February is designated LGBT History Month – a chance to reflect on lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans history. When asked whether a whole month is necessary to remind ourselves of LGBT history, I answer that I wish it were not. The fact is that this event is still needed because on the streets and in the legal profession discrimination remains.
The best medicine against unfairness is normalisation. To achieve this it is necessary to ‘promote’ the visibility and raise awareness of the LGBT+ community through education, in order to achieve a free society which embraces every individual and allows them to fulfil their potential.
The word ‘promote’ is significant. Thirty years ago ‘promote’ had particular significance, when the Local Government Act 1988 was enacted on 24 May of that year. The act’s notorious section 28 stated: ‘A local authority shall not: (a) intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality; (b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.’
At that time, according to chapter 60(1) of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, the ‘homosexual act in private shall not be an offence provided that the parties consent thereto and have attained the age of twenty-one years’. Therefore homosexual relationships were not illegal under these circumstances.
Section 28 did not create a criminal offence, but it made teachers and educational staff afraid to discuss homosexual issues. The process of normalisation not only stopped but went backwards. During subsequent years part of the LGBT community’s rights were endangered by an increase in homophobic violence, with some groups relying on section 28 to justify their actions. Section 28 was eventually repealed in Scotland in 2000, and in England and Wales in 2003.
Banning discussions on a matter does not make the issue disappear. Ignorance is precisely what makes humans make mistakes. There is no sense in implying that teaching children about homosexuality might ‘turn them’ into homosexuals. It is an indisputable fact that sexual orientation is not a choice, as it is also an undeniable fact that sexual preferences cannot be taught.
There is a popular Spanish saying: ‘Man is the only animal that can stumble twice on the same stone.’ Unless we make the effort to remember past mistakes we will not be able to avoid them in the future. Celebrating LGBT History Month allows us to grow from our previous experiences because we have to become the change that we want.
A year ago I joined the LGBT+ Lawyers Division of the Law Society. I did so not only to help celebrate LGBT History Month, but also to promote inclusion in the profession. Moreover, the first time I heard about the division I was surprised. In my country of origin, Spain, there are associations that fight for the LGBT community, but I cannot imagine the Spanish Law Society creating an internal LGBT+ lawyers committee, as the England and Wales Law Society has done.
Our division aims to campaign on behalf of LGBT+ solicitors because our community is still lacking respect and acceptance in the workplace. My ultimate dream is to reach a day when LGBT History Month will not be necessary, because that would mean that equality has been reached both in the profession and on the streets. Will you help me to make it unnecessary?
Adria Moral is a lawyer at Scornik Gerstein
- On 22 February, to mark the 30th anniversary of section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 (and the 15th anniversary of its repeal), a panel discussion at the Law Society will focus on the legacy of this notorious legislation and how far we have come since its abolition (tinyurl.com/y8pjnvpk). A similar event takes place in Bristol on 28 February (tinyurl.com/ydc24r3q)