30 years ago today…
Three gay rights activists invaded the BBC studios during a Six O’Clock bulletin of the BBC News to protest about the introduction of Section 28, a law preventing schools from teaching their students about homosexuality. Protesters could be heard chanting as Sue Lawley continued to read the news, prompting the presenter to comment “we have been rather invaded by some people who we hope to be removing very shortly”.
Section 28 became law on May 24, 1988. Before its repeal, Section 28 was already largely redundant: sex education in England and Wales has been regulated solely by the Secretary of State for Education since the Learning and Skills Act 2000 and the Education Act 1996. Nevertheless, many campaigners still saw abolishing Section 28 as a “a symbolic measure against intolerance”, and campaigned for its repeal.
The introduction of Section 28 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, amongst other people, Ian McKellen and Michael Cashman, and OutRage!.
In Scotland, Section 28 was repealed by the Ethical Standards in Public Life Act on June 21, 2000. In England, the repeal took much longer as government bills were rejected by the House of Lords, led by Baroness Young. Weakened by her death in 2002, the Lords eventually agreed to the repeal in July 2003. On September 18, 2003 the Local Government Bill received Royal Assent as the Local Government Act 2003 and Section 28 was finally taken off the statute books. Kent County Council are still the only local authority that openly dismisses that same-sex couples can have families.
In 2009, David Cameron, then leader of the Conservative Party, apologised for his party supporting the law. (In 2013, after he became Prime Minister, his government passed the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, legalising gay marriage in England and Wales.)