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10 years on from Section 28

GT reflects on ten years, to the day, since Section 28 was abolished


Today marks 10 years since the abolition of Section 28. After a battle lasting some years, the homophobic law banning the 'promotion' of homosexuality in schools was finally dropped on 18 November 2003.

Introduced in 1988 as an amendment to the Local Government Act, the clause instructed that local authorities could not 'promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship'. It banned books that feature gay couples or advice from schools and libraries, and banned teachers from talking about LGBT issues.

1988 was a world consumed by fear and prejudice towards gay people, after years of a spiralling HIV epidemic and a socially conservative government. Homophobia was an uncontroversial part of British mainstream thinking; it was a country where two thirds considered same-sex relationships "morally wrong".

After a handful of London councils introduced advice and literature for gay young people, sections of the media began suggesting school children were being indoctrinated into homosexuality. As a backlash to this idea - and with populist support of the big newspapers - the government sought to ban anymore councils from following the likes of Lambeth and discussing LGBT issues.

By 2003, however, Britain was a country with numerous out-gay public figures. Will Young had won Pop Idol, the first openly-gay politicians had been elected to parliament and much of the mystery and paranoia surrounding gay people had dispersed.

It still took multiple attempts to get the law scrapped, though. Stagecoach millionaire Brian Souter was so against Section 28's repeal that he mailed every household in Scotland to ask what they thought - in an attempt to drum up opposition to its repeal. However a campaign led by Lord Waheed Alli - Britain's first openly gay peer, appointed in 1999 - saw the law finally repealed, after 15 years of homophobia.

2013 is a different world again. A YouGov survey found that 90% of Brits have no opposition to same-sex relationships. Meanwhile Britain's legal framework safeguards the rights of gay people, and the majority of our MPs and peers supported same-sex marriage.

But even after a decade without Section 28, an investigation by Stonewall has found that 99% of current school pupils say they have heard homophobic slurs in the classroom. In last month's GT, we put these concerns to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who told us: "The last time sex and relationship guidance was updated was 13 years ago and the world is a very different place now. Everyone needs to be quite vigilant [because] there is a lot of institutionalised reluctance to keep up to date with things and that’s an area where we let our children down.

"And actually we create dangers for our children – not just health dangers but wider dangers if we are not open with kids in keeping with the kind of environment which they now inhabit."

Ten years without Section 28 is an important milestone. It's a decade that has seen gay rights revolutionised in Britain (and, indeed, many other countries, though not enough). Editions of Gay Times from the 80s and 90s tell an extraordinary tale of how tough the battle to get to this point was. And so on this anniversary, we must not forget the sacrifice and dedication so many put in to achieve the freedoms we now enjoy.

But let that not convince us that battle is won. Until every country affords complete equality to LGBT people, until no young person hears homophobic comments in the classroom, the battle for our equality continues.

Words: Benjamin Butterworth / @benjaminbutter

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