Policy Review: Section 28

Stephen Irving on Thatcher's infamous piece of anti-gay legislation

Stephen Irving
16th May 2020
Image (left to right): Public Domain Pictures, Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia
We're drawing closer to LGBT pride month, and the occasion invites reflection. Members of the LGBT community, myself included, are encouraged to acknowledge just how far we have come in terms of the rights we have won, and how far we still have to go. It must not be forgotten that in 1988, the first piece of anti-LGBT legislation since the reign of Queen Victoria was introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government.

Section 28 of the Local Government Act aimed to ban the supposed “promotion” of homosexuality across services funded by local government, such as schools, colleges, and public libraries. This involved libraries being unable to hold literature that positively referred to LGBT people, and LGBT student support groups being forced to disband.

Thousands of young people felt isolated and alienated

This led to thousands of young people feeling isolated and alienated by publicly funded services that should be required to represent everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. As Margaret Thatcher put it at the Conservative Party conference in 1987, she believed that children who should be “taught to respect traditional moral values” were being taught that they have “an inalienable right to be gay.”

The Conservative Party aimed to erase the idea that LGBT people could live full, happy, and meaningful lives, capable of challenging the notion that the nuclear family was the only valid family unit. For a minority group that is still disproportionately affected by issues surrounding mental health, this discriminatory piece of legislation only served as a catalyst for suffering.

The legislation was passed during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, respesenting unmitigated negligence

Most devastatingly as a result of section 28, young gay people were not provided with sex education that was always applicable to them, or a place to seek advice on what made a healthy relationship. This legislation’s passage came during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which disproportionately affected gay and bisexual men, and so represented unmitigated negligence on the part of the government.

What we all must reflect on, members of the LGBT community and allies alike, is that rights for our community have been won at a high price, through struggles spanning generations. Despite there still being work to be done, we enjoy rights that seemed inconceivable even as recently as 1988, when the government sought to silence our existence. We must use this year’s unusually reserved, most likely socially-distanced LGBT pride month as a time to consider what positive actions we can take to continue in the steadfast defence of these liberties. In doing so, we can make the new decade a new roaring 20s for LGBT empowerment.

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