What was Section 28? The history of the homophobic legislation 30 years on
It’s 30 years to the day since the Thatcher government introduced the intensely contentious Section 28.
Three decades on, the history of the homophobic legislation and its “very long shadow” still looms over schools and local authorities in the UK today.
From its very beginnings, Section 28 proved highly controversial. The clause, an amendment to the Local Government Act 1988, banned local authorities and schools from “promoting” homosexuality.
In effect, this meant that councils were prohibited from funding of books, plays, leaflets, films, or other materials showing same-sex relationships, while teachers weren’t allowed to teach about gay relationships in schools.
This clause – the first anti-gay legislation to be introduced in the UK for 100 years – was the Conservative government’s vitriolic and traditionalist response to calls for equality from lesbian and gay rights activists in the late 1980s.
Thatcher captured these venomous anti-gay views in her infamous speech 1987 Conservative Party conference, which was met with rapturous applause.
“Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay, ” she said. “All of those children are being cheated of a sound start in life. Yes, cheated.”
And, from its incarnation, queer campaigners loathed Section 28.
On the day the clause was passed in the House of Lords, a group of lesbians abseiled into the House of Lords in protest, making national news broadcasts.
The legislation – so loathed, so reviled by supporters of LGBTQ+ equality – caused 20,000 Mancunians to take to their city’s streets to march against it.
Actor Ian McKellan opposed the clause so much that he came out as gay in order to fight it.
And, although the clause was finally repealed in Scotland on June 21, 2000, then for the rest of the UK on November 18, 2003, the implications of Section 28 are visible even today.
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