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?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Senior Research Executive - Quantitative/Qualitative

£27000 - £31000 Per Annum Excellent Benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

ETL Developer / Consultant

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Primary supply teachers required in Stowmarket

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary teachers requ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron and Ed Miliband attend the Queen's Speech on 4 June 2014  

Scottish referendum: It's hard for us Labour supporters to admit, but Cameron did good here

Rob Marchant
NO ballots are stacked on a table during the Scottish independence referendum count at the Royal Highland Centre in Edinburgh  

Scottish referendum: Some divorces are meant to happen – this one wasn’t

Dotti Irving
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week