Section 28 hurt the Tories more than young gay people

During the 15 years in which Section 28 was law, no local authority was prosecuted

Share
Related Topics

It is debatable who was more damaged by the notorious Section 28 – young gays, or the Conservative Party. It is claimed that while it was in force it did lasting damage to adolescents trying to come to terms with their sexuality, because responsible adults were inhibited from telling them that homosexuality is a natural occurrence. That damage was invisible at the time and would be difficult to compute now. The self-inflicted damage to the Conservative Party was easy to see.

Where previous anti-gay laws criminalised sexual acts, Section 28 was ostensibly aimed not at gays but at left-wing councillors and council employees by making it an offence for a local authority to “intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or to “promote the teaching in any maintained school the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.

Its main sponsor was the Tory MP Jill Knight, now a 90-year-old Tory peer, who still claims that she was motivated by horror stories she heard from parents of  pre-school children being shown explicit material explaining how gay sex is performed. Another source of inspiration for Section 28’s backers was Margaret Thatcher’s speech to the 1987 Conservative Party conference, in which she complained that children were being “cheated of a sound start in life” by teachers who taught them that they had “an inalienable right to be gay”.

Though the Conservatives may have thought that they were  targeting left-wing ideologues with a political motive for undermining traditional family values, a very large number of gays saw Section 28 as a direct attack on their sexuality. Gay men had experienced several terrible years since the Aids epidemic arrived in the UK, but Section 28 acted like a stimulant that revived their fighting spirit.

On the day it became law, in May 1988, 10,000 people demonstrated in London and 15,000 in Manchester. The campaign drew celebrity support from rock stars, such as The Stone Roses, from the actors Ian McKellan and Michael Cashman, and from the ex-Tory MP Matthew Parris, and led to the creation of the organisation, Stonewall. Boy George, former lead singer of Culture Club, brought out a single entitled “No Section 28”.

It also inspired memorable protests, such as the occasion when three lesbians smuggled rope into the public gallery in the House of Commons and abseiled into the Chamber. Another group invaded the BBC studio in Shepherd’s Bush. Their muffled shouts and thumps could be heard in the background during the TV broadcast of the Six O’Clock News.

No local authority was prosecuted under Section 28 during the 15 years it was law, until Tony Blair’s government removed it from the statute books in 2003. So as an example of public policy, it was an abject failure that rebounded on its creators. However, gay rights activists warn against assuming that it did no harm. They say its impact was in the self-censorship that teachers and public employees exercised when talking to young people about sex, for fear of prosecution.

Section 28 gave the Conservative Party a lasting reputation as the anti-gay party, the party of sexual intolerance, for which David Cameron issued a public apology at a Gay Pride event in July 2009, saying: “I’m sorry for Section 28. We got it wrong.”

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour's Jeremy Corbyn arrives to take part in a Labour party leadership final debate, at the Sage in Gateshead, England, Thursday, Sept. 3  

Jeremy Corbyn is here to stay and the Labour Party is never going to look the same again

Andrew Grice
Serena Williams  

As Stella Creasy and Serena Williams know, a woman's achievements are still judged on appearance

Holly Baxter
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones