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Section 28

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Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 was a controversial amendment to the United Kingdom's Local Government Act 1986, enacted on 24 May 1988 and repealed on 21 June 2000 in Scotland, and on 18 November 2003 in the rest of the UK. The amendment stated 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]

Some people believed that Section 28 prohibited local councils from distributing any material, whether plays, leaflets, books, etc, that portrayed gay relationships as anything other than abnormal. Teachers and educational staff in some cases were afraid of discussing gay issues with students for fear of losing state funding (see Controversy over applicability for more information).

No successful prosecution was ever brought under this provision, but its existence caused many groups to close or limit their activities or self-censor. For example, a number of lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual student support groups in schools and colleges across Britain were closed due to fears by council legal staff that they could breach the Act.[2]

While going through Parliament, the amendment was constantly relabelled with a variety of clause numbers as other amendments were added to or deleted from the Bill, but by the final version of the Bill, which received Royal Assent, it had become Section 28. Section 28 is sometimes referred to as Clause 28 – in the United Kingdom, Acts of Parliament have sections, whereas in a Bill (which is put before Parliament to pass) those sections are called clauses.[3] Since the effect of the amendment was to insert a new section '2A' into the previous Local Government Act, it was also sometimes referred to as Section 2A.[4]

History Edit


Section 28 originated in the social transition in British society from homosexuality as "illegal-but-discussed", to "legal-but-not-always approved", following debate in the 1950s and the 1967 decriminalisation of homosexual acts for those over the age of 21.[citation needed]

The 1980s were turbulent years politically in the UK, coinciding with the large scale social changes of Margaret Thatcher's Government (see: Thatcherism) and the rise of AIDS. Intense media interest and public fears over policies of the more left-wing local authorities towards homosexuality and education (see: Loony left) were also prominent, with widespread concern over the funding of unheard-of minor groups with significant public resources[citation needed].

The spread of AIDS had also brought about widespread fear, much of which was directed at gays and bisexuals. Some believed that sexual orientation played a factor in the spread of disease, and negative, often unfair sentiments toward the homosexual community were a consequence. These sentiments intensified already-existing opposition to school policies, activities, and practices, which supporters claimed were efforts to be inclusive of sexual minorities, and which opponents deemed as the promotion of homosexuality.

In 1983 the Daily Mail, a British tabloid newspaper, reported that a copy of a book entitled Jenny lives with Eric and Martin – portraying a little girl who lives with her father and his gay partner – was provided in a school library run by the Labour-controlled Inner London Education Authority. But it was not until 1986 that major controversy arose and widespread protest demonstrations made a major contribution towards the subsequent passing of Section 28.[5]

A final factor was the tone taken by some activist groups such as the Gay Liberation Front, cited by Baroness Knight of Collingtree (then Conservative MP Jill Knight), who introduced Section 28, and who in 1999 spoke[6] about the purpose of that section:

"Why did I bother to go on with it and run such a dangerous gauntlet? I was then Chairman of the Child and Family Protection Group. I was contacted by parents who strongly objected to their children at school being encouraged into homosexuality and being taught that a normal family with mummy and daddy was outdated. To add insult to their injury, they were infuriated that it was their money, paid over as council tax, which was being used for this. This all happened after pressure from the Gay Liberation Front. At that time I took the trouble to refer to their manifesto, which clearly stated: 'We fight for something more than reform. We must aim for the abolition of the family'."
"That was the motivation for what was going on, and was precisely what Section 28 stopped. ... Parents certainly came to me and told me what was going on. They gave me some of the books with which little children as young as five and six were being taught. There was The Playbook for Kids about Sex in which brightly coloured pictures of little stick men showed all about homosexuality and how it was done. That book was for children as young as five. I should be surprised if anybody supports that. Another book called The Milkman's on his Way explicitly described homosexual intercourse and, indeed, glorified it, encouraging youngsters to believe that it was better than any other sexual way of life."


As a consequence, many Conservative backbench MPs became concerned that left-wing councils were indoctrinating young children with what they considered to be homosexual propaganda. In 1986 Lord Halsbury first 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. The law successfully passed the House of Lords and was adopted by then-Conservative MP Jill Knight. However, overshadowed by the 1987 general election, Halsbury's bill failed.

On 7 December 1987 Conservative MP David Wilshire re-introduced an amendment to the 1988 Local Government Bill for a similar clause, entitled Clause 28.[7] The new amendment was also championed by Knight and accepted and defended by Michael Howard, then Minister for Local Government, although it had little to do with the broad remit of the Act, which dealt with the compulsory tendering of school services.[3] After being debated on 8 December, 1987 it was presented to the House of Commons on 15 December 1987, shortly before the parliamentary Christmas recess.

Section 28 became law on 24 May, 1988. The night before, several protests were staged by lesbian women, including abseiling into Parliament and a famous invasion of the BBC's Six O'Clock News,[3] during which one woman managed to chain herself to Sue Lawley's desk and was sat on by Nicholas Witchell.[8]

Controversy over applicability Edit

After Section 28 was passed, there was some debate as to whether it actually applied in schools or whether it applied only to local authorities. Whilst head teachers and Boards of Governors were specifically exempt, schools and teachers became confused as to what was actually permitted and tended to err on the side of caution.

A National Union of Teachers (NUT) statement remarked that "While Section 28 applies to local authorities and not to schools, many teachers believe, albeit wrongly, that it imposes constraints in respect of the advice and counselling they give to pupils. Professional judgement is therefore influenced by the perceived prospect of prosecution."[9]

Similarly, the Department for Education and Science made the following statement in 1988 regarding Section 28:

"Section 28 does not affect the activities of school governors, nor of teachers... It will not prevent the objective discussion of homosexuality in the classroom, nor the counselling of pupils concerned about their sexuality."[10]

It is said that when Knight heard this, she was somewhat upset, remarking that:

"This has got to be a mistake. The major point of it was to protect children in schools from having homosexuality thrust upon them."[10]

In response to these criticisms, supporters claimed that the NUT and Department of Education were mistaken, and the section did affect schools.

Certainly, 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 liberal and conservative campaigners still saw Section 28 as a symbolic issue and continued to fight their own particular causes over it until its repeal.

Political response Edit

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,[3] started by, amongst other people, Ian McKellen,[citation needed] and OutRage!,[3] subsequently led by Peter Tatchell.[citation needed]

While the gay rights movement was united over Section 28, gay issues began to divide the Conservative party, heightening divisions between party modernists and traditionalists. In 1999 Conservative leader William Hague controversially sacked frontbencher Shaun Woodward for refusing to support the party line that Section 28 should not be repealed,[11] prompting pro-gay rights Tories, such as Steve Norris, to speak out against the decision. 2000 saw prominent gay Conservative Ivan Massow defect to the Labour Party in response to the Conservative Party's continued support of Section 28.[12]

There is only one case of Section 28 being used to bring a case to the courts against a council. In May, 2000 – the first and last case of its kind – the Christian Institute unsuccessfully took Glasgow City Council to court for funding an AIDS support charity which the Institute alleged promoted homosexuality.

Repeal Edit

On 7 February, 2000, the first attempted legislation to repeal Section 28 was introduced by the Labour Government, but was defeated by a House of Lords campaign led by Baroness Young.

In the newly devolved Scottish Parliament the repeal process was more successful. Various groups campaigned against the repeal. The Scottish millionaire businessman Brian Souter privately funded a postal ballot as part of his Keep the Clause campaign, which returned an apparent 86% support for keeping the clause, from a response from slightly less than one third of the 3.9 million registered Scottish voters[13][14] However, Section 28 (although, more accurately, it was Section 2A of the relevant Scottish legislation) was successfully repealed as part of the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Act 2000 on 21 June 2000 with a 99-to 17 majority vote with only two abstentions.

On 24 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, with the passage into law of the House of Lords Act 1999, which removed the vast majority of hereditary peers from the Upper House. Concessions were also made in the form of the new Learning and Skills Act 2000 which emphasised family values and which was hoped would win over opponents. However, the repeal once again stalled in the House of Lords.

Despite successive defeats in the House of Lords of attempts to repeal Section 28 in England and Wales,[citation needed] the Labour government passed legislation to repeal this section as part of the Local Government Act 2003 by a vote of MPs.[15]

This passed the Lords and received Royal Assent on 18 September 2003 and the repeal became effective on 18 November 2003.

The Conservative-run Kent County Council however decided to create their own version of Section 28 to keep the effect of the now repealed law in their schools.[16] This was replaced with provisions stating that heterosexual marriage and family relationships are the only firm foundations for society on 16 December 2004.[17]

Support Edit

Section 28 was supported by religious groups such as The Christian Institute, the African and Caribbean Evangelical Association, 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 its ranks on the issue, remained in favour of keeping Section 28 up until its repeal. In the House of Lords, the campaign against the repeal of Section 28 was led by the late Baroness Young, who became associated with opposition to legislation more tolerant towards gays. Newspapers that strongly supported Section 28 included The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph.

In Scotland the most visible supporters of Section 28 were Brian Souter and the Daily Record newspaper.

The main argument used in support of Section 28 was the claim that it protected children from predatory homosexuals and advocates seeking to indoctrinate vulnerable young people into homosexuality. Various other arguments were also used in support of Section 28 which are summarised as follows:

  • The promotion of homosexuality in schools undermines marriage.
  • Section 28 prohibited only the promotion of homosexuality and did not prevent legitimate discussion.
  • Section 28 did not prevent the counselling of pupils who are being bullied.
  • Proponents pointed to various polls to demonstrate that public opinion favoured keeping Section 28.[18][19][20][21][dead link]

[22][dead link] [23]

Opposition Edit

Gay rights advocates, such as Stonewall, OutRage!, The Pink Paper and the Gay Times formed the major opposition to Section 28 and led the campaign for its repeal. Prominent individuals who spoke out for the repeal of Section 28 included Sir Ian McKellen, Michael Cashman, Ivan Massow, Mo Mowlam, Simon Callow, Annette Crosbie, Michael Grade, Jane Horrocks, Michael Mansfield QC, Helen Mirren, Claire Rayner, Ned Sherrin and Alan Moore. Boy George wrote a song opposed to Section 28, entitled "No Clause 28". The song "Shoplifters of the World Unite" by The Smiths is also rumoured to be about Section 28. The band Chumbawamba recorded a single entitled "Smash Clause 28! Fight The Alton Bill!" which was an attack on Clause/Section 28 and a benefit for a gay rights group, it also featured 12 pages of hand printed notes relating to gay rights. It was also opposed by some religious groups and leaders, such as Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford. Newspapers that came out in opposition included The Guardian, The Independent and The Daily Mirror. Political parties that were opposed to Section 28 included the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party. In the House of Lords the campaign for repeal was led by openly-gay peer Waheed Alli.

The main point of argument claimed by opponents of Section 28 was the claim that it discriminated against homosexuals, and that it was an intolerant and unjust law. Various other arguments were also used against Section 28 which are summarised as follows:

  • Evidence was emerging that, by excluding gay support groups and appearing to prevent teachers from protecting victims of homophobic bullying, Section 28 was actually endangering vulnerable children.
  • The claim that Section 28 made the assumption that homosexuals were inherently dangerous to children, implying an association between homosexuality and paedophilia.[citation needed]
  • Not only did Section 28 prevent the active promotion of homosexuality but also it appeared to give a legal reason to oppose it in schools and other forums if necessary.[citation needed]
  • The claim that Section 28 was a law which gave an impression to the public that the government sanctioned homophobia.
  • The idea that homosexuality could be promoted implied that homosexuality was a choice which people could be persuaded to make. Many groups opposing the clause claimed that sexual orientation is biologically determined and therefore the basic concept of the legislation was damaging and misleading.
  • It led to confusion for teachers about what they could do to support pupils who faced homophobic bullying and abuse.[citation needed]
  • It was no longer relevant due to the Learning and Skills Act 2000 and the Education Act 1996

In retrospect Edit

Some prominent MPs who supported the bill when it was first introduced have since either expressed regret over their support or argued that the legislation is no longer necessary.

In an interview with gay magazine Attitude during the 2005 election, Michael Howard, then leader of the Conservative Party, commented:

”(Section 28) was brought in to deal with what was seen to be a specific problem at the time. The problem was the kind of literature that was being used in some schools and distributed to very young children that was seen to promote homosexuality. .... I thought, rightly or wrongly, that there was a problem in those days. That problem simply doesn’t exist now. Nobody’s fussed about those issues any more. It’s not a problem, so the law shouldn’t be hanging around on the statute book.”[24]

In February, 2006, Conservative Party Chairman Francis Maude told that the policy, which he had voted for, was wrong and a mistake.[25]

See also Edit


  1. Local Government Act 1988 (c. 9), section 28. Accessed 1 July 2006 on
  2. Knitting Circle 1989 Section 28 gleanings. Archived from the original on 2007-08-18. on the site of South Bank University. Accessed 1 July 2006.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 When gay became a four-letter word. BBC (2000).
  4. Section 28, Gay and Lesbian Humanist. Created 2000-05-07, Last updated Sunday, 2006-02-12. Accessed 1 July 2006.
  5. In autumn 1986 a group of parents in the north-east London Borough of Haringey began making complaints about a book that was available to school children. What started out as a request for the removal of one book, turned into a series of demonstrations (both for and against) on the streets of Wood Green and Tottenham and eventually on the streets of cities across the nation.
    Susanne Bosche Jenny, Eric, Martin ... and me, The Guardian, January 31, 2000. Accessed online July 1, 2006.
  6. Quoted in Hansard, [1], 6 December 1999, Column 1102.
  7. You must specify title = and url = when using {{cite web}}.. Archived from the original on 2006-12-12.
  8. Nicholas Witchell. BBC (1998). Archived from the original on 2003-02-19.
  9. NUT on the Web[dead link]
  10. 10.0 10.1 Clause 28, or section 28, anti-gay law, by Brian Deer
  11. Tory MP sacked over gay row. BBC (1999).
  12. Tory adviser defects to Labour. BBC (2000).
  13. Poll supports S28 retention. BBC (2000).
  14. Anti-gay legislation repealed in Scottish parliament
  15. Local Government Bill - Repeal of prohibition on promotion of homosexuality. Public Whip (10 March 2003).
  16. Action Network U523407 (2003). Homophobic Section 28 is scrapped at last - except in Kent!. Action Network BBC. Archived from the original on 2012-06-29.
  17. Gay Times - Kent's Section 28 U-turn - Media Cuttings - Queer Youth Network - The UK Alliance of LGBT Young People, LGBT, Gay Youth, London, Manchester, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Gay Youth UK, Homophobia, Equality, Message Boards, News, The Queer Youth Alliance, Queer Youth Radio, Report as the Queer Youth Alliance claims victory in Kent when Kent County Council finally scrapped it's anti-gay 'Section 28' policy
  18. Apologetics | Section 28
  19. master pdf sheet.xls
  20. Ipsos MORI - Public Attitudes To Section 28
  21. Ipsos MORI - Public Attitudes (In Scotland) To Section 28
  22. MORI - Research Review
  23. The Local Government Bill [HL]: the 'Section 28' debate [Bill 87 of 1999-2000]
  24. Johann Hari - Archive
  25. Tories' gay stance 'was wrong'. BBC (2006).


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