Queen Elizabeth II’s legacy of LGBTQ rights is complicated

In 1952, when Queen Elizabeth II took the throne after the death of her father, same-sex sexual relations were criminalized in Britain. The same laws were also brought to the Commonwealth countries it colonized.

When she died, the landscape for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights looked dramatically different – ​​at least in the UK – in part because she passed many pro-LGBTQ measures such as same-sex marriage. That support has led some to argue that she was a “silent” advocate for LGBTQ rights, but for others she was just doing her job.

Charles Upchurch, a professor of British history at Florida State University, said the 1950s, when the Queen was crowned, was “one of the worst times for LGBTQ people.” The British government was using the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 – which was used to send playwright and poet Oscar Wilde to prison in 1895 – to arrest and prosecute queer people, particularly men, for same-sex sexual relations.

After years of gay activism, Parliament passed the Sexual Offenses Act of 1967, which partially decriminalized same-sex sexual relations. Nearly 40 years later, the Sexual Offenses Act of 2003 was passed, which repealed the 1885 measure and completely decriminalized gay sex.

Queen Elizabeth II gave both measures her royal consent and continued to enact pro-LGBTQ policies. She signed a historic equal rights letter in March 2013, and just months later gave her royal consent to the Marriage (Same-Sex Couple) Act, which legalized same-sex marriage in England and Wales. .

In May 2021, she announced that the UK would ban so-called conversion therapy, which is a discredited practice that attempts to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Some saw the Queen’s support for these measures as an expression of her personal views, but Upchurch said that would not be necessary because the Queen will give her assent to any bill that passes Parliament.

When she delivers her annual queen speech, he said, she is simply stating what the government’s policy is and “it’s not her personality that’s showing.”

“She is a constitutional monarch – she should be a symbol of what unites Britain, not what divides it,” continued Upchurch. “She must not resist and try to put her stamp on legislation or government initiatives that win the election.”

From the reign of Queen Victoria, who was monarch from 1837 to 1901, political power moved away from the throne, according to the royal family’s website.

Given her purposeful distance from politics, Upchurch said, people shouldn’t credit the Queen with passing pro-LGBTQ legislation. Likewise, he added, she should not be held responsible for passing Section 28, a 1988 law she gave her consent to prohibit schools from “promoting the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as an alleged family relationship. ”

“I just don’t think it’s right to attribute to her the LGBTQ legislation that was passed and she agreed to somehow reflect her personal opinion,” Upchurch said. “She doesn’t express her personal opinion on many political issues, and for most of the history of LGBTQ rights, she’s been very political, politicized and very partisan.”

One politicized issue that the Queen refrained from getting involved was the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. So when Princess Diana became intimately involved in AIDS activism, Upchurch said, it was “amazing” for queer people. Princess Diana opened the UK’s first HIV/AIDS unit at London’s Middlesex Hospital in 1987, and she has also gone on to visit patients at hospitals in New York City and London.

“She was certainly in a very different position than the Queen, but she was someone with a connection to the royal family, reaching out and doing AIDS charity work, and a lot of people were deeply affected by that and found it very moving.” said Upchurch. “This isn’t the kind of thing we’ve seen from the Queen over the course of her reign, but I think it has more to do with how she views her role in relation to the government and the people, as opposed to her personal feelings about LGBTQ. questions.”

But some LGBTQ people have said they would like to see Queen Elizabeth II do more.

Oz Katerji, a journalist based in London, said he believed the Queen had “precisely zero impact” on LGBTQ rights, “and while many would rightly argue that remaining neutral was part of her job, she could have made gestures that she simply never chose.” to do”.

Katerji, 35, said she would like to see the queen make a gesture about anything related to LGBTQ rights, but noted that “she’s also never made a gesture about anything else, so people project their beliefs onto her.”

Kacper Surdy, who lives in Peterborough, England, said he believes the Queen has had a positive impact on LGBTQ rights.

“The broad consensus here in the UK is that while the monarchy is the epitome of tradition, Elizabeth II was very progressive,” said Surdy, 19. “She was a queen to all people.”

Surdy also pointed to some recent reports that the Queen has expressed support for LGBTQ people behind closed doors.

Carl Austin-Behan, Manchester’s first openly gay mayor, met the monarch in 2021, he told the BBC after her death. He said the Queen had requested that an LGBTQ choir perform at an event to mark the 600th anniversary of the royal charter to establish Manchester Cathedral.

Austin-Behan was released from the Royal Air Force in 1997 because he was gay and told the BBC he and the Queen had talked about how far the country had come.

“I feel like she genuinely cared about our community,” he told the BBC.

Some people also pointed out their pardon in 2013 to Alan Turing, a World War II codebreaker often referred to as the “father of computer science” who was convicted of “homosexual crimes” under the 1885 law.

Upchurch, however, said the pardon and some of his other actions on LGBTQ rights are likely part of a “readjustment” that helps keep the monarchy in line with popular opinion rather than its own opinion.

“I hope this is sort of an expression of what she might feel personally, but I think she’s so good at what she does in her job that it’s hard to say that for sure,” he said, “because again, she’s a symbol that is above politics.”

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