Ian McKellen worries about the return of Thatcher’s Section 28: ‘Things aren’t looking good’

Sir Ian McKellen

Sir Ian McKellen has expressed fears of a return of Thatcher’s infamous Section 28, as the government considers new guidance that could ban social transitioning in schools.

Section 28, which was introduced by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1988, banned the “promotion of homosexuality” in schools, and remained in place until it was repealed in Scotland in 2000 and England and Wales in 2003.

It was while protesting the draconian law in 1988 that McKellen first came out as gay.

As Rishi Sunak’s government considers new guidance for schools, which could potentially impose restrictions on transgender and non-binary students who wish to socially transition, McKellen worries that this guidance could echo Section 28.

Ian McKellen wears a dark shirt, blue patterned silk scarf and dark grey jacket as he stares towards the camera
Ian McKellen has spoken out against the impending guidance on how transgender and non-binary students in the UK should be treated. (Getty)

Asked by Attitude if he feared a return of Section 28 or something similar, the Oscar-winner replied: “If you’d asked me that six hours ago, I’d have said no, I don’t. 

“But I talked to Michael Cashman. He says things aren’t looking good, and that there are going to be restrictions on discussions about gender which you may or may not have. Which is to disadvantage trans people. 

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“If they think they’re going to get votes by doing that, I think they’re sadly mistaken.”

Earlier this month, it was reported that Sunak was considering dropping plans to introduce restrictive measures in schools, but there has been no update from No. 10 as of yet – much to the frustration of schools across the UK.

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“When I went round a lot of schools, which I did three or four years ago, I was amazed at the turnabout. Headteachers on the whole, governors always, other teachers always, were keen to get it right. And by get it right, they meant look after their charges.”

Ahead of the official guidance on trans and non-binary students being released, many critics and LGBTQ+ advocates have expressed concerns that it could directly contradict the UK’s Equality Act, which states UK schools must ensure students do not face ant-LGBTQ+ discriminations.

Ian McKellen is heading to the West End to star in new comedy play Frank and Percy.
McKellen first came out as gay while protesting the introduction of Section 28. (Tristan Fewings – WPA Pool / Getty Images)

 “I hope it’s too late now, and that schools have reversed and follow the law. And do not discriminate on the grounds of sexuality,” said McKellen.

“That’s the law of the land. But I suppose that law could be tweaked. And that would be dreadful.”

The actor said that, from his experience of visiting schools in recent years, it appears that students and staff were highly accepting of LGBTQ+ people.

“I think governments who will now try to change things, put things in reverse will find it very difficult. I think there would be revolution in the streets, frankly.”

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