An Outrage protest about section 28 at the London Oratory school, 1983 | Outrage | 14187
A public demonstration against Section 28 | Photo uncredited | Copyright control | 14188
In 1983 there was controversy when the Greater London Council purchased a single copy of a book called Jenny lives with Eric and Martin by Susanne Bösche, originally published in Denmark.
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There was also another book which caused controversy, The Milkman’s on His Way by David Rees. The controversy led to some councils and local political parties adopting gay-positive policies including commitments to end discrimination against gay men and lesbians. Nationally, though, the Conservative government had other ideas but bigger fish than gay men and lesbians to fry – miners, for instance.
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Once the miners were dealt with they turned their attention to gays and lesbians. Right wingers such as Jill Knight started campaigning against gay-friendly policies and the spending of public money on related activities, and seized on publicity of the Gay Liberation Front, which was radical to Conservative eyes.
A number of defamatory and insulting statements were made in the House of Lords which resulted in the House becoming known popularly as the House of Bigots.
On 2 December 1987 an amendment was introduced to the Local Government Bill banning the promotion of homosexuality and it became law on 24 May 1988. There were protests which including lesbians abseiling into Parliament and invading the BBC’s Six O’Clock News.
The clause was baffling. Did it apply in schools or only to local authorities? Whilst head teachers and Boards of Governors were specifically exempt, schools and teachers became confused as to what was actually permitted and tended to err on the side of caution.
For the gay community it was a call to action and Stonewall and Outrage were formed, taking over from the Gay Liberation Front which was seen as too radical.
The discussion of the effects of the law – which did not introduce any criminal offences, so there were no prosecutions – went on for years and splits even emerged in the Conservative Party.
In May, 2000 the Christian Institute took Glasgow City Council to court for funding an AIDS support charity which the Institute alleged promoted homosexuality, but they lost the case.
The Scottish Assembly was the first assembly to repeal Section 28, in 2000.
The first attempt to repeal section 28 in England took place on 7 February 2000 by the new Labour Goverment, who had made an election commitment to repeal it. The repeal was thrown out by the Conservative dominated House of Lords. The measure went back and forth a few times and there were some outbursts of vitriolic homophobia in the Lords. In the end the Labour government had to pass another law which limited the ability of the House of Lords to stop a measure which had repeatedly been passed by the House of Commons.
The section was finally repealed on 18 November 2003.
The Thatcher Family – Margaret Thatcher is, of course, on the right | BBC | 14223
Pink News has been talking to gay Tory MP Conor Burns about Lady Thatcher and Section 28. Her government’s decision to approve Section 28 of the Local Government Act in 1988 remains a sore point with the gay community.
Section 28 stated that a local authority
“shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” and that schools “could not promote of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.
The famous Roberts Corner Shop in Grantham | Daily Mirror | 14224
Did the policy, along with a line in her 1987 Conservative Party Conference speech which denounced local education authorities for teaching children that “they have an inalienable right to be gay” mean that Lady Thatcher herself was homophobic?
“No, I think she was a woman of her generation,” Conor Burns says. “She had a number of people, who you could identify by reading stuff about her, very close to her who were openly gay. She had no problem with that. … Section 28 was a backbench amendment to a Local Government Bill. This was not something that was hatched in the flat of Number 10 when she was making Denis his bacon and eggs in the morning.”
No indeed. It was introduced by the then Conservative backbencher Jill Knight, who now sits in the Lords. Now 90, she recently criticised the same-sex marriage bill, and made strange attempts to justify her opposition by suggesting gay people are “good with antiques”.
Conor says Lady Thatcher accepted Section 28, but he cites the vociferous political climate of the time as a reason for her doing so.
“She accepted it. When you go and look back at some of the stuff that local authorities were doing then – the ‘Jennie lives with Eric and Martin’ books – which were aimed at five-and-six-year-olds, there is a question as to whether that is an appropriate age to introduce any aspect of sexuality and sex. And for someone born in the northern town of Grantham in the 1920s she would have just thought passionately that it wasn’t.”
Conor Burns was elected as the MP for Bournemouth West in the 2010 general election.