LGBT+ History Month 2023: Community Under Attack

The theme for LGBT+ History Month this February, ‘Behind The Lens’ celebrates LGBT+ peoples’ contributions to cinema and film however, we are using the annual campaign to highlight the battles facing our community today. After all, today’s present is tomorrow’s history.

Over the next five weeks we’ll be looking at; Trans History in the UK, LGBT+ and Faith, Sport, Education and Hate Crime. This will explore a history of each topic, the challenges LGBT+ people face, and how you can help dispel common myths and misconceptions present in the current political and media narrative by signposting people around you to accurate sources of information.

In the wake of the Government’s unprecedented recent decision to use Section 35 to block the Scottish Gender Recognition Reform Bill, and following a protest led by Liverpool Trans Pride last weekend in the city centre, we start with an overview of Trans History in UK

Trans People in the UK

Let’s be clear, Trans people are not new, it is simply the label that is relatively new. People living outside the gender binary have existed for centuries, not just here in the UK, but around the world and in countless different civilisations.

This means that Transgender history in the UK is extremely complex, beginning in Roman Britain and continuing under the rule of the Celts and the Anglo-Saxons. In all cases, due to patriarchal laws, Transgender people have faced persecution and oppression.

Early records of gender non-conforming folk in the UK include Mary Mudge, who in 1889 died at a workhouse having passed as a woman, with her birth sex only being discovered during her postmortem. In 1933, Danish artist and Trans Woman, Lili Elbe‘s book Man into Woman, detailing her transition journey to female, was published in England. 

In 1936 Devonshire field athlete Mark Weston transitioned from female to male and in 1945 physician Michael Dillon became the first Trans man to undergo phalloplasty, although this was concealed as treatment for malformation of the urethra (hypospadias) rather than as gender reassignment surgery. Several years later in 1951, Roberta Cowell became an early notable British person to undergo male-to-female confirmation surgery and in 1955 renowned Trans activist Stephen Whittle was born. In 1961 a Liverpool-born fashion model and actress hit the headlines when she was outed in The Sunday People newspaper as a Trans Woman – April Ashley MBE.

Visibility & Challenges

It was a legal battle faced by April Ashley that saw a huge setback for the Trans community. After sending a letter demanding maintenance payments from her estranged husband Arthur Corbett, in 1967 he responded by filing suit to have the marriage annulled on the grounds that Ashley was male, despite Corbett knowing her history when they married. The annulment was granted in 1970 in a landmark case known as Corbett v Corbett.

As a result of the decision in this case, alternative ways to achieve amendment of birth records for Transgender and intersex people ceased in England and Wales, until the introduction of the Gender Recognition Act 2004.

Greater visibility for Trans people and continued prejudice and oppression saw the establishment of specialist services, such as GIDS at The Tavistock Clinic in 1989, the first and only service of its kind in the UK for young people with gender dysphoria, and support and lobbying groups such as Press for Change and Mermaids, which was founded in 1995.


Over the years, positive progress has been made in terms of representation and legislation.

  • 2004 – The Gender Recognition Act 2004 is passed by the Labour Government. The Act gives Trans people legal recognition as members of the sex appropriate to their gender (male or female) allowing them to acquire a new birth certificate, affording them full recognition of their acquired sex in law for all purposes, including marriage
  • 2005 – Trans woman Rachel Mann ordained as deacon in the Anglican Church
  • 2007 – Lewis Turner and Stephen Whittle publish ‘Engendered Penalties Transsexual and Transgender People’s Experience of Inequality and Discrimination (Equalities Review)’ which is instrumental in ensuring the inclusion of trans people in the remit of the new Commission for Equalities and Human Rights
  • 2013Nikki Sinclaire becomes the first openly transgender member of the European Parliament for the UK delegation
  • 2016Hari Nef becomes the first transgender person to cover any British fashion magazine, Elle.
  • 2017Philippa York becomes the first professional cyclist to have publicly transitioned
  • 2018 – Consultation launched by the UK government following calls to reform the Gender Recognition Act 2004
  • 2019Laverne Cox becomes the first transgender model on the cover of British Vogue
  • 2021 – Gender identity included as a voluntary question in the Census for the first time, with data revealed in early 2023
  • 2022 – It was announced that GIDS at The Tavistock Centre would close in spring 2023 and be replaced by a “more resilient service” with the establishment of two services led by specialist children’s hospitals in London and north-west England

Under Attack: Where We Are Today

What progress has been made however, has been undermined in recent years. In 2020, following a long delayed decision, the Government rejected calls for reforms to the GRA 2004 that would make it easier for Trans, Non-Binary and Gender Diverse people to self-identify. 

This decision came despite the majority of responses to the consultation being in support for reforming the Act, with 4 in 5 responses in favour of removing the requirement to provide a medical report detailing all of the treatment a person has received and 64% of the 102,818 respondents stating that there should be no requirement for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria to change an individual’s birth certificate.

Trans rights have also been attacked through a series of u-turns regarding the long-awaited Conversion Therapy Ban, which in April last year the Government announced would only include LGB people and would not include the Trans and Non-Binary community. Just last month, after nine months of campaigning and concern around this decision, the Government has thankfully u-turned and confirmed that the Conversion Therapy Ban will cover all LGBT+ people.

However, with no ban yet in place, limited information about services set to replace GIDS in spring, a backdrop of rampant Transphobia in the UK and hate from ‘gender critical’ individuals, the UK is not proving itself to be a safe space for Trans people. So what can you do to take action and be part of protest and change that could go down in history?

Do Your Part

  • Educate yourself – here’s 7 Transgender history books to get you started
  • Join a protest – last weekend’s protests are highly unlikely to be the last. If there’s a protest in your area go along if you are able to (check out our article on how to stay safe at a protest), or support from home
  • Sign and share relevant petitions – at the moment you can sign the petition to reverse the decision to block the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill. There are currently 26,000 signatures and 100,000 are needed for the topic to be discussed in Parliament. As well as checking the Government petitions site, you can also look at and for more. Don’t forget to encourage your friends, family and network to share too
  • Talk to your family and friends – the current media narrative is spreading harmful misconceptions and misrepresenting what legislation around the GRA will actually mean. Talk to people around you and signpost them to accurate sources of information 
  • Support awareness days – Trans Day of Visibility (TDoV) on 31st March is just around the corner. Attend a local event, organise your own or share the stories, work and art of Trans people in support of the day. Stay tuned to our website for information on TDoV events and initiatives in the Liverpool City Region

IMAGE CREDIT: Bryan Fowler

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