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The Biggest Milestones In The Battle For LGBT+ Equality Over The Last Five Decades

Homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK 50 years ago today.

27/07/2017 11:45 | Updated 27 July 2017
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Homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales 50 years ago today 

On this day 50 years ago, homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales when the Sexual Offences Act 1967 was given royal assent. 

Under the new legislation, it was declared that “private homosexual acts” between two men over the age of 21 were now legal after first being outlawed during Queen Victoria’s reign. 

Despite the very restrictive circumstances of the law, it represented a landmark milestone in a long - and ongoing - fight for LGBT+ equality in the UK. 

But as the country moves into the next 50 year fight for equality, HuffPost UK takes a look back over the last five decades at some of the biggest milestones in the battle for LGBT+ rights. 

1974: Maureen Colquhoun becomes first openly lesbian MP 

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Maureen Colquhoun was outed by the Daily Mail in 1974

Labour politician Maureen Colquhoun made history as the first openly lesbian MP when she was outed by the Daily Mail after leaving her husband for a woman. 

However, the Northampton North MP faced mass derision from the public and her own party, who eventually deselected her in 1977. 

The local party chairman declared at the time: “She was elected as a working wife and mother ... this business has blackened her image irredeemably.” 

But Colquhoun hit back, telling Gay News: “My sexuality has nothing to do with my ability to do my job as an MP.”  

1980: Homosexuality decriminalised in Scotland

Under the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980, “homosexual acts” were decriminalised between men over 21 and in private in Scotland. 

1982: Homosexuality decriminalised in Northern Ireland

Sex between two men over the age of 21 “in private” was decriminalised in Northern Ireland under the Homosexual Offences Order. 

1984: Chris Smith becomes first openly gay MP 

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Chris Smith became the UK's first openly gay MP in 1984

Labour politician Chris Smith became the UK’s first openly gay MP when he came out at a gay rights protest rally in Rugby shortly after being elected, winning himself a five minute standing ovation from the crowd

The Islington South MP, who was Tony Blair’s secretary for culture, media and sport, was made Lord Smith of Finsbury after stepping down from the Commons in 2005. 

1990: Justin Fashanau becomes first professional footballer to come out as gay  

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Striker Justin Fashanau was paid £75,000 by his brother not to come out 

Justin Fashanu became the first openly gay professional footballer after he came out to a newspaper in 1990. 

Fashanu’s brother John - who also played professional football - paid him £75,000 in an attempt to stop him revealing his sexuality. 

John told the Mirror in 2015: “I gave him the money because I didn’t want the embarrassment for me or my family. Had he come out now, it would be a different ball game.

“There wouldn’t be an issue, but there was then. Things are different now. Now he’d be hailed a hero.”

Striker Fashanu, who was also the first black player to be transferred for £1 million, died by suicide in 1998. 

1992: The World Health Organisation declassifies same sex attraction as a ‘mental illness’

Prior to 1992, homosexuality was considered by the World Health Organisation to be a “mental illness” that could be formally diagnosed. 

1994: Age of consent for gay men lowered to 18 

In 1994, the age of consent for same-sex relations between men was lowered from 21 to 18 after a move to reduce it to 16 was defeated in the House of Commons. 

1997: Stephen Twigg becomes first openly gay MP to be elected  

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Stephen Twigg was the first MP to be openly gay at the time he was elected 

Labour’s Stephen Twigg became the first out MP to be elected to Parliament during the 1997 General Election. 

Twigg, who was also the first gay president of the National Union of Students, beat his fellow Labour politician Ben Bradshaw to the title by just 21 minutes on election night. 

1997: Angela Eagle becomes first lesbian MP to voluntarily come out  

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Angela Eagle with her partner Maria Exall at their civil partnership ceremony 

Labour MP Angela Eagle - who was first elected in 1992 - became the first lesbian MP to voluntarily come out during a newspaper interview in 1997. 

She told HuffPost UK last year: ”I didn’t know whether I’d stay in Parliament, whether I’d lose my seat as a result of it.

“Maureen Colquhoun was the only other example - and that hadn’t ended well. Now looking back it you can say, oh it’s fine. But nobody knew. I didn’t know it would be fine.” 

In 2008 Eagle entered a civil partnership with Maria Exall, becoming the first female politician to tie the knot with a same-sex partner. 

2000: Gay, lesbian and bisexual people allowed to join the Armed Forces 

In 2000, the government lifted a ban on gay, lesbian and bisexual people from joining the Armed Forces. 

Ministry of Defence policy had previously barred this group from joining the military “because of the close physical conditions in which personnel often have to live and work, and also because homosexual behaviour can cause offense, polarise relationships, induce ill-discipline and damage morale and unit effectiveness”. 

2000: Age of consent for gay men lowered to 16 

Under changes to the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000, the age of consent for same-sex relations between men was reduced to 16.  Group sex between men was also decriminalised. 

2002: Equal rights granted to same-sex couples applying for adoption 

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Gay people were allowed to adopt following a change to the law in 2002

Before the change to the law, neither same-sex couples nor unmarried straight couples could adopt or foster children. 

2003: Law banning schools from ‘promoting homosexuality’ repealed 

In 2003, section 28 - which had banned schools and councils from “promoting homosexuality” was repealed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland after being lifted in Scotland three years earlier. 

2004: Transgender people allowed to legally change their gender 

In a historic milestone for LGBT+ rights, trans people were given the right to legally change their gender when the Gender Recognition Act was passed in 2004. 

Under this new legislation, trans people were able to get a new birth certificate and were given full legal recognition of their chosen gender, including in marriage. 

2004: Civil partnerships granted in the UK   

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One of the first couples in the UK to enter a civil partnership celebrate 

In 2004, same-sex couples were finally given the right to register civil partnerships, with new legislation offering them the same rights and responsibilities as straight married couples in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. 

Christopher Cramp and terminally ill man Matthew Roche became the first UK same-sex couple to enter into a civil partnership after holding a ceremony in Roche’s hospice only hours after the act became law. 

Roche, who was suffering from lung cancer, died just one day after the ceremony at the age of 46. 

2010: Trans people protected from discrimination under Equality Act 

Under changes to the Equality Act in 2010, “gender reassignment” became a protected characteristic, meaning trans people could not be discriminated against just because gender identity differed from the gender they were assigned at birth. 

2013: Alan Turing given posthumous royal pardon  

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Alan Turing was convicted of 'gross indecency' in 1952 

Famed World War II codebreaker Alan Turing - whose work is widely credited for shortening the war by years - was given a posthumous royal pardon in a landmark move on Christmas Eve 2013. 

In 1952, Turing had been convicted of “gross indecency” for his relationship with a 19-year-old man and was chemically castrated as punishment. The mathematician, who had worked at Bletchley Park throughout the war, also lost his security clearance. 

Two years later, Turing died by suicide from cyanide poisoning. 

In 2017, new legislation nicknamed the “Alan Turing Law” saw thousands of gay and bisexual men pardoned for historic homosexual “offences” which are no longer criminal.  

2013 : Same-sex marriage legalised in England and Wales  

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Same-sex couples were allowed to marry following a change to the law in 2013 

In a historic piece of legislation that cut the Conservative Party down the middle, same-sex marriage was legalised by Parliament in England and Wales in 2013. 

Despite resistance from some religious groups, news that the bill had received Royal Assent was met with cheers in the Commons. 

Speaking at the time, then-culture secretary Maria Miller said that the “wonderful achievement” demonstrated society’s respect “for all individuals regardless of their sexuality”. 

“It demonstrates the importance we attach to being able to live freely. It says so much about the society that we are and the society that we want to live in,” she added. 

The first same-sex marriages took place in March 2014, with human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell saying the move had “made Britain a more tolerant, equal place”.  

2015: Ireland becomes first country in the world to legalise gay marriage by referendum 

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Supporters celebrate Ireland's decision to legalise gay marriage 

In 2015, Ireland became the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote.

More than 62% voted in favour of amending the country’s constitution to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. 

Supporters of the Yes campaign celebrated in the streets of Dublin as the ballots were counted, breaking into the national anthem when the official result was announced.  

2017: Government proposes plans to make it easier for people to legally change their gender 

Last week, the government revealed plans to make it easier for people to legally change their gender by removing “demeaning” rules. 

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