Where Did Queen Elizabeth Fall on LGBTQ+ Issues?

Monday September 19, 2022

Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II  (Source:Associated Press)

Queen Elizabeth was pretty much mum on LGBTQ+ issues, acknowledging progress over the years in her official capacity, but never venturing any personal commentary. Even during the AIDS epidemic, the late monarch didn't reach out to victims of the disease, unlike her daughter-in-law Princess Diana, NBC News reports.

"She was certainly in a very different position from the queen, but was someone with a connection to the royal family, reaching out and doing AIDS charity work, and many people were deeply affected by that and found that very moving," Charles Upchurch, a professor of British history at Florida State University, told NBC News. "That's not the type of thing that we saw from the queen over the course of her reign, but I think that has more to do with how she sees her role in relationship to the government and the people as opposed to her personal feelings on LGBTQ issues."

Upchurch adds that when Elizabeth took the throne in 1952 was one of the worst periods in British history for LGBTQ+ people. Same sex relationships remained criminalized in Britain, as well as throughout the Commonwealth states. "By the time she died,"MSN adds, 
the landscape for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights looked dramatically different — at least in the United Kingdom — in part because she approved of many pro-LGBTQ measures, such as same-sex marriage. That support has led some to argue that she was a "quiet" supporter of LGBTQ rights, but to others she was just doing her job."

At the time of her coronation the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act was still in effect, which criminalized same-sex relationships. It was the law used to send playwright and poet Oscar Wilde to prison in 1895, as well as used to persecute Alan Turing, the WWII mathematician who broke the Enigma Code that led to the Allied victory.

"After years of gay activism, Parliament passed the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, which partially decriminalized same-sex sexual relations. Nearly 40 years later, it passed the Sexual Offences Act of 2003, which repealed the 1885 measure and decriminalized gay sex completely," reports MSN. "Queen Elizabeth II gave both of the measures her royal assent and went on to continue to approve pro-LGBTQ policies. She signed a historic equal rights charter in March 2013, and just a few months later, she gave her royal assent to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, which legalized same-sex marriage in England and Wales. 

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

While some see these measures as examples of her personal views on LGBTQ issues, Upchurch claims that isn't necessarily accurate since the queen will give her assent to any bill that passes Parliament.

"She's a constitutional monarch — she is supposed to be a symbol of what unites Britain, not what divides it," Upchurch continued. "She's not supposed to resist at all and try and put her stamp on legislation or initiatives of the government that wins the election."

Given this, Upchurch also says that the late Queen should not be held responsible for any anti-LGBTQ+ legislation passed during her reign, such as Margaret Thatcher's controversial Section 28, which forbade "promoting homosexuality by teaching or by publishing material." It was passed in 1988 and repealed in 2000 in Scotland and in 2003 in England and Wales.

Some LGBTQ+ activists claim the Queen could have done more. MSN writes that Oz Katerji, a journalist who lives in London, said he believes the queen had "precisely zero impact" on LGBTQ rights, "and while many would correctly argue that staying neutral was part of her job, she could have made gestures that she simply never chose to make."

Katerji, 35, said he would have liked to see the queen make a gesture on anything related to LGBTQ rights, but noted that "she never made any gestures towards anything else either, so people project their beliefs onto her."