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Section 28

Section 28 is the controversial amendment[?] to the United Kingdom's 1988 Local Government Act[?]. The amendment states that a local authority "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" [1] (http://www.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts1988/Ukpga_19880009_en_5.htm).

In essence, Section 28 prohibited local councils from distributing any material, whether plays, leaflets, books, etc, that portray homosexual relationships as anything other than abnormal. It prohibited teachers and educational staff from discussing homosexual issues with students for fear of losing state funding and it has been used to close lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual student support groups in schools across Britain.

Section 28 is now largely redundant: sex education in England and Wales is regulated solely by the Secretary of State for Education[?] in the Education and Skills Act 2000[?] and the Education Act 1996[?]. Nevertheless, many pro-gay and anti-gay campaigners still see Section 28 as a symbolic issue and continue to fight their own particular causes over it.

While going through Parliament, the proposed amendment was constantly relabeled with a variety of clause numbers as other amendments were added or deleted to the Act before they settled on labeling it '28'. Section 28 is also sometimes referred to by its old name, Clause 28 - in Parliament amendments are called clauses before they become law - or by its specific reference, Section 2a.

See also: homosexuality, Stonewall, age of consent, gay rights.

Table of contents

History

Section 28 was a product of a climate of intense media and political interest in homosexuality in the late eighties/early nineties. The spread of the AIDS virus brought about wide-spread public panic and fear, much of which was directed at the homosexual and transgender communities. The political climate was also dominated by the right-wing Thatcherite Conservative Government.

The history of Section 28 begins in 1986: Lord Halsbury[?] tabled a Private Member's Bill in the House of Lords entitled '"An act to refrain local authorities from promoting homosexuality"'. At the time, the incumbent Conservative government considered Halsbury's bill to be too misleading and risky. However, the law successfully passed the House of Lords and was adopted by Conservative MP Dame Jill Knight[?]. Swamped by the announcement of the 1987 general election and lacking government support, Halsbury's bill failed.

On 7th December, 1987 a committee reintroduced a similar clause into the Local Government Act[?], championed by Knight. Despite having very little to do with the broad remit of the Act, which dealt with the compulsory tendering of school services, they attempted to quickly and quietly slip the amendment through Parliament. After being debated on 8th December, 1987 it was presented to the House of Commons on 15th December, 1987, shortly before the parliamentary Christmas recess.

Section 28 became law on 24th May, 1988. The night before, lesbians protested, abseiling into Parliament and famously invading the BBC's Six o'Clock News[?].

After Section 28 became law there seemed little chance that it would be repealed, particularly while the Conservative party remained in power. However, this changed with the 1997 landslide election victory of The Labour Party, who had pledged to repeal Section 28.

The issue of Section 28 also served to galvanise the disparate British gay rights movement into action. The resulting protest saw the rise of now famous groups like Stonewall, started by Ian McKellen and Angela Mason[?], and OutRage![?], championed by Peter Tatchell[?].

Whilst the gay rights movement was united over Section 28, gay issues began to divide the Conservative party, heightening divisions between party modernists[?] and right-wing traditionalists[?]. In 1999 Conservative leader William Hague controversially sacked frontbencher[?] Shaun Woodward[?] for supporting the repeal of Section 28, prompting pro-gay Tories, such as Steve Norris[?], to speak out against the decision. 2000 saw prominent gay Conservative MP Ivan Massow[?] defect to the Labour Party.

On 7th February, 2000, legislation to repeal Section 28 was introduced by the Labour Government, but was defeated by a House of Lords campaign lead by conservative peer and prominent anti-homosexual campaigner Baroness Janet Young[?].

In May, 2000 in the first case of its kind The Christian Institute[?], an evangelical organisation, unsuccessfully attempted to take Glasgow County Council[?] to court for alleged funding of an AIDS support charity that allegedly "promoted homosexuality", breaching Section 28.

In the newly devolved Scottish Parliament the repeal process was more successful. Despite the efforts of many groups - including an attempt by millionaire and evangelical Christian Brian Souter[?] to sidestep the democratic process and elicit his own privately funded public poll[?] in an attempt to discredit reformers - Section 28, or Section 2a, was successfully repealed by the Scottish Parliament on 21st June, 2000 with a 99 to 17 vote, with only two abstentions.

On 24th July, 2000 legislation to repeal Section 28 was once again re-introduced and passed the Commons in a free vote. In the intervening period between the last attempt to repeal Section 28 the Labour Government had drastically reformed the House of Lords, removing the majority of the hereditary peers[?] and increasing the numbers of Labour and Liberal Democrat peers. Concessions were also made in the form of the new Learning and Skills Bill[?] which emphasised family values and which was hoped would win over opponents. However, the Conservatives had managed to secure a huge turnout of their peers and the repeal once again stalled in the House of Lords.

Future

Despite consecutive defeats in the House of Lords to repeal Section 28 in England and Wales, the Labour government is still committed to repeal althought they remain tight-lipped as to the precise schedule. It is thought that further attempts will be made, hypothetically using the Parliament Act to force through repeal by circumventing the largely Conservative House of Lords. All the proposed bills to repeal Section 28 have included concession clauses that would instead require teachers to place an emphasis on family and marriage. Many in the gay and human rights movement consider this to be potentially as prohibitive, if not more so, than the original Section 28.

It is also thought that the advent of the Human Rights Act 1998 has rendered Section 28 unenforceable. The Human Rights Act states that nobody should be discriminated against on the grounds of "sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status" [2] (http://www.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts1998/80042--d.htm#sch1ptI). It remains to be seen whether this is true and if it holds up in a court of law, and it is generally thought that the Human Rights Act does not offer any protection against discrimination on grounds of sexuality.

Support

Section 28 is primarily supported by religious groups including evangelical Christian groups such as The Christian Institute[?], the African and Caribbean Evangelical Association[?] and the Christian Action Research and Education[?], the Muslim Council of Britain[?], and groups within the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. The Conservative Party, despite dissent within it's ranks on the issue of homosexuality, remain in favor of keeping Section 28. In the House of Lords the campaign against the repeal of Section 28 was successfully lead by the late Baroness Young[?]. Newspapers that have come out in strong support include The Daily Mail and The Telegraph[?].

The main point of argument for Section 28 is that it protects children from predatory homosexuals and paedophiles seeking to indoctrinate vulnerable young people into homosexuality. Various other arguments have also been used to support Section 28 which are summarised as follows:

  • Section 28 neither advocates nor prohibits homosexuality and allows young people to decide for themselves when they're ready.

Opposition

Gay rights advocates, such as Stonewall, OutRage![?], the Pink Paper[?] and the Gay Times[?] form the major opposition to Section 28 and lead the campaign for its repeal. Prominent individuals who have spoken out for the repeal of Section 28 include Ian McKellen, Ivan Massow[?], Mo Mowlam[?], Simon Callow, Annette Crosbie, Michael Grade, Jane Horrocks, Michael Mansfield QC[?], Helen Mirren, Claire Rayner[?], and Ned Sherrin[?]. It has also been opposed by a minority of religious groups and leaders, such as Richard Harries[?], Bishop of Oxford[?]. Political parties that are opposed to Section 28 include the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party. Newspapers that have come out in opposition include The Guardian, The Independent and The Mirror. In the House of Lords the campaign for repeal is lead by openly gay peer Waheed Alli[?].

The main point of argument against Section 28 is that it discriminates against homosexuals of all age groups, and that it is an intolerant and unjust law, unfairly and needlessly labelling gay family relationships as "pretend". Various other arguments have also been used against Section 28 which are summarised as follows:

  • Evidence is emerging that, by excluding gay support groups and gagging teachers from protecting victims of homophobic bullying, Section 28 is actually endangering vulnerable children.

  • Section 28 comes with a loaded, homophobic assumption that homosexuals and homosexuality are inherently dangerous to children, equating homosexuality with paedophilia.

  • Not only does Section 28 prevent the promotion of homosexuality, it gives a legal reason to oppose it in schools and other forums.

  • The fact that Section 28 is law gives an impression to the public that the government sanctions homophobia.

  • Despite claims that Section 28 is used to manage teaching about gay issues in schools it doesn't actually directly applies to schools and, in fact, it only applies to local authorities.

  • It is poorly worded and ambiguous leading to confusion for teachers over what they can and can't say and whether they can help pupils who face homophobic bullying and abuse.

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