‘Authorities shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality’ or ‘promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’. Section 28, Local Government Act, 1988.
2018 marks thirty years since Margaret Thatcher’s government introduced Section 28, a notorious policy which prevented schools and local authorities from promoting LGBT+ issues. At the time, the policy announcement was surrounded by a media-driven moral panic over the ‘gay lobby’; despite the fact that homosexual acts were decriminalised over twenty years before. Newspapers such as the Daily Mail wrote that ‘homosexual activists use sex lessons to promote their own lifestyle’, adding that ‘they brainwash youngsters through propaganda in public and school libraries’. (Daily Mail, October 6 1986, p. 9.) Other papers such as the Sunday Telegraph also defended Section 28, suggesting that sexual orientation was dependent upon the company that students choose to keep at school, and even went as far to suggest that the young needed protection ‘from this decadent and disgusting way of life’. (Sunday Telegraph, January 31 1988, p. 22.)
While such views are repulsive by today’s standards, it took well over a decade before Section 28 was completely removed from the Statute Books. With this in mind, it is worth remembering that the freedoms which are enjoyed today were not willingly gifted to the LGBT+ community. Activists have continually strived – and do continue to strive – for their right to be different in terms of style and sexual and gender ambiguity.
Most recently this fight has revolved around the proposal to reform the Gender Recognition Act, which if successful will grant trans people the right to self-identify their gender, rather than having it assigned to them via medical tests and a ‘gender recognition certificate’. Interestingly, the media furore which surrounds these proposals is propagated by many of the same media conglomerates which supported Section 28 and opposed gay rights during the 1980s.
What is clear from all of this, as it was then, is that socially conservative attitudes matter. Recent research by YouGov, for example, has revealed that one in five LGBT people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the last twelve months. While two in five trans people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the same period. And four in five anti-LGBT hate crimes and incidents go unreported, with younger LGBT people particularly reluctant to go to the police.
Bearing all of this in mind, the history of Section 28 should not only encourage us to build a society where no one is discriminated against because of who they are, what their gender is or who they love, but it should also remind us that LGBT+ history is as relevant as ever.
- Local Government Act 1988 (c. 9), section 28. Accessed via legislation.gov.uk//ukpga/1988/9/contents
- Newspapers accessed via Gale database: http://0-find.galegroup.com.serlib0.essex.ac.uk/menu/commonmenu.do?userGroupName=essex