Section 28: LGBT+ History Month
In May 1988 the UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, introduced Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988.
The political landscape at the time and social attitudes towards LGBT people were hostile.
In the 1980s, there had been an intense media focus on AIDS and public health campaigns had been rolled out across the UK. A leaflet was sent to every household in the country. There was a week of educational programming on TV at peak time and family TV presenters were demonstrating condoms on prime-time television.
It is safe to say the AIDS and HIV crisis terrified the nation and as a result homophobia rose dramatically.
The introduction of Section 28 demonstrates the prejudice and hostility for the LGBT community that existed at the time.
Section 28 Reads
“28 Prohibition on promoting homosexuality by teaching or by publishing material
(1) The following section shall be inserted after section 2 of the [1986 c. 10.] Local Government Act 1986 (prohibition of political publicity)—
“2A Prohibition on promoting homosexuality by teaching or by publishing material
(1) A local authority shall not—
(a) intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality;
(b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.
(2) Nothing in subsection (1) above shall be taken to prohibit the doing of anything for the purpose of treating or preventing the spread of disease.
(3) In any proceedings in connection with the application of this section a court shall draw such inferences as to the intention of the local authority as may reasonably be drawn from the evidence before it.
(4) In subsection (1)(b) above “maintained school” means,—
(a) in England and Wales, a county school, voluntary school, nursery school or special school, within the meaning of the Education Act 1944; and
(b) in Scotland, a public school, nursery school or special school, within the meaning of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980.”
(2) This section shall come into force at the end of the period of two months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.”
What Does Section 28 Mean?
In practice this meant that:
1. Teachers were prohibited from talking about same-sex relationships in schools.
2. Councils were forbidden from stocking libraries with literature or films that contained gay or lesbian themes, forcing young people to look elsewhere for educational material.
3. Teachers were forced back in the closet or out of their job.
4. A generation of LGBT people were imprisoned in the closet for fear of social attack or disapproval.
Section 28 – A Damaging Legacy
This piece of legislation created a damaging legacy in society.
Section 28 played a huge role in legitimising hate in society. It reinforced playground homophobia and bullying for LGBT children as well as compounded the already hostile social landscape for the LGBT community.
Teachers at the time were confused about what they could say and do, and were unsure whether they could act when pupils faced homophobic bullying.
Since Section 28 was repealed, the legacy of Section 28 remains in schools.
- Teachers remain confused and uneducated about LGBT issues and how to support LGBT pupils.
- On the flip side, LGBT pupils are not being effectively supported or taught about healthy same-sex relationships in the classroom.
- And non-LGBT individuals are not being educated about what it means to be truly inclusive and respectful of all life on earth.
LGBT people are all around you, every day. You cannot get through one day without being in the presence of someone that is LGBT, whether you know it or not.
Educating Young People About LGBT Life
Educating young people about LGBT life isn’t going to ‘turn’ anyone into something they are not.
But what it does is educate everyone that people are unique and there are many different lifestyles and choices in life. It teaches what it means to be your authentic self and how to have authentic relationships with people from all walks of life. It teaches about our unconscious biases, the social conditioning we have received over the years that are negatively impacting our lives and decisions and the prejudices we hold.
The next generation are not being taught that it is safe to bring all of who they are to everything they do in life. So the cycle of hiding, censoring and pretending to be someone else continues. And it enters the workplace.
If this education was happening in schools, workplaces would need less LGBT awareness training!
Impact Of Section 28 On Adult Life
This lack of LGBT information received from school affects your whole entire adult life.
I grew up learning that heterosexual relationships were the norm and widely accepted in society.
Social conditioning. Straight privilege. Prejudices. Unconscious bias. In the workplace and society, these impact on daily life for LGBT people.
And so continues the mental health issues in society. MIND, the mental health charity state 42% of gay men and 70% of lesbians experience mental health problems, compared to 25% of the wider population. Many believe this is due to homophobia that has been fuelled by Section 28. I attribute this to the social conditioning we have received over the years too.
Imagine a world where everyone is taught that to be yourself is a wonderful thing. You are good enough. There is no need to hide any part of yourself. You can be you and thrive in everything you set your mind to.
Can you imagine how supportive, safe and nurturing workplaces would be?
There wouldn’t need to be so much intense focus on D&I and belonging strategy. Because everyone would have grown up learning about what it means to be inclusive and to ensure the space is created where everyone can bring all of themselves to work and life.
Section 28 Timeline
1988. The UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, introduces Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988.
1988. Stonewall UK is formed in response to Section 28 and other barriers to equality. Founding members include Ian McKellen and Michael Cashman.
2000. Legislation is introduced to repeal Section 28 in England and Wales.
The bill is defeated.
Scotland abolishes Section 28.
It remains in place in England and Wales.
2003. Section 28 is repealed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, lifting the ban on local authorities from ‘the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality’.
2009. David Cameron apologies on behalf of the Conservative party for the introduction of Section 28.
With Thanks To:
Queer: A History by M.J Barker and J. Scheele
About Gina Battye
Gina Battye is a world-renowned Authenticity, Psychological Safety and LGBT+ Inclusion Consultant and Trainer for Multinational Corporations, Fortune 500s, TV, Film and the Global Press.
As a media friendly experienced expert, with an acting background, Gina’s work has been featured widely in the media, including: Sky News, BBC Radio, Forbes, Psychologies, Cosmopolitan.
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