By Richard Lawrence-Allen
In our last blog we excitedly announced our burgeoning relationship with the UK’s leading LGBTQ+ charity, Stonewall, in an effort to make our workplace even more welcoming for LGBTQ+ individuals. Today marks Stonewall’s 30th anniversary and so to celebrate this incredible milestone in their history, we thought we’d take the time to look at some of Stonewall’s greatest achievements so far.
Stonewall was founded on 24th May 1989, named after the Stonewall Inn in New York City, a place widely considered to be the birthplace of the Gay Liberation Movement. Stonewall’s founders (among whom was the famous and openly gay actor, Sir Ian McKellen) established the charity as a response to introduction of the Local Government Act, Section 28, a piece of legislation that would go on to negatively affect the LGBTQ+ community for many years. Section 28 declared that a local authority of the UK “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.
Despite homosexuality being legal across all of the UK by the time of Section 28’s introduction, in the midst of the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s public opinion of the LGBTQ+ community was at a particular low. HIV/AIDS disproportionately affected gay and bisexual men and at a time when no one was clear on the nature of the virus, or how it was transmitted, HIV became known colloquially as “the gay plague” leading to widespread fear and dislike of the LGBTQ+ community. A British Social Attitudes Survey in 1987 published findings that a huge 75% of the British public at the time believed that homosexuality was “always or mostly wrong”, with only 11% agreeing that homosexuality was never wrong. Due to this public feeling of the time, the incumbent right-wing Conservative government of 1987 began debating the introduction of Section 28 and the bill was passed into law on 24th May 1988.
This law meant that councils were forbidden from stocking local libraries with gay-themed film and literature. School teachers and educational staff became afraid of discussing LGBTQ+ issues with students for fear of losing state funding. In fact, many previously established LGBTQ+ support groups in schools were closed for fear of breaching the Act (even though doing so held no criminal charges). This left young LGBTQ+ people without access to support and information.
Exactly one year after the introduction of Section 28, Stonewall was founded and amongst many other things, worked tirelessly to have Section 28 repealed. The Learning and Skills Act 2000 and the Education Act 1996, effectively rendered Section 28 inapplicable in schools after a time, allowing teachers to provide the sex education that their pupils need. However, the Act itself stood until 2003, a lasting symbol of the oppression that LGBTQ+ people had yet defeat. It took many years of campaigning, but on Thursday 18th September 2003, Section 28 was finally abolished, bringing this ugly chapter of LGBTQ+ history in the UK to an end.
Stonewall has helped the LGBTQ+ community immeasurably over the years in ensuring equal rights for queer people in the UK. In the same year as the abolition of Section 28, Stonewall’s activism lead to the inclusion of anti-gay crime in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, officially identifying this as a hate crime in UK law. A year later, Civil Partnerships for same-sex couples were introduced into law, a major step towards equal marriage which was later achieved for England, Scotland and Wales in 2013 (though remains illegal in Northern Ireland as of the time of writing). Thanks in great part to Stonewall, the Equality Act 2006, under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations, at last introduced protections against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of goods and services in the UK.
In 1999, after years of hard work, Stonewall had a huge breakthrough in its equality work, when it successfully enacted a change to lift the ban on lesbians and gay men serving openly in the British Armed Forces. Though it wasn’t until 2016 with the Armed Forces Act that this was legally enforced, thanks greatly due to Stonewall’s work, internal policy had been changed by 2000. A great victory for Stonewall’s campaigners. By 2008, all three branches of the British military (the Royal Navy, Royal Airforce and British Army) marched together at the London Pride event for the first time.
One of Stonewall’s most recognisable campaigns is the “Get Over It!” Campaign, which saw the release of different merchandise, posters, stickers and more, featuring, amongst other, similarly worded sentiments, the now iconic phrase: “Some People Are Gay. Get Over It!”. This campaign launched in 2005 as part of a nationwide “Education for All” initiative, supported by a coalition of over 70 organisations to tackle homophobia in schools, a campaign that still runs to this very day.
Stonewall has helped forge a better and safer environment for LGBTQ+ in the UK over the past 30 years and continues to work now, helping to stamp out further inequalities that still exist. Currently, Stonewall is running its Diversity Champions campaign, the scheme that RSVP has joined, focusing on bringing equality into workplaces, schools and homes across the country. It has also been working on producing invaluable research into homophobic hate crime, lesbian health and homophobia in football, as well as many other fantastic projects and events all in aid of the LGBTQ+ community.
We are very grateful to Stonewall here at RSVP for their work over the last 30 years and for their assistance in helping to make our workplace an even better environment for our LGBTQ+ staff, clients, family and friends, and we look forward to a long-lasting and productive relationship.