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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”.
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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.