Sexuality Timeline


8000 BCE The Sans rock paintings in Zimbabwe depict homosexuality.


Bronze Age

2400 BCE The first same-sex male couple in history are recorded, Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum, two Ancient Egyptian royal servants.

Mastaba of Niankhkhum and Khnumhotep embrace 2

570 BCE The poet Sappho died. She was famous for her lesbian themes within her poems although was exiled from her homeland, the island of Lesbos, in 600 BCE.

Alkaios Sappho Staatliche Antikensammlungen 2416 n2

Iron Age

54 Nero conducted a legal marriage ceremony between two men, Pythagoras and Sporus.

Nero Glyptothek Munich 321

Early/High Middle Ages

654 The first European secular law to criminalise homosexuality was introduced by the Visigothic Kingdom, with the punishment of castration for any perpetrators.

1179 The Third Lateran Council of Rome issues a decree to excommunicate anyone engaged in sodomy.

Council Trent

Late Middle Ages

1260 In the Kingdom of France, those who were caught as first offending sodomites lost their testicles. For a second offence, they would lose their penis. A third offence would be execution through being burned. Women caught in lesbian acts were similarly mutilated and executed.


1532 The Holy Roman Empire imposed the death penalty for sodomy.

1533 King Henry VIII passes the ‘Buggery Act of England’. Anal intercourse and zoophilia (sexual fixation on non-human animals) was punishable by hanging.


1791 France decriminalises homosexuality.


1835 James Pratt and John Smith are executed at Newgate Prison by hanging. They are the last known executions for homosexuality in Great Britain.

Hangin outside Newgate Prison

1855 Walt Whitman publishes ‘Leaves of Grass’, a collection of poems that celebrated sexuality.

Walt Whitman, steel engraving, July 1854

1860 LeavesOfGrass Thayer Eldridge NYPL

1861 The sentence of sodomy was reduced from execution to between ten years to life imprisonment (1861 Offences Against the Person Act, UK).

1890 ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, written by Oscar Wilde, is published in ‘Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine’, although received harsh criticism for homosexual allusions and decadence.

Lippincott doriangray

1890 Homosexuality is legalised in the Vatican.

1895 The Marquess of Queensbury disapproved of the relationship between his son, Lord Alfred (also known as ‘Bosie’) and Oscar Wilde. The Marquess of Queensbury accused Oscar Wilde of being a sodomite. Wilde sued Queensbury for criminal libel. Wilde lost as evidence demonstrated that he had used male prostitutes resulting in Wilde required to pay Queensbury’s expenses which in turn led to his bankruptcy. Wilde is subsequently arrested on charges of sodomy and gross indecency. In May, he is sentenced to hard labour at Pentonville Prison, then moved to Wandsworth Prison where he collapses dye to illness and hunger. He is transferred to Reading Gaol in November.


1917 The Communist Party in Russia legalised homosexuality.


1924 The ‘Society for Human Rights’ was founded in the USA, providing the first publication for homosexuals. The Society was disbanded in 1926 following the arrest of the group’s president.


1933 The Nazis raid the Institute for Sexology, shutting it down and destroying any records.

1934 The Gestapo instructed local police to record all known homosexuals on a ‘pink list’.

1937 The Nazis use an inverted pink triangle to identify gay men in concentration camps.

1939 The word ‘gay’ is used for the first time in reference to homosexuality.


1948 Alfred Kinsey publishes the Kinsey Report, ‘Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male’, which suggested that 10% of American males were homosexual.


1952 Alan Turing, the developer of ‘the Bombe’ (more commonly known as the Enigma machine), was prosecuted for ‘gross indecency’ and fired from his job. Turing accepted ‘chemical castration’ to avoid imprisonment.

Alan Turing Aged 16

Turing-statue-Bletchley 14

1957 The Wolfenden Report is presented to the UK Government, recommending that homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should not be a crime. It took a further ten years for the law to be changed.


1967 The ‘Sexual Offences Act’ allowed private consensual sex between men aged 21 years in England and Wales.

1969 The ‘Campaign for Homosexual Equality’ was formed in the UK to campaign for law reform and better medical and social support for LGBTQ+ people.

1969 The first ‘Stonewall Riot’ took place in New York on the 28th June. Please see the separate heading in the book for more information about Stonewall.

Stonewall Inn 1969

Stonewall Inn raid sign pride weekend 2016


1970 In April, the first Pride march took place in New York to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

1970 The first Pride march in the UK took place in Highbury Fields, London.

1974 ‘School’s Out’ was established in the UK, an association that seeks to make all schools safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students, teachers, staff, and parents.

1977 Harvey Milk was the first openly gay politician in the USA and was elected to office in San Francisco in 1977.

Harvey Milk at Gay Pride San Jose, June 1978 (cropped)

1978 Harvey Milk asked Gilbert Baker to design a symbol of gay pride. The colours of the rainbow flag represent the diversity of the LGBTQI+ community. Harvey Milk is murdered on 27th November.

Rainbow flag and blue skies

Gilbert Baker during SF Pride 2012 (hi-res)

1978 The Rainbow Flag is first raised by Gilbert Baker at the San Francisco Pride event on 25th June. The flag consisted of eight colours with the following representations: Hot pink = Sex, Red = Life, Orange = Healing, Yellow = Sunlight, Green = Nature, Turquoise = Magic/Art, Indigo = Serenity, Violet = Spirit. The Flag has subsequently removed the hot pink and turquoise colour for practical and manufacturing reasons.


1980 The ‘Sexual Offences Act’ was extended to Scotland, decriminalising homosexuality.

1981 The USA report that there are 270 cases of gay men with AIDS, of which 121 had died. Over 35 million people have died from HIV and currently, there are 36 million people living with the disease.

1982 Terrence Higgins becomes one of the first British men to die from AIDS.

1985 HIV testing begins in the UK.

1988 The 1st of December is designated World AIDS Day.

1988 The UK Government introduce the law ‘Section 28’ which stated that local government shall not ‘promote the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretend family relationship’. offering support to LGBTQI+ students disbanded.

1989 The organisation ‘Stonewall’ a leading advocacy group in the UK, is formed. It was established on 24th May 1989 at Sir Ian McKellen’s house, one year to the day after the introduction of Section 28.

Pride London 2011 Stonewall banner

SDCC13 - Ian McKellen


1991 Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of ‘Queen’ dies of an AIDS-related illness, aged 45.

Freddie Mercury performing in New Haven, CT, November 1977

1991 The red ribbon is first used as a symbol to campaign against HIV/AIDS.

Red Ribbon

1993 Ireland decriminalises homosexuality.

1994 The ‘Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (UK)’ lowered the age of homosexual consent to 18.


2000 Scotland repeals Section 28 on 21st June.

2000 The ‘Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act of 2000’ lowered the age of homosexual consent to 16.

2001 The Netherlands was the first country to introduce equal marriage between any two people.

2003 Section 28 is repealed in England.

2005 The Civil Partnership Act (2004) was passed, an Act that gave same-sex couples the right to enter into civil partnerships and receive similar rights to heterosexual couples.


2012 Russia bans all Pride parades for the next 100 years.

2013 England and Wales introduced equal marriage.

2014 The Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013 was passed on 13th March. The first same-sex marriages were able to take place from the 29th March onwards.

2014 Scotland introduced equal marriage.

2014 The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a landmark resolution for LGBT rights, condemning violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity across the globe.

2018 The Vatican used the acronym ‘LGBT’ for the first time in an official document.