Section 28

Ollie Green

Section 28 was a series of laws across Britain that prohibited the "promotion of homosexuality"

Some claim that the 1980s in Britain marked the beginning of a regression in attitudes and a backwards step in society. Amidst this the LGBTQ+ people of the UK were loudly demanding equality. Part of the Conservative Government’s response to this was the introduction of Section 28. Section 28 was a series of laws across Britain that prohibited the "promotion of homosexuality" by local authorities and more specifically the promotion of homosexuality in schools. Section 28 was introduced by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Government, and it was in effect from 1988 to 2003. The Government pushed this set of laws at it aligned with the Party’s view that conventional family values and Christian beliefs needed to be re-established. Section 28 saw all educational bodies banned from talking about Homosexuality in a positive way. It became illegal over night to teach students about safe sex for gay men and women, to speak openly about healthy gay relationships or to converse any mental health support that may be available. This set of laws would essentially alienate LGBTQ+ people, and lead to them feeling more and more like the “other”. One background event that allowed the passage of this legislation was the AIDS epidemic. The AIDS epidemic was publicised widely and negatively. The Mail on Sunday dubbed the AIDS virus as a ‘gay virus plague’, and The Sun ran a story headlined “I’d shoot my son if he has AIDS, Says Vicar”. This type of harmful coverage of the epidemic influenced the electorate. In 1987, the year before the introduction of Section 28, only 11% of people thought that same sex relationships were ‘not wrong at all’, and in 1989, the year after the introduction of Section 28, this number stood at 14%. Furthermore, the Conservative Government had a mandate to enact this kind of legislation as the Party’s 1987 General Election Manifesto claimed that ‘In certain cases education [was] used for political indoctrination and sexual propaganda.’ This mandate coupled with the electorates’ clear stance on same-sex relationships tipped the balance in the Conservatives’ favour and allowed section 28 to be carried forward and passed. However, LGBTQ+ Activists did respond and make their views known. On the 23rd of May 1988, the evening before section 28 came into force, lesbian activists stormed the BBC News studio where Sue Lawley was midway through the Six O’clock News. Booan Temple, one the six who stormed the Six O’clock news later criticised British attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community and Section 28, claiming that, “I, and many of my loved ones, had been attacked in the street. There was an atmosphere that ‘the other’ needed to be eradicated and I think the LGBT community was seen as a threat to the institution of the family. Section 28 was part of that”.
Section 28
Rainbow Plaque on a door of Leeds Central Library

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In 2003 under a new Labour Government under Tony Blair, Section 28 was revoked

The LGBTQ+ community were finally allowed to co-exist in schools. However, the fight for equality is far from over. In recent years there have been mass protests against the teaching of same sex relationships in schools. One of the most high-profile examples of this happened in 2019 were parents who picketed school gates with anti-LGBTQ+ signage at Anderton Park primary school in Birmingham for almost eight weeks, this made national press up and down the country. Section 28 has had a lasting effect on homosexuals. An entire generation has been subliminally highlighted as a seedy, morally wrong, and shameful section of society. Throughout this period millions of students had to hide who they are from the education system. The effect of this saw many LGBTQ+ people being forced into heterosexual relationships in adulthood. Section 28 not only had a social impact on lives of the LGBTQ+ community, it has also had severe mental health repercussions. According to Greater Manchester’s NHS Trust the LGBTQ+ community experience increased levels of common mental health problems, including depression and anxiety. Youth Chances, a social research project, identified that 52% of LGBTQ+ people self-harm, compared to 35% of heterosexual non-trans young people. Furthermore, 44% of the LGBTQ people reported suicidal thoughts, compared to 26% of heterosexual non-trans respondent. In a study by Stonewall, it was also found that 13% of LGBT people aged 18-24 attempted to take their own life in the past year The future, however, is looking bright. Schools are now able to teach inclusivity in a safe environment. ‘Inclusivity’ is now taught as part of the Government’s new ‘British Values’ curriculum. A person’s Sexuality is now categorised as a protected characteristic in law. This now means that discriminating against someone based on their sexuality is deemed as a hate crime. Section 28 is not some age-old policy that is out of living memory. I, Ollie Green am a product of Section 28. I spent my entire education journey under section 28. Leaving senior school in 2003 I knew nothing about healthy male relationships or sexual health for the LGBTQ+ community. It has shrouded my life in confusion, shame, and guilt. I am just 1 of millions that most likely feel the same. That’s the real legacy of section 28.
Ancestry UK
Section 28

Ollie Green

Ollie Green wrote for Edition 6: LGBTQ+ History.
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