Stonewall: 50 years on

11 Jun 2019


The Stonewall Riots. A series of spontaneous demonstrations by the LGBTQ+ community, which is often cited as the event which sparked the modern gay liberation movement all around the world. Little did they know that a demonstration against a police raid at their local gay bar, the Stonewall Inn, would ignite such a massive response.


Yet, 2019 marks the 50-year anniversary of this landmark occasion and I believe it is not only right, but important, to look back and see the movement which has since flourished. In England at this time, it was legal for two men to be together if over the age of 21, in private. This was legislated for in 1967, with Scotland and Northern Ireland following in 1980 and ‘82 respectively. However, we shouldn’t be mistaken in believing that equality was therefore reached. Public opinion of the community was low, dropping even further after the 80s and the pain of the AIDS crisis, whilst over 15,000 gay men were still convicted simply for being gay after the liberation which occurred in 1967, using loopholes such as them not being ‘in private’.


It took a further 23 years for homosexuality to be taken off the World Health Organisations list of ‘mental illnesses’ whilst basic rights were not being respected of LGBT members. Discrimination based upon your sexual orientation was still legal until 2007 and Gay Marriage was only legalised in England, Wales and Scotland in 2014, with Northern Ireland yet to legislate on this matter.


The movement has advanced leaps and bounds since the late 60s and the community has a lot to owe it’s LGBT elders. Laws now strive for equality, pride festivals have been accepted in most major cities, the pride flag has been normalised and queer shows, such as RuPaul’s drag race, pull in mass audiences. Following the snap general election in 2017, 45 gay, lesbian or bi MP’s were elected to the House of Commons, making up around 7% of the MP’s which sit there. This was described by Professor Andrew Reynolds as ‘the highest level of representation ever in Britain and the world’.


Whilst there has been a massive move towards equality, we cannot become complacent regarding the fight for equality. In 2017, it was still illegal to be homosexual in 72 countries worldwide. Even in countries such as the United States, where being gay is legalised, equality has not necessarily been achieved. As the month of pride rolls in, the Trump administration unveiled a proposal which would rescind non-discrimination protections for transgender people under the Affordable Care Act, whilst finalising a proposal which would allow medical workers to refuse to treat a trans patient based upon their religious objections.


As such, I do not believe it is any longer acceptable for states to sit by and watch human right violations occur against members of the LGBTQ+ community. It is time for the international community to stand up to states which violate basic human rights of LGBT members. Only 96 member-states of the United Nations (UN) have sponsored the declaration in support of LGBT rights in the General Assembly or in the UNHRC. As the UN is made up of 193 countries, this means that just under half fully support LGBT rights. Furthermore, the first time that the U.N. Security Council used language recognizing violence specifically against the LGBT community was in response to the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting. Although beneficial to stand up against hate, it shows how recently the international community has stepped up to the plate.


The international community can be a force for positive change. You only need to look at the recent case of Brunei, which stated that it would not enforce the death penalty for gay sex after the global backlash it received from the international community following the proposal of the policy. Whilst the movement towards equality has come far within recent years, it still has far to go. On the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, I believe that it is perfect timing to breathe new life into the conversation, calling upon member states to focus upon an international effort to eradicate inequalities worldwide.

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