As we celebrate LGBT+ rights, we must reflect on the heroes who paved the way

They’ve been beaten, imprisoned and erased. Now that the UK is putting LGBT+ persecution behind it, we can forgive the past, says Jonathan Cooper, as long as we don’t forget it

Thursday 20 February 2020 18:58
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Around 300,000 people attended the annual Pride parade in Brighton last year
Around 300,000 people attended the annual Pride parade in Brighton last year

Persecution. It’s obvious what it is. We all know when someone’s being persecuted. The state or others in power deliberately home in on a person or group of people and make their lives unbearable, unliveable even. At school, we call it bullying. In international law, we call those that are persecuted refugees.

Throughout the 20th century, the British state went out of its way to persecute its gay and lesbian community. The existence of a gay or lesbian identity was denied. Crimes that only gay men could commit were created. The gay and lesbian community was censored. There was institutionalised homophobia. Laws were there to be used against gay and lesbian people.

Mothers who were lesbian were “a risk”. Gay fathers were inconceivable. It was state policy for parents to reject their gay and lesbian children. Violence against gay men and lesbians was met with impunity. Fear of the homosexual was mitigation for causing harm to gay and lesbian people. It could even be put forward as a defence for murder.

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