25 years of Stonewall
From Section 28 to gay marriage in a quarter of a century
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It’s a quarter of a century since Stonewall was set up to help repeal Section 28, an odious piece of legislation and a sop to the Tory right by an increasingly out-of-touch Thatcher. The clause stated that a local authority "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or… promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. The statement sums up the still too prevalent belief that sexual orientation is a choice, and the paranoid dread that LGBT people will stop at nothing to convert the unsuspecting over to the Dark Side. As though sexuality were a political party, or brand of cigarette, rather than an integral part of a human being.
Thankfully, things have changed. On March 29th same-sex couples in England & Wales will be able to marry (Scotland will follow suit in October), a natural extension of the compromise New Labour introduced in the form of civil partnerships in 2004, having repealed Section 28 the previous year. This is right. Civil marriage is firstly a secular legality in this country, not a religious ceremony, and should preclude the objections of faiths which have already been given an opt out. That this legislation was pushed through by a Tory-led government shows the degree to which the landscape has changed - Stonewall can take credit for some of that.
In 25 years the legal situation has changed for LGBT people as much as anybody could have hoped for back in 1989, but the fight on the ground is far from over. In just the past three years in Britain one in six gay, lesbian and bisexual people have been the victim of hate crime; 55% of gay, lesbian and bisexual students have experienced homophobic bullying; and one in five gay, lesbian and bisexual employees have experienced verbal bullying from colleagues or customers. These are disgraceful numbers for our country in 2014, and until those figures are 0% Stonewall will continue to fight our corner.
Globally, more countries than ever before offer the same legal protections we now enjoy in the UK, and homosexuality is accepted, even celebrated. But progress has been far from universal, often thanks to the lobbying and funding from American evangelical churches. Uganda, Nigeria, Russia, India are but some of the countries where laws have recently been passed discriminating against their gay citizens, legitimizing homophobic attacks, verbal abuse, intimidation and, in some cases, murder. Being gay is illegal in 78 countries, in five it carries the death penalty. Stonewall is working with the UK Government and the European Union to educate people in these countries that homosexuality is not a ‘Western phenomenon’, that gay people exist throughout the world, that these laws are unfair, out of date, and need to be scrapped.
Many have sacrificed so that we can enjoy the freedoms we now have. Help Stonewall continue this work both here and abroad by donating whatever you can afford. It’s only by standing together that homophobia will be challenged and, at last, consigned to history.
Words: Martyn Fitzgerald
For more information, head over to the Stonewall website