It’s the anniversary of Section 28, so what has changed for LGBT+ people in Britain?

It’s the anniversary of Section 28, so what has changed for LGBT+ people in Britain?

It’s the anniversary of Section 28, so what has changed for LGBT+ people in Britain?

Section 28 was mass shaming aimed at some of the most vulnerable people in the country (Getty Images)

Section 28 was mass shaming aimed at some of the most vulnerable people in the country (Getty Images)

Exactly 34 ago, as AIDS spread through the UK’s queer community, Section 28 went into effect. This particularly odious amendment to the Local Government Act banned councils and schools “that promote the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as an alleged family relationship”.

This was followed by a speech given the year before in which the then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, said that children who had been taught that they had an “inalienable right to be gay” were being “fooled for a good start in life”.

Queer people have thus been pushed further to the margins and into the shadows. More concretely, and although mass protests, bullying and ostracism were common, queer youth were deprived of the information they needed to understand themselves and LGBT+ groups and clubs were forced to disband.

Section 28 was mass shaming of some of the most vulnerable people in the country. It was not until 2000 (in Scotland) and 2003 (in England and Wales) that Section 28 was finally abolished. It is a great stain on our nation.

What has changed for LGBT+ people in the UK since then? Well, quite a bit. Same-sex marriage and civil unions are now possible. Trans people are entitled to gender recognition under the law.

But just a week ago, it was reported that the UK had dropped from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association Europe’s (ILGA) annual LGBT+ rights rankings in Europe for the third year in a row; it was the largest drop – four places – of any country listed.

One reason is that the government’s recent ban on “conversion therapy” excludes trans people. The same government national LGBT survey for 2017 found that trans people were twice as likely as their gay and bisexual counterparts to receive “offered” conversion therapies.

Jayne Ozanne, chair of the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition and herself a therapy survivor, accused the government of throwing LGBT+ people under the bus, adding that it was “absolutely ridiculous” to exclude trans people.

Then there was the long consultation on the Gender Recognition Act of 2004, the aim of which was to update the gender recognition law – to “streamline and de-medicalise” the process by which trans people see their gender recognized under the law. After three years of deliberation, only a handful of insignificant changes have been made, most of them administrative. And this despite the fact that in a 2018 public consultation on proposed reforms, a strong majority favored eliminating the medical aspect of the recognition process.

The coming out, aged just 17, of Blackpool midfielder Jake Daniels was clearly seen as a major step forward for football and queer acceptance in British society. But he is the first active professional footballer to come out since Justin Fashanu announced he was gay in 1990. It is also perhaps worth mentioning that Qatar, the host of the next World Cup, which will be attended by England, punishes the homosexuality with imprisonment.

To keep up to date with all the latest opinion and commentary, sign up for our free weekly Voices Dispatches newsletter by clicking here

Even more recently, the government has come under fire for its apparent failure to identify whether LGBT+ refugees sent to Rwanda were at risk because of their gender or sexual identity. The Home Office itself said this group could face “mistreatment” but has so far shown no sign of changing course. Naturally, the prime minister, Boris Johnson, has refused on several occasions to apologize for having described gays as “homeless boys”.

The UK led Europe in LGBT+ rights. In 2015, it was ranked the best country in Europe by ILGA. It is now in 14th place. Clearly, progress has stalled. The government seems unwilling to restore the UK to its place as world leader in LGBT+ rights.

The way LGBT+ people are discussed – most recently, during a parliamentary debate on legal non-binary recognition – routinely lacks empathy, let alone compassion or respect. It was that lack of empathy that, in my opinion, allowed Section 28 to take effect and intolerance and ignorance to overwhelm humanity and dignity.

History, as we know, does not flow in a straight line: things can and often get worse. Complacency can be tantamount to slipping backwards. However, despite all the positive changes we have seen in our society regarding LGBT+ rights since 1988, it is obvious that we still have a long way to go.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *