Pride, Protest and Litigation – American gifts to LGBT Britain

9 July 2019 by

London has just experienced its largest ever celebration of Pride – arranged for the weekend after the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots so as to allow thousands of British people to fly out to New York to participate in the official commemoration. This is a striking example of the influence of a particularly American method of effecting social change adopted with much success in the UK – albeit there has not been much by way of rioting here.

It is probably a myth that the Stonewall riots were fuelled by mourners drinking to relieve their grief after Judy Garland’s death in London and funeral in New York City – but possibly the closest the UK came to watching similar scenes was 25 years later and was connected to the death of the artist and Outrage supporter, Derek Jarman. Peter Tatchell arranged a candlelit vigil outside the Houses of Parliament on 21st February 1994 to mark the death of the great film maker. The other purpose of this gathering was to enable a demonstration to take place right outside the Palace of Westminster just as the Commons were voting on establishing an equal age of consent. When Parliament voted for a compromise of 18 years of age, the 5,000 or so demonstrators invaded the grounds of the Palace and Police and Commons staff struggled to close the great doors of Parliament to keep them out.

Riots and their cultural significance were not just an Atlantic Coast phenomenon. San Francisco, after all gave us Harvey Milk, the White Night riots (arising from the lenient sentence given to his killer) and Gilbert Baker’s Rainbow Flag (1978) – which seemed ubiquitous at every commercial outlet in London during the month leading up to Pride.

Straddling both coasts was Vito Russo whose most important work, the Celluloid Closet asked fundamental questions about the profile of LGBT people and themes in film and whose legacy can be seen in the 1995 documentary (with notable appearances by Michelangelo Signorile and Jay Blotcher). Culture Wars have arguably been more of a blood sport in the United States but the negative portrayal of LGBT people by the media in NY and elsewhere was challenged there by organisations like Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. In the UK, it felt as if the negative coverage of AIDS and controversies like that concerning the presence of the books Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin in London schools was unremitting – particularly in the 1980s. It is arguable that the quasi-public remit of the BBC and Channel 4 and of subsidized theatre in the UK may have created at least some diversity in coverage and meant that Culture Wars have subsided somewhat on this side of the Atlantic but that was only after the toxic legacy of section 28 was confronted. It is also arguable that the resistance to this that laid the foundations for all successful campaigning that was to come.

Stonewall (the lobby group – rather than the bar or riot)

The most obvious gift from the US is the very name of the UK’s biggest and best-organised LGBT lobby group, Stonewall – (2019 marks 30 years since being founded by Lisa Power and others). It is interesting that this enormously successful organisation is approximately the same age as Empire State Pride Agenda in New York. The work of both was complemented by direct action groups – the largest of which was Outrage in London started at about the same time as Queer Nation in New York.

Direct Action had already had a high profile in the US because of the essential work by Act Up in highlighting the failure of the Reagan administration to recognise the AIDS crisis. If extreme tactics were not as essential in the UK it is possibly because of the existence of the NHS and the fact that some people in power in the UK, like Lord Fowler, responded humanely to a public health emergency. Nevertheless there was a lot of sharing of expertise between activists groups in the US and the UK – notably concerning fundraising through the work of Hal Goldberg and others.

A key tenet of the Pride agenda was the importance of LGBT visibility and the importance of coming out to the extent that the UK has adopted National Coming Out Day from the US. “Outing” people (involuntarily) as lesbian or gay had historically been the prerogative of the tabloid press in Britain. Individuals like Chris Smith MP made a huge impact by inverting the social shaming that newspapers had sought to invoke. Some LGBT activists in the US and UK deployed the tactic of “outing” to attack hypocrisy amongst those with power. Its principal proponent, Michelangelo Signorile was lauded on visiting the UK – he may well feel vindicated by the subsequent exposure of individuals like Cardinal Keith O’Brien.

These tactics had their detractors on both sides of the Atlantic and it is only fitting that the most significant of these, Andrew Sullivan, was born in the UK but worked in the US. He was most famous for advocating the opening-up of marriage to same-sex couples as one of the ultimate goals of LGBT liberation. It is striking that when the UK enacted Civil Partnerships it was to Vermont that the Labour government turned to for their model.

In the United States marriage equality was finally achieved through the action of the Courts. In the UK it was achieved through that un-American concept, a coalition government. This points to significant differences between the US and the UK paths to equality. Nevertheless, Stonewall under Angela Mason pursued arguably the most successful litigation strategy ever seen in the UK – inspired, in part, by US campaigners like Evan Wolfson (a tradition continued by American Organisations like FLI who have a presence in the UK).  This was very reliant on the European Convention of Human Rights and helped to bring about an equal age of consent and the removal of the ban on LGBT people in the Services. Latterly, Liberty achieved equal pension rights by relying on EU law.

Jonathan Cooper has rightly pointed to the signal importance of the Treaty of Amsterdam for the UK as marking a point in which the EU made a decisive turn towards being a Human Rights and Equality space – not just one based on free trade. This led to Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation enshrining protection for the LGBT community in the workplace across Europe.

In the event, the UK has gone further, introducing equality legislation covering goods and services also – aided by the crucial intervention of LGBT Labour Party members. LGBT networks in all the Parliamentary Parties in Britain have easily outshone their US equivalents, the Log Cabin Republicans and Alice B Toklas Democratic Club and it is striking that the UK may have the most out LGBT Parliamentarians in the world. 

This is not to say that there is not a profound sense of unease about the future – as was evidenced by the emotional speech by one of the most prominent LGBT MPs, Angela Eagle on 25th June 2019 about the recent Birmingham Schools controversy. There are also tensions between LGBT rights and protections and freedom of speech as seen recently in The Queen (on the application of Ngole) v the University of Sheffield and fears about the safety of LGBT people from attack. With the prospect of common framework of EU protections about to be removed and renewed arguments about the repeal of the Human Rights Act LGBT activists may once more have to draw from the deep well of US cultural influence and renew their faith in Pride, protest and litigation.

Martin Downs is a barrister at One Crown Office Row.

Welcome to the UKHRB

This blog is run by 1 Crown Office Row barristers' chambers. Subscribe for free updates here. The blog's editorial team is:
Commissioning Editor: Jonathan Metzer
Editorial Team: Rosalind English
Angus McCullough QC David Hart QC
Martin Downs
Jim Duffy

Free email updates

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog for free and receive weekly notifications of new posts by email.




7/7 Bombings 9/11 A1P1 Aarhus Abortion Abu Qatada Abuse Access to justice adoption AI air pollution air travel ALBA Allergy Al Qaeda Amnesty International animal rights Animals anonymity Article 1 Protocol 1 Article 2 article 3 Article 4 article 5 Article 6 Article 8 Article 9 article 10 Article 11 article 13 Article 14 article 263 TFEU Artificial Intelligence Asbestos Assange assisted suicide asylum asylum seekers Australia autism badgers benefits Bill of Rights biotechnology birds directive blogging Bloody Sunday brexit Bribery British Waterways Board Catholic Church Catholicism Chagos Islanders Charter of Fundamental Rights child protection Children children's rights China christianity circumcision citizenship civil liberties campaigners civil partnerships climate change clinical negligence closed material procedure Coercion Cologne Commission on a Bill of Rights common buzzard common law communications competition confidentiality confiscation order conscientious objection consent conservation constitution contact order contempt of court Control orders Copyright coronavirus costs costs budgets Court of Protection crime criminal law Criminal Legal Aid criminal records Cybersecurity Damages data protection death penalty declaration of incompatibility defamation deficit DEFRA Democracy village Dennis Gill dentist's registration fees deportation deprivation of liberty derogations Detention devolution Dignitas dignity Dignity in Dying diplomacy director of public prosecutions disability Disability-related harassment disabled claimants disciplinary hearing disclosure Discrimination Discrimination law disease divorce DNA doctors does it matter? domestic violence Dominic Grieve don't ask don't ask don't tell don't tell Doogan and Wood double conviction DPP guidelines drones duty of care ECHR economic and social rights economic loss ECtHR Education election Employment Environment environmental information Equality Act Equality Act 2010 ethics Ethiopia EU EU Charter of Fundamental Rights EU costs EU law European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights European Court of Justice european disability forum European Sanctions Blog Eurozone euthanasia evidence Exclusion extra-jurisdictional reach of ECHR extra-territoriality extradition extradition act extradition procedures extradition review extraordinary rendition Facebook Facebook contempt facial recognition fair procedures Fair Trial faith courts fake news Family family courts family law family legal aid Family life fatal accidents act Fertility fertility treatment FGM fisheries fishing rights foreign criminals foreign office foreign policy France freedom of assembly Freedom of Association Freedom of Expression freedom of information Freedom of Information Act 2000 freedom of movement freedom of speech free speech game birds gangbo gang injunctions Garry Mann gary dobson Gary McFarlane gay discrimination Gay marriage gay rights gay soldiers Gaza Gaza conflict Gender General Dental Council General Election General Medical Council genetic discrimination genetic engineering genetic information genetics genetic testing Google government Grenfell grooming Gun Control gwyneth paltrow gypsies habitats habitats protection Halsbury's Law Exchange hammerton v uk happy new year harassment Hardeep Singh Haringey Council Harkins and Edwards Health healthcare health insurance Heathrow heist heightened scrutiny Henry VII Henry VIII herd immunity hereditary disorder High Court of Justiciary Hirst v UK HIV HJ Iran HM (Iraq) v The Secretary of state for the home department [2010] EWCA Civ 1322 Holder holkham beach holocaust homelessness Home Office Home Office v Tariq homeopathy hooding Hounslow v Powell House of Commons Housing housing benefits Howard League for Penal Reform how judges decide cases hra damages claim Hrant Dink HRLA HS2 hs2 challenge hts Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority human genome human rights Human Rights Act Human Rights Act 1998 human rights advocacy Human rights and the UK constitution human rights commission human rights conventions human rights damages Human Rights Day human rights decisions Human Rights Information Project human rights news Human Rights Watch human right to education human trafficking hunting Huntington's Disease HXA hyper injunctions Igor Sutyagin illegality defence immigration Immigration/Extradition Immigration Act 2014 immigration appeals immigration detention immigration judge immigration rules immunity increase of sanction India Indonesia Infrastructure Planning Committee inherent jurisdiction inherited disease Inhuman and degrading treatment injunction Inquest Inquests insult insurance insurmountable obstacles intelligence services act intercept evidence interception interests of the child interim remedies international international conflict international criminal court international humanitarian law international human rights international human rights law international law international treaty obligations internet internet service providers internment internship inuit investigation investigative duty in vitro fertilisation Iran iranian bank sanctions Iranian nuclear program Iraq Iraqi asylum seeker Iraq War Ireland irrationality islam Israel Italy iTunes IVF ivory ban jackson reforms Janowiec and Others v Russia ( Japan Jason Smith Jeet Singh Jefferies Jeremy Corbyn jeremy hunt job Jogee John Hemming John Terry joint enterprise joint tenancy Jon Guant Joseph v Spiller journalism judaism judges Judges and Juries judging Judicial activism judicial brevity judicial deference judicial review Judicial Review reform judiciary Julian Assange jurisdiction jury trial JUSTICE Justice and Security Act Justice and Security Bill Justice and Security Green Paper Justice Human Rights Awards JUSTICE Human Rights Awards 2010 justification just satisfaction Katyn Massacre Kay v Lambeth Kay v UK Ken Clarke Ken Pease Kerry McCarthy Kettling Kings College Klimas koran burning Labour Lady Hale lansley NHS reforms LASPO Law Commission Law Pod UK Law Society Law Society of Scotland leave to enter leave to remain legal aid legal aid cuts Legal Aid desert Legal Aid Reforms legal blogs Legal Certainty legal naughty step Legal Ombudsman legal representation legitimate expectation let as a dwelling Leveson Inquiry Levi Bellfield lewisham hospital closure lgbtq liability Libel libel reform Liberal Democrat Conference Liberty libraries closure library closures Libya licence conditions licence to shoot life insurance life sentence life support limestone pavements limitation lisbon treaty Lithuania Litigation litvinenko live exports local authorities locked in syndrome london borough of merton London Legal Walk London Probation Trust Lord Bingham Lord Bingham of Cornhill Lord Blair Lord Goldsmith lord irvine Lord Judge speech Lord Kerr Lord Lester Lord Neuberger Lord Phillips Lord Rodger Lord Sumption Lord Taylor LSC tender luftur rahman machine learning MAGA Magna Carta mail on sunday Majority Verdict Malcolm Kennedy malice Margaret Thatcher Margin of Appreciation margin of discretion Maria Gallastegui marriage material support maternity pay Matthew Woods Mattu v The University Hospitals of Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust [2011] EWHC 2068 (QB) Maya the Cat Mba v London Borough Of Merton McKenzie friend Media and Censorship Medical medical liability medical negligence medical qualifications medical records medicine mental capacity Mental Capacity Act Mental Capacity Act 2005 Mental Health mental health act mental health advocacy mental health awareness Mental Health Courts Mental illness merits review MGN v UK michael gove Midwives migrant crisis Milly Dowler Ministerial Code Ministry of Justice Ministry of Justice cuts misfeasance in public office modern slavery morality morocco mortuaries motherhood Motor Neurone disease Moulton Mousa MP expenses Mr Gul Mr Justice Eady MS (Palestinian Territories) (FC) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for the Home Department murder murder reform Musician's Union Muslim NADA v. SWITZERLAND - 10593/08 - HEJUD [2012] ECHR 1691 naked rambler Naomi Campbell nationality National Pro Bono Week national security Natural England nature conservation naturism Nazi negligence Neuberger neuroscience Newcastle university news News of the World new Supreme Court President NHS NHS Risk Register Nick Clegg Nicklinson Niqaab Noise Regulations 2005 Northern Ireland nuclear challenges nuisance nursing nursing home Obituary Occupy London offensive jokes Offensive Speech offensive t shirt oil spill olympics open justice oppress OPQ v BJM orchestra Osama Bin Laden Oxford University paramountcy principle parental rights parenthood parking spaces parliamentary expenses parliamentary expenses scandal Parliamentary sovereignty Parliament square parole board passive smoking pastor Terry Jones patents Pathway Students Patrick Quinn murder Pensions persecution personal data Personal Injury personality rights perversity Peter and Hazelmary Bull PF and EF v UK Phil Woolas phone hacking phone taps physical and mental disabilities physician assisted death Pinnock Piracy Plagiarism planning planning human rights planning system plebgate POCA podcast points Poland Police police investigations police liability police misconduct police powers police surveillance Policy Exchange report political judges Politics Politics/Public Order poor reporting Pope Pope's visit Pope Benedict portal possession proceedings power of attorney PoW letters to ministers pre-nup pre-nuptial Pre-trial detention predator control pregnancy press press briefing press freedom Prince Charles prince of wales princess caroline of monaco principle of subsidiarity prior restraint prison Prisoners prisoners rights prisoners voting prisoner vote prisoner votes prisoner voting prison numbers Prisons prison vote privacy privacy injunction privacy law through the front door Private life private nuisance private use proceeds of crime Professional Discipline Property proportionality prosecution Protection of Freedoms Act Protection of Freedoms Bill Protest protest camp protest rights Protocol 15 psychiatric hospitals Public/Private public access publication public authorities Public Bodies Bill public inquiries public interest public interest environmental litigation public interest immunity Public Order Public Sector Equality Duty putting the past behind quango quantum quarantine Queen's Speech queer in the 21st century R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department & Ors [2011] EWCA Civ 895 R (on the application of) v The General Medical Council [2013] EWHC 2839 (Admin) R (on the application of EH) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] EWHC 2569 (Admin) R (on the application of G) v The Governors of X School Rabone and another v Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust [2012] UKSC 2 race relations Rachel Corrie Radmacher Raed Salah Mahajna Raed Saleh Ramsgate raptors rehabilitation Reith Lectures Religion resuscitation RightsInfo right to die right to family life right to life Right to Privacy right to swim riots Roma Romania Round Up Royals Russia saudi arabia Scotland secrecy secret justice Secret trials security services sexual offence Sikhism Smoking social media social workers South Africa south african constitution Spain special advocates spending cuts Standing starvation statelessness stem cells stop and search Strasbourg super injunctions Supreme Court Supreme Court of Canada surrogacy surveillance swine flu Syria Tax Taxi technology Terrorism terrorism act tort Torture travel treason treaty accession trial by jury TTIP Turkey Twitter UK Ukraine unfair consultation universal jurisdiction unlawful detention USA US Supreme Court vaccination vicarious liability Wales War Crimes Wars Welfare Western Sahara Whistleblowing Wikileaks wildlife wind farms WomenInLaw Worboys wrongful birth YearInReview Zimbabwe


This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.

Our privacy policy can be found on our ‘subscribe’ page or by clicking here.

%d bloggers like this: