Let’s celebrate what we have achieved – but we must not be complacent

Drag queens on the BBC, shops adorned with rainbow flags during Pride Month, the coming out of professional footballer Jake Daniels and eight years of marriage equality – one might think the fight for LGBTQ+ equality has been won.

With Pride month beginning – and the inevitable questions raising as to why we still need to take this time to celebrate and promote the LGBTQ+ community – this seems like an opportune moment to reflect on just how far the law has come . It is also time to find out how sadly real equality for LGBTQ+ people is not yet a reality in modern Britain.

For most of history, legislation has attempted to regulate the personal and family lives of the LGBTQ+ community. It has previously determined who is allowed to have sex with whom, who is deemed fit to raise a child, what children can be taught about relationships, and how people identify.

The Buggery Act of 1533 punished bestiality with death and was exported throughout the British Empire in the 16th and 17th centuries – laws some Commonwealth countries still have today.

In 1957, an Inquiry issued a report recommending that “homosexual conduct between consenting adults should no longer be a criminal offense”. It took 10 years for the report’s recommendations to become law – the Sexual Offenses Act of 1967 eventually decriminalized homosexuality.

Gay Pride protest 1977

Gay Pride demonstration, July 4, 1977 (Image: Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A few years later, in 1972, the first Pride parade took place – an event that is still celebrated today. But in 1988 Margaret Thatcher’s government introduced Section 28, a law that banned the “promotion” of homosexuality by local authorities – with the result that schools could not educate children about LGBTQ+ issues. After years of campaigning, Section 28 was repealed in 2003.

In the 21st century, English law is radically more liberal: the Gender Recognition Act 2004 allows a person to legally change their gender, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act no longer requires doctors to recognize a potential child’s “right” to a father and The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 has ensured that marriage equality is enshrined in law.

There has been a spate of progressive legislation over the last 20 years – with the Minimum Age of Equality Act in 2001, the Civil Partnership Act and the Gender Recognition Act both introduced in 2004, the 2010 Equality Act listed both gender reassignment as sexual orientation as a characteristic to be protected from discrimination and Parliament voted in favor of marriage equality in 2013.

However, for some LGBTQ+ people across the country, the law is still not enough to ensure that their lives are truly equal.

LGBT Pride 98

Celebrities help hold a banner against Section 28 at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride event, London, July 4, 1998 (Photo: Steve Eason/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

When it comes to family building, biology can be a natural barrier for LGBTQ+ people. Costly international surrogacy agreements and outdated laws are two other obstacles.

Commercial surrogacy is not available in the UK and the law restricts what a surrogate can be paid. Also, there is little protection for the designated parents if the surrogate changes her mind about the arrangement and decides to keep the baby after birth.

This has prompted many to seek commercial surrogacy arrangements abroad, which can be costly and unaffordable. While the courts have struggled to interpret surrogacy legislation to place the best interests of the child at the heart of decision-making, reform of the legislation itself is long overdue.

It wasn’t until 2010 that surrogacy became available for unmarried and same-sex couples. Surrogacy – although not exclusive to LGBTQ+ people – is an option for LGBTQ+ couples seeking children, and intended parents of all genders can now be recognized as legal parents.

Men in camouflage pants ride a pink tank and carry rainbow flags during the Lesbian and Gay Pride event in London June 24, 1995

Pride in London, June 24, 1995 (Photo: Steve Eason/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

However, parental directives cannot be granted by the court until well after a child is born, leaving a time of anxiety and risk for the intended parents, the surrogate and the child.

A long-awaited review of existing legislation is expected by the Legal Commission later this year.

Expected proposals include streamlining the process, removing uncertainties and recognizing intended parents from birth. If legislation in England and Wales can be updated to streamline the process and provide more certainty, it may improve opportunities for those seeking children who cannot afford international surrogacy arrangements.

For transgender parents, the law needs to be fundamentally reformed. Few transgender people have an easy path to parenthood.

The Court of Appeal ruled in 2020 that a trans man who has preserved his fertility and carried his own child to term cannot be listed as the father on the birth certificate. The case is now being brought before the European Court of Human Rights.

Pride in London, 1995

Pride in London, 1995 (Photo by Steve Eason/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A document as simple as a birth certificate can have far-reaching implications for how someone views their identity.

For those looking to legally change their gender, the process is lengthy and can be unwieldy. Current English law requires someone to show an anonymous Gender Recognition Panel that they have lived with their identified gender for two years. Married transgender people require the consent of the spouse.

In addition, only two genders are legally recognized in UK law: male and female. This exclusion of non-binary and intersex people means many people hold inaccurate identification papers.

The UK is lagging behind countries like Australia, New Zealand, Denmark and Iceland, all of which allow an “X” to be placed in the gender section of identity documents.

You must also be over 18 to receive a gender recognition certificate, which can be a position that schools often struggle with.

Attorney General Suella Braverman recently said schools don’t have to admit transgender students and that they need to take “a much stricter line” against children seeking alternative gender expression.

The fact that lawmakers at the heart of government are poised to allow for further marginalization has worried school leaders.

An activist holds a sign that reads

A safe home is not guaranteed for many LGBTQ+ people (Image: Hesther Ng/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

School leaders have expressed concern that not listening to young people’s wishes and concerns risks damaging their mental health. When transgender students lose faith in their school system and miss out on educational opportunities, the long-term effects are both obvious and frightening.

At home, a recent study by charity Galop shows that a third of LGBTQ+ people have been victims of abuse from relatives. One form of domestic abuse is home conversion therapy.

Despite tireless campaigning, the government has hesitated to ban this abusive practice.

Revisions to the government’s original proposals to ban it now specifically exclude trans people and non-binary people. This means they cannot seek legal protection from this abuse.

One of the first Pride floats

One of the first Pride floats (Image: Bob Battersby/Eye Ubiquitous/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Legislation alone will not prevent all conversion therapy – especially when it takes place behind closed doors – but it is an important step in ensuring everyone can seek the protection of the law when they need it most.

With safe homes not guaranteed for many LGBTQ+ individuals, it is not surprising that rates of poor mental health, suicide, addiction and homelessness are peaking within the LGBTQ+ community.

There’s still a lot to celebrate. Recognition of same-sex parenting, equal marriage, the repeal of Section 28 and the introduction of the 2010 Equality Act are major milestones for the LGBTQ+ community.

However, this progress must not be taken for granted and significant changes are still needed.

The Council of Europe recently raised concerns that the UK is stepping backwards on LGBT rights. The report notes that there has been an increase in “highly biased anti-gender, anti-gender and anti-trans narratives” in the UK.

Such narratives flow directly into the legislative program.

While historical progress must be celebrated, we must not be complacent. Despite all the measures, it is clear that the battle for legal equality for LGBTQ+ people in the UK is far from over.

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MORE : 50 years of Pride is as important as ever – and here’s how we’ll be celebrating it celebrates 50 years of pride

This year marks 50 years of Pride, so it seems only fitting that goes above and beyond in our ongoing LGBTQ+ support, with a wealth of content celebrating not only everything Pride-related, but Share stories, take time to reflect and raise awareness for the community this Pride month.

MORE: Find all of’s Pride coverage here

And we also have some big names on board to help us. From a list of famous guest editors taking over the site for a week, including Rob Rinder, Nicholas Adams, Peter Tatchel, Kimberly Hart Simpson, John White, Anna Richardson and Dr Ranjwe will also have the likes Sir Ian McKellen and drag race stars the vivienne, Lawrence Chaney and Tia Kofi offer their insights.

During Pride Month, which runs June 1-30, will also support Kyiv Pride, a Ukrainian charity forced to work harder than ever to defend the rights of the LGBTQ+ community in times of conflict protection. To learn more about their work and what you can do to support them, click here. Let's celebrate what we have achieved - but we must not be complacent

Justin Scacco

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