LGBT+ history month

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by Dr Rachael Bullingham

February marks the start of LGBT+ history month in the UK. This is an opportunity to look back at influential trailblazers who have helped to create a more inclusive society. We can also consider how since the turn of the century laws have come in to protect, support and change lives for the LGBT+ community (here is a link to a history wall chart for those wanting to know more). However, February also provides an opportunity for reflection and provides time to consider what changes need to be made in the future. While the history of the LGBT+ community is interesting, varied and has some very colourful characters, there is often a dearth of information around sport.

I specifically study homophobia in women’s team sport and to do this I need to understand historical context. There have been constant differences for women and men both in society and sport. For example, female same-sex relationships have never been illegal whereas gay men have a different experience. For example, decriminalisation did not occur until 1967 and the age of consent was not lowered to 16 until 2000 for gay men. Gay and lesbian women have never faced the legal issues that men have and yet within sport they face a different challenge. Historically, lesbian women who have come out in team sport have cast suspicion on their teammates sexuality, unlike gay men. Additionally, there were some outspoken coaches and individuals in sport who made it clear lesbian athletes were not welcome, creating a hostile environment. For example, Rene Portland a basketball coach in Penn State having the mantra, ‘no drinking, no drugs, no lesbians’. Research in the 1990s showed that things were particularly hostile for lesbian athletes (see Griffin 1998).

However, more recently, there has been a significant increase in the number of female players openly discussing their sexuality and relationships. There were around 40 openly lesbian athletes competing in the women’s football World Cup in 2019 according to OutSports. This is partly due to high profile athletes speaking out. Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh are prime examples, creating history by becoming the first same sex couple to win Olympic gold in field hockey at Rio 2016 (you can see them discussing their relationship here). You can read more about my research in my co-authored book ‘Out in Sport’. Additionally, I discuss my journey into research in the BBC LGBT sports podcast with Jack Murley.

Resources for LGBT+ history month:

Podcasts: LGBT sports podcast:


Out in Sport (Routledge) by Dr Eric Anderson, Dr Rory Magrath and Dr Rachael Bullingham

Films to watch (broad LGBT+ history)

Pride (2014) gay and lesbian activists who help raise money during the miners strike.

5B (2018) a documentary about the doctors and nurses on San Francisco first AIDs ward and changed perceptions of the disease.

Disclosure (2020) a documentary tracking the history of the representation for transgender characters on screen


M says:

Thank you for this article.
Maureen Colquhoun, the first openly lesbian MP, recently passed away, her obituary is here:-

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