The last few months have seen some amazing revelations regarding the global pandora’s box of sexual politics, sexual identity, and sexual ethics; and, as a result, there has been a seismic shift in public and political attitudes towards sex and relationships. In the UK, the country’s oldest and most prestigious political publication, The Financial Times, has just published an article, headlined “The End Of Sexism”, in which it declares: “For far too long, female employees, politicians and women’s rights activists have been deprived of a voice. The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have given rise to a new era of empowerment and anti-sexism. The game is changing.”

The UK has always been a global pioneer and a leading light within the feminist movement. Since the 1800s, it has been home to some of the most important historical feminist events and leaders, and a lot of the ground-breaking sexual politics and ethics which are now commonplace globally, can be traced back to the UK.

That pioneers such as Margaret Sanger, who founded the birth control movement in the UK, and the wartime socialite and politician, Barbara Hutton, whose newspaper, The Gentlewoman, campaigned for women’s suffrage and sexual freedom, are among the country’s most prominent historical figures is testament to the country’s proud and significant feminist tradition. If you’re an avid reader of history books, you’ll know that the UK was also the first country to legalise homosexuality, introduce paid maternity leave and give equal rights to employees and employers in the workplace.

Now, more than ever, it is time for us to lead by example and show the world how a modern, progressive nation treats its women and its LGBT community. Let’s not forget that the UK has some of the most progressive and advanced abortion laws in the world. In fact, it is one of just a handful of countries which permits abortion on demand. So, while the world is focused on the pandora’s box of sexual ethics which was opened by US President Donald Trump’s nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, it is important to recognise that the UK has been here before and shown the way forward.

For decades, there has been a close-knit and highly influential community of feminists in the UK who have consistently fought for women’s rights and against misogyny. For more than 20 years, they have organised and lobbied tirelessly for the introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, which outlaws discrimination against people based on their sex. Under the terms of this legislation, it is an offence for an employer to discriminate against someone because of their sex, and a number of high-profile cases, including those involving British Airways and the National Lottery, have resulted in some pretty monumental victories for this crucial community of feminists.

Feminists in the UK have also spearheaded the movement for transgender rights, which has resulted in significant legislative change and social acceptance in recent years. The UK’s trans awareness day, which was launched in 2016 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the partial lifting of the UK’s Transsexuality Discrimination Act, is now celebrated annually on 31st July.

At a time when so much is changing and evolving, it is important to draw inspiration and motivation from the UK’s historic struggle for gender equality. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the UK’s feminist movement, which took place entirely within the privacy of individuals’ homes, was largely responsible for creating the ethical environment within which we can now have open and honest discussions about sex and sexuality. Many of the discussions which we are having now, were inspired by a small group of feminists in the UK, who dared to ask questions about sexuality which hadn’t been answered by society at large: questions about who participants in sex were, how willing they were to have sex with members of the opposite sex, what kinds of sex they enjoyed, and how they viewed their gender. Some of these discussions were organised and open to the public, while others took place within the private circles of a small group of like-minded individuals. Many of the answers to these questions would be considered shocking and morally unacceptable today.

The UK’s first openly-gay MP, Robert Gould, was responsible for passing legislation which would give British homosexuals the right to be registered as sex partners, for a limited period of time. Unfortunately, this initial legislative breakthrough was later repealed, due to pressure from religious groups who did not approve of homosexuality.

If we examine the history of the UK’s LGBT community, it is clear that, for the most part, it has been a lonely battle fought within the confines of parliamentarianism. The only time the community truly gained any traction in society at large, was during the era of the Vietnam War, when liberalising drug laws in the 1960s and the advent of the modern women’s liberation movement, in the late 1960s and early 70s, permitted gay men and women to socialise and interact with each other, as equal partners, for the first time. Since then, the community has largely been defined by difference, with most LGBT people in the UK still struggling to be accepted for who they are, rather than what they do or who they love. In the last 40 years, there has been very little legal progress made on behalf of the UK’s LGBT community, with sodomy laws still being used to prosecute and imprison individuals for their private life choices.

While there are many LGBT-inclusive feminist movements and leaders around the world, especially within the United States, it is important to note that the groundwork for these changes was laid in the UK, and much of what has ensued, has been as a direct result of the hard work and visionary leadership of UK feminists.

The Rise Of The “Other” Kind Of Feminism

It is important to acknowledge that feminism, as an ideology and social movement, can take many forms. One of the most prominent and influential strands is ‘traditional’ or ‘classical’ feminism, which promotes the equality of the sexes and believes that men and women should be treated equally and rationally. While this may seem like an innocuous enough position to hold, it takes a more nuanced view of gender and has led to some pretty radical thinking and social change. For example, classical feminists supported birth control, abortion rights and the right of women to study science and technology. More recently, classical feminists have been at the forefront of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. However, there is another, less-known strain of feminism which believes that men and women should not be treated equally and that there is a distinct difference between the sexes, which results in them being regarded as unequal and separate entities. This strand of feminism, which often goes by the name ‘radical feminism’, believes that men and women should not be treated the same and that it is a moral issue to not only accept but also to endorse the unequal gender roles which have existed for centuries and which continue to this day. While some classical feminists may hold these views, it is important to highlight that they do not necessarily represent the position of the majority.

From Taboo To Tolerance

It is well-documented how the UK’s feminist movement began with a small group of individuals, who were radical, in-your-face and outspoken. With regards to discussing sex and sexuality, they were often to be found writing articles for publications, giving lectures to large, mixed gatherings of people and staging impromptu discussion groups and workshops, within which they debated sexual politics and ethics. These individuals were often derided, ostracised and persecuted by society at large but, for the most part, this persecutions were not acted upon, probably because of a general uneasiness, caused by the cultural and social changes which were taking place in the UK during and after World War II. While there were legal constraints which limited the freedom of these ‘outspoken’ feminists, there were also many more people, especially young people, who were inspired by and supported them.

It was during this time that many of the UK’s feminist leaders forged strong and lasting bonds with the LGBT community, with whom they had a great deal in common. With the development of better drugs, such as the oral contraceptive pill and the legalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales, during the 1960s and 70s, it became possible for gay men and women to live their lives openly and without fear of persecution. This, in turn, led to a wave of new activism within the LGBT community and the development of new organisations and platforms, within which the community could come together and campaign for equality and acceptance. Many of today’s most prominent and influential feminist movements, including the UK’s own Women’s Equality Party, were directly inspired by and are closely linked to the UK’s LGBT community. In the UK, the fight for LGBT rights has largely been won, with same-sex marriage and the legalisation of same-sex civil partnerships finally being achieved in 2013 and 2015, and full LGBT rights being incorporated into UK law, with the introduction of Hate Crime legislation, during the 2016-17 parliament. In the last few years, the UK’s feminist movement has undergone a revolution and shifted to become an important and influential voice for women, and especially for the LGBT community, around the world.