual men.
4. Employment protection (2003)
Since 2003 it’s been illegal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation. Brilliantly, it’s not actually about sexual orientation at all – refusing to hire a straight people because you think they’re gay is just as illegal as refusing to hire an actual gay person.
3. Bringing down the age of consent (2000)
Male homosexuality may have been partially decriminalised in 1967, but the age of consent for gay men remained 21 – compared to 16 for heterosexual people – until 2000. (Lesbian sex, of course, has never been illegal.) Politicians had been battling since the 70s to equalise the age of consent, but it wasn’t until the European Commission of Human Rights stepped in and declared that the difference in the age of consent violated gay men’s human rights that the UK law was finally changed in 2000.
2. Civil Partnerships (2004)
Since 2004 same-sex couples in the UK have been able to have their relationships formally recognised with a Civil Partnership. Civil Partnerships provide all of the same rights as straight marriage, but couples have to go without the actual word “marriage” or any of the religious trimmings. Not that it seems to matter to the 35,000 couples who have had the ceremonies so far.
1. Repeal of Section 28 (2003)
Section 28 was a nasty legacy of Margaret Thatcher’s government. Introduced in 1988 to stop local authorities from “promoting homosexuality”, it was only finally scrapped in 2003.
Section 28 terrified some teachers to the point where they would refuse to say anything at all about the existence of homosexuality for fear of losing their jobs – let alone challenging homophobic bullying or even coming out themselves. Thanks to Section 28, generations of gay schoolchildren grew up bullied and misinformed, and generations of straight schoolchildren grew up thinking homosexuality was sick and wrong.
More than 20 years after it was first introduced, the effects of Section 28 are still being felt – a survey from 2009 found that 95% of schoolchildren still think it’s ok to use homophobic language in school.
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