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Scotland's LGBTQ+ Timeline 🌈

Updated: May 11, 2022

Sophie Hutton: Tour Research, Development and Admin Assistant

Scotland's progressive, diverse and inclusive present has been shaped considerably by its LGBTQ+ past. Learn about bisexual monarchs, legislation and lesbian archive collections in this timeline, which documents Scotland's four hundred year LGBTQ+ history!


James VI of Scotland became James I of England and many commented ‘Elizabeth was King. Now James is Queen’. James I had a preference for male companions and advisors and despite his marriage to Anne of Denmark, is alleged to have developed romantic relationships with three men: Esmé Stewart, Robert Carr and George Villiers (who was favoured by James). Villiers was promoted to ‘Duke of Buckingham’, by James. In correspondence between the two, James stated ‘I desire to live only in this world for your sake’ and referred to Villiers as his ‘wife’. Following the restoration of Apethorpe Hall in 2008, (the location of James I and Villiers meetings), a passage, which linked the duo’s chambers, was discovered.


Doctor James Barry graduated from The University of Edinburgh Medical School, as the first male, assigned female at birth, to become a medical practitioner. James Barry started his life as a female named Margaret Anne Bulkley, giving birth to a child, Julia, as a young woman. He assumed a male identity prior to his enrolment at university in 1809, a decision which was made partly in order to become accepted as a student and to pursue a career in anatomy. Many assumed he was a prepubescent boy due to his short stature, delicate features and the pitch of his voice. Barry’s assigned gender at birth was only discovered following a post mortem examination of his death (he died of dysentery) and his medical records were inaccessible for one hundred years. Historians still question if James Barry considered himself a male (after decades of identifying as a male to study anatomy) or a female.


Sophia Jex Blake (pictured below) began studying medicine at The University of Edinburgh alongside the rest of The Edinburgh Seven, who were the first group of female matriculated undergraduate students in the United Kingdom. The court of session ruled these women should never have matriculated and they did not graduate or qualify as doctors. The group’s campaign (which was supported by Charles Darwin), was met with hostility culminating in The Surgeon’s Hall Riots (as the woman arrived to sit an anatomy exam, around two hundred people gathered to throw mud and rubbish at them). In 1874, Sophia Jex Blake went on to establish The London School of Medicine for Women whilst continuing to campaign for women's rights. Sophia was in a romantic relationship with Margaret Todd, a beneficiary of Sophia’s campaign, who had been one of the first students at The Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women. After Sophia’s death, Margaret wrote ‘The Life and Death of Dr Sophia Jex-Blake’, to document the trials of females in the medical sector.


Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde met on their induction day at Glasgow School of Art and became life partners, to the extent that they were often referred to as ‘The Two Roberts’. The duo had grown up within twenty miles of one another in Ayrshire and though they were rarely explicit about their relationship, they made no attempt to hide it and were actively encouraged by Glasgow School of Art, who provided additional funds when Robert Colquhoun was awarded a scholarship to go abroad, so that Robert MacBryde could join him. Colquhoun and MacBryde settled in London, which became the centre of urban, queer culture in the 1940’s.


The Scottish Minority Group was founded in Glasgow, with the intention to decriminalise homosexuality in Scotland, through campaigning. Twelve men attended the inaugural meeting in activist Ian Campbell Dunn’s accommodation, to discuss the 1967 ‘Sexual Offences Act’ in England and Wales, that involved the partial decriminalisation of homosexual relations between men (over 21 in private) but did not apply in Scotland or Northern Ireland.


The Scottish Minority Group established the Edinburgh Gay Switchboard, an LGBTQ+ telephone line which provided counselling sessions and in 1975, the group purchased a premises in Broughton Street, Edinburgh, as an LGBTQ+ safe space.


Homosexual relations were legalised as part of ‘The Criminal Justice Act’, thirteen years after England and Wales decriminalise homosexual relations.


Scottish crime author, Val McDermid, published ‘Report for Murder’, featuring Detective Lindsey Gordon, a self-described socialist, feminist and lesbian detective.


The Lesbian Archive and Information Centre relocated from London to Glasgow Women’s Library. The collection began in 1984 and is comprised of manuscripts, pamphlets, foreign language materials and press clippings (all of which are donated). The fluidity of queer, lesbian and feminist politics divided thought and because of these dynamics, the collection often faced criticism and potential closure. By 1995, funding for the archive was low and new premises were required. The Glasgow Women's Library was considered a suitable location to

ensure the collections remained accessible to women. Learn more about this on the Walking Tours in Scotland: LGBTQ+ History Tour!


Scottish Parliament repealed (outdated) Section 28 legislation, which prevented teachers from discussing LGBTQ+ issues in school.


Transgender individuals gained legal recognition within The Gender Recognition Act.


Same sex couples gained equality in adoption and fostering processes within The Adoption and Children Act.


Same sex marriage was legalised and existing civil partnerships could be converted to a marriage. The legislation came into effect at 12am on New Year's Day, with one couple upgrading their civil partnership at The British Consulate in Sydney on New Years Day, eleven hours before registrars opened in Scotland!


‘The Rainbow Europe Index’ named Scotland ‘the most progressive location’ for LGBTQ+ equality, based on criteria measuring same sex marriage, visibility for transgender and intersex people and other factors.


The Scottish National Party details its next steps for LGBTQ+ legislation. These include: ending the provision of conversion therapy, improving access to gender identity and mental health services, delivering inclusive educational programmes within the curriculum and introducing a 'Hate Crime Act', which makes the incitation of hatred towards an individual on grounds of sexual orientation and identity an offence.

Book a ticket for Walking Tours in Scotland: LGBTQ+ History Tour to learn more about how our LGBTQ+ past has shaped Glasgow (and Scotland) into a progressive and vibrant space, with Walking Tours in Scotland, a queer owned business! This tour will operate simultaneously with Glasgow Pride and 10% of the profits will be donated to an LGBTQ+ charity!

Click here to book!

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