Queer Histories Timeline

Check out our timeline of significant events in queer history in the UK and beyond…



The UK’s queer history is one full of colourful events, milestone moments and moves to fight against oppression. 

Securing equality for the LGBTQIA+ community is an ongoing fight and while significant changes have taken place over the last 50 years, discrimination and hate crimes still occur. As you can see from the events below, societal changes have been slow and steady. 

Here, we'll explore some of the significant events in queer British history starting from the 1950s… 

1957 | The Wolfenden Report

During the early 1950s, the authorities sought to prevent sexual behaviour between men with a series of high-profile arrests, including that of actor John Gielgud and war-time code-breaker and computer science founder, Alan Turing. 

Under the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, any homosexual activity between males was illegal and Sir John Wolfenden headed up a report to consider both homosexual offences and prostitution.

Wolfenden and his committee recommended that "homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence".

1967 | The Sexual Offences Act 

Many of the report’s recommendations eventually led to the passage of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, although this only applied to England and Wales. 

This replaced the previous law on sodomy contained in the Offences against the Person Act 1861 and the 1885 Labouchere Amendment which outlawed every homosexual act short of sodomy. The act did not become law until a decade after the report was published in 1957.

It legalised homosexual acts in England and Wales on the condition that they were consensual, in private and between two men aged 21 or older.

1969 | Elton John releases debut record, 'Empty Sky'

Elton John releases his debut album, 'Empty Sky', and the start of a career that is still going strong more than 50 years later. 

He came out as bisexual in a 1976 interview with Rolling Stone,[235][236] and in 1992 he told Rolling Stone in another interview that he was 'quite comfortable about being gay'.

1969 | Stonewall Riots in New York

In 1969, a series of demonstrations in New York known as the Stonewall riots started after the authorities raided a bar called the Stonewall Inn.

This bar located in Greenwich, Lower Manhattan was a popular hang out place for gay people.

These riots are widely believed to be the start of the movement of people fighting for gay rights in the US and inspired others to stand up for rights across the rest of the world. 

1970 | Decade of disco

The disco form of dance music emerged in the seventies around certain artists and producers such as Larry Levan, Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Chaka Khan and many more. The sounds orbited particular clubs including the legendary Studio 54 and Area - although the sound's popularity diminshed at the start of the eighties, the sound continues to enjoy an enduring popularity...

1972 | First British Gay Pride and launch of Gay News

The London Gay Liberation Front organised the first UK Gay Pride march in London. The march ran from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park with around 1,000 people participating in this celebration of their identities within the capital.

In the same year another significant event took place with the launch of Gay News, Britain's first gay newspaper.

1972 | David Bowie unveils Ziggy Stardust

The iconic David Bowie often embodied different musical personas and identities, none more striking than Ziggy Stardust. Bowie's album, 'Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars' was a defining work of the seventies and coincided with him coming out in an interview with Melody Maker.

In the same year, bisexual rocker Lou Reed releases 'Walk on the Wild Side', a new single celebrating the lives of the gay and bi characters in Andy Warhol's social circle. 

1976 | Lemon v. Whitehouse | Blasphemy Trial

Mary Whitehouse was the founder of the Nationwide Festival of Light and the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association and, in 1976, took Gay News to trial for blasphemy.

This was the first case of its kind for many years and came in response to the publication of a homoerotic poem about Jesus by James Kirkup titled The Love That Dare not Speak Its Name. 

Gay News founder Denis Lemon lost the case in the end. However, legal costs were covered by a series of community donations.

1978 | The Tom Robinson Band release 'Glad to Be Gay' 

In 1978, the Tom Robinson released their anthemic, 'Glad to Be Gay', a song that was a celebration of sexuality in the face of unwarranted and unwanted attacks by the authorities, the media and wider establishment. 

1981 | First UK case of AIDS

The first UK case of AIDS was recorded in 1981 when a man was admitted to Brompton Hospital, London suffering from Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia. He died 10 days later.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of 2021, HIV/AIDS has killed approximately 40.1 million people, and approximately 38.4 million people are infected with HIV globally.

1984 | The arrival of Bronski Beat and Frankie Goes to Hollywood 

Bronski Beat and Liverpool’s Frankie Goes to Hollywood were two new bands to arrive in 1984. Not only did they come armed with brilliant music but with gay members and lyrics with gay themes. 

Their debut hits - Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Relax’ and Bronski Beat’s ‘Smalltown Boy’ - were banned by the BBC but the likes of John Peel still played them. 

Elsewhere, other eighties bands Culture Club and Dead or Alive also celebrate their queer identities in both their aesthetic and music. 

1984 | MP Chris Smith comes out in Parliament 

Chris Smith, was newly elected to the UK parliament in 1984. 

He became the first openly homosexual politician after declaring: "My name is Chris Smith. I'm the Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury, and I'm gay".

1988 | Section 28 of the Local Government Act 

Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, introduced by the Conservative Government under Margaret Thatcher, banned local authorities from ‘promoting homosexuality’ or ‘pretended family relationships’. 

The law also prohibited councils from funding educational materials and projects perceived to 'promote homosexuality'. 

The legislation prevented the discussion of LGBT issues and stopped pupils getting support they needed. Section 28 was subsequently repealed in 2003. 

1990 | Riot Grrrl Movement launches

This feminist punk rock movement was spearhead by bands such as Bikini Kill and Heavens to Betsy, all groups reacting to the seemingly male-dominated world of guitars. 

From fanzines to gigs, the scene was DIY and anti-establishment. Team Dresch were a queercore group while Bikini Kill sang about their love for women including their immense, 'Rebel Girl'

1992 | The World Health Organisation declassifies homosexuality as a mental illness 

This decision from the World Health Organisation represented a big change in perceptions of the LGBTQIA+ community. 

It meant that people stopped receiving controversial attempts at ‘curing’ their sexuality. 

1994 | Age of consent reduced to 18 for gay men 

Tory MP Edwina Currie introduced an amendment to lower the age of consent for homosexual acts from 21 to 16. 

This was to be aligned with heterosexual acts. However, the vote was defeated and the gay male age of consent was lowered to 18 instead. The lesbian age of consent was not set.

1998 | The Bolton Seven

This was a group of seven gay and bisexual men who were convicted of gross indecency under the Sexual Offences Act 1956 and age of consent offences under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

Despite the Sexual Offences Act 1967 decriminalising gay sex, they were convicted under section 13 of the 1956 Act. This was due to more than two men having sex together, which remained illegal.

1998 | Rob Halford from Judas Priest comes out 

Judas Priest have been one of heavy metal's most successful acts so when their frontman Rob Halford came out, it marked a sea-change for the genre. As Rolling Stone put: 'As the earliest show of queer solidarity from a prominent metal musician, Halford’s admission proved vital in reshaping the public perception of heavy metal, reposting an earsplitting, heteronormative boys’ club as a safe space where headbangers of all types could be themselves...'

2004 | Civil Partnership Act

The Labour Government introduced this act to give same-sex couples the same right as their heterosexual equivalents.  

This was across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and officially came into effect on 5 December 2005.

2008 | Lady Gaga releases debut album, 'The Fame'

Lady Gaga's musical journey began in huge style in 2008 with her debut album, 'The Fame'. Throughout her career, she has been a vocal supporter of the LGBTQIA+ community with her hit 'Born This Way' adopted by many as an anthem for self-expression...

2010 | Equality Act

The Equality Act 2010 legislates for equal treatment in access to employment as well as private and public services. 

The act also has several restrictions that cause concern, however. It allows religious and faith institutions in England, Scotland and Wales permission to refuse a same-sex marriage ceremony if it contravenes their beliefs.

2012 | Frank Ocean comes out

Hip hop star Frank Ocean came out in an online post on his blog. As a huge talent in a genre that has had a complex relationship with macho masculinity, many other hip hop artists have pushed against old stereotypes. 

The likes of Lil Nas X and Tyler the Creator are other artists working within the genre to come out as queer and explore their sexuality through their artistry. 

2013 | Marriage Same Sex Couples Act 

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, was passed on 17 July 2013, with the first marriages of same sex couples taking place on Saturday 29 March 2014. 

Same sex couples who got married abroad under foreign law, who were consequently treated as civil partners in England & Wales, are now recognised as being married in England & Wales.

2013 | SOPHIE releases 'BIPP' and changes pop music

Glaswegian producer SOPHIE released 'BIPP' in 2013, an electronic release that sounded like nothing else at the time. And very few things still can touch it for future-facing sonics. 

The track, released by indie label Numbers, was an undeground hit and hinted at the amazing talent SOPHIE could be. Sadly, this was curtailed in 2021 after an accident in Greece.

2017 | ‘Alan Turing Law'

The Policing and Crime Act 2017, known as the Alan Turing Law, pardoned all historic instances of criminal convictions of gross indecency against men. 

2021 | LGBTQIA+ Inclusion in Census

In 2021, LGBTQIA+ people were counted in the census for the first time after years of campaigning. As the Stonewall charity says: 

“It's a truly historic moment for our communities - after years of invisibility, we are now officially part of our country's story.” 

2023 | Kim Petras wins Grammy

Kim Petras's collaborative 2022 single 'Unholy' with Sam Smith was a ground-breaking chart topping hit. It made her the first trans female artist to hit number one in the US and first to win a Grammy for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.

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by ICMP staff writer
June 3, 2024
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