Campaigners recall the fight against Section 28 at town hall gathering
- Credit: Archant
Activists who led the fight against a law banning the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools came together on Wednesday night, 30 years on from its introduction –and 15 years after its repeal. The Gazette was there to listen and learn.
Campaigners who fought against the grotesque Section 28 law banning the so-called “promotion” of homosexuality in schools gathered at Islington Town Hall to mark its 30th anniversary.
The controversial addition to the 1986 Local Government Act was enacted on May 24, 1988. It made it illegal for councils to “intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” and “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.
It was introduced after copies of children’s book Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin were found in libraries of several London boroughs, including Islington. Islington also held it at the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) managed Isledon Teacher’s Centre and along with other councils and the ILEA refused to remove it.
That refusal led to Section 28, which was eventually overturned 15 years ago after a long overdue change in attitudes.
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Activist and Stonewall co-founder Lisa Power, who has been made an MBE for her services to sexual health and the LGBT Community, spoke at the event on Wednesday. She said: “Life for lesbians and gay men in the ’80s was very different to what it is now. You could be sacked just for being lesbian or gay.”
She also recalled the “pretty police”, who would be “sent into men’s toilets to entice [men] to show their privates, and arrest them”. She added: “Sometimes if they thought they should but they didn’t, they’d arrest them anyway.”
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Lisa spoke about how a lot of gay and lesbian newspapers had folded around the time Section 28 was first put up, and after calling the Campaign for Homosexual Equality she was told it would “never amount to anything”.
She also touched on how vicious the tabloids became, and compared it with the treatment of trans people today – pointing out there had been a suggestion on forum Mumsnet for Section 28 to be revived against trans people.
Lisa co-founded the Pink Paper in 1988, when Clause 14, as it was then known, was gaining momentum. She spoke of the support she had from Islington first openly gay mayor Bob Crossman and Islington South and Finsbury’s Chris Smith, Britain’s first openly gay MP.
To drum up support for their campaign, Lisa said they went around the gay clubs telling them they would get closed down – which “did wonders to get people’s backs up”.
The first march against Section 28 took place on January 14, 1988, when Lisa was among the group who “nearly broke into Downing Street”.
“It didn’t have gates then,” she said. “They said they put the gates in because of the IRA but that’s not why. The reason the gates are there is because queers rioted in 1988.”
But the campaign failed, and Lisa had some words of truth for her fellow campaigners.
“We cocked it up really badly,” she said. “We fought against ourselves as much as the clause. OLGA and Stop the Clause were both trying to run it and no one in the groups would talk to the Tories. But it was a Tory majority in the Commons and the Lords. Without speaking to them we were never going to make a dent.”
Tim Ramsey, founder of charity Just Like Us, and Jeremy Corbyn, who campaigned against Section 28 at the time, also spoke at the event. The Labour leader said: “Section 28 was a dark moment in our country’s history. This shameful, homophobic piece of legislation inflicted pain on an entire generation.
“On this 30-year anniversary we should remember the vibrant social movement that opposed and ultimately defeated it. Today, we refocus ourselves on overcoming the injustices still faced by the LGBT community.”
Earlier, Islington’s community development chief Cllr Kaya Comer-Schwartz had opened the event, and announced a review of the council’s sex and relationships education (SRE) materials would take place over the next year.
It will be created in consultation with teachers and pupils, educational organisations, and LGBTQ+ young people.
Cllr Komer Schwartz said: “Islington has a long history of standing up for LGBT rights, of fighting for inclusion, acceptance, and understanding of diversity.
“Many Islington teachers and library staff campaigned against Section 28. And so it is fitting we celebrate its repeal by launching further work to provide inclusive learning materials.”