UK LGBT+ History Month: What has changed since the 80s?

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LGBT+ History Month is an annual month-long observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history in the UK. Here, Tom Lakin, Director of Innovation and Chair of Robert Walters Group LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group, looks back on the past four decades and explores the key events impacting the LGBTQ+ community in the UK.


The 80’s: A decade of extremes

When Robert Walters opened the first office in Central London in 1985, the UK was experiencing seismic shifts in attitudes – many resulting from the rise of Conservatism led by the new Thatcher government -  the Right of tenants to Buy their house from their local authority, the ’big bang’ of financial deregulation of 1986 and the decline of manufacturing jobs in the UK. Social attitudes in the 1980s are harder to pinpoint – attitudes softened to cohabiting for example but the AIDS epidemic reversed tolerance and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. Last year, we held a global ‘watch party’ of “it’s a sin”, the British TV series depicting the lives of young gay men in the 1980s – it was interesting to see the reaction of so many of my younger colleagues = genuine shock at the lack of tolerance and lack of legal protection (one character is fired for being gay). So what has changed since then?


The milestones of change

Here are some significant milestones that have shifted attitudes, behaviours and human rights for the LGBTQ+ community in the UK since the 80s:

1987: At the height of the AIDS epidemic, Princess Diana opened the UK’s first specialist HIV/AIDS unit at London’s Middlesex Hospital

1994: The age of consent for straight people is, at the time, 16 but 18 for gay men. The LGBTQ+ community have an unexpected ally in the form of Conservative Minister, Edwina Currie, who battles in parliament to lower the age of consent. Edwina lost, but it’s a fascinating story of how she tried.

1999: Channel 4 launched ground-breaking gay-led drama, Queer as Folk, which arguably for the first time since the AIDS epidemic showed gay men and women leading fun, happy lives (it showed plenty of sex too, so many of us had to watch it with the sound down, far away from our parents for fear of ‘outing’ ourselves...)

2001: 7 years after the unsuccessful attempt by Edwina Currie, the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000 was passed. The Act came into force throughout the UK on 8 January 2001, lowering the age of consent to 16. This Act also introduced, for the first time, an age of consent for lesbian ‘sexual acts’.

2005: The Gender Recognition Act 2004, enabled transgender people to change their legal gender in the UK. This major change provided full recognition of gender for all purposes.

2010:  It seems a little crazy to even be writing this, but up until 2010, workplace discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation was not covered by law. The Equality Act 2010 changes this and provides not only protection but also mandates equality (same sex spouses or civil partners must be treated the same as mixed sex spouses in terms of workplace benefits).

2014: The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, enabled same sex couples to marry, was passed by the UK Parliament in July 2013 and came into force on 13 March 2014.  

2021: Many gay men become allowed to donate blood for the first time in the UK. New rules in England, Scotland and Wales mean that anyone who has had the same sexual partner for three months or more become eligible to donate.


LGBTQ+ Inclusion at Robert Walters Group

This year, LGBT+ History Month feels particularly significant for Robert Walters Group as we have worked on a number of pioneering projects - from auditing our own hiring process for biases that disadvantage LGBTQ+ talent to the creation of our LGBTQ+ & Allies Resource Group. We also commissioned our first LGBTQ+ census, enabling us to understand our representation across the Group with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, pansexual and questioning all represented. LGBTQ+ employees rated Robert Walters Group 8/10 as an LGBTQ+ employer - a solid rating but one I hope we see increase further over the coming year.