Thirty years ago, on the 28th of May 1988, at the Ross Bandstand in Edinburgh Princes Street Gardens, one of the biggest Scottish lesbian and gay rights events that had ever been organised took place. It was to protest the ‘Section 28’ which had been passed and legislated by the UK Government on the 24th of May 1988. The Lark in the Park saw prominent LGBTIQ+ figures such as Ian McKellan addressing crowds under a banner ‘lesbian and gay rights are human rights’. An idea that has, in very recent history, became normalised with Pride Scotland events increasing in popularity since it’s creation in 1995. Pride now takes place in most major towns and cities in Scotland; from new pride celebrations in Aberdeenshire and Kirkcaldy to more established events in Glasgow. The clause, which was part of the Local Government Act 1988, banned the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality by local councils and in schools across the UK. This made it illegal for anyone seeking advice about their LGBTIQ+ feelings or inclinations to be offered support in school and even literature which mentioned homosexuality was prohibited. Margaret Thatcher, whose Government introduced Clause 28, created an environment where LGBTIQ+ individuals did not ‘exist’ in the mainstream which had the desired effect for these individuals to feel alienated from society.
The controversial amendment and entirely ideologically motivated changes were spearheaded by Margaret Thatcher in her Conservative Party conference speech in Blackpool in 1987. The timing of this stark shift to anti-LGBTIQ+ rhetoric also coincided with societal impression of public opinion of homosexuality being ‘wrong’ and the right wing media’s pandemic and aggressive coverage of the HIV/AIDS crisis which peaked in the early/mid 1980s.
Margaret Thatcher addressed her conference with these chilling words:
“Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay. All of those children are being cheated of a sound start in life. Yes, cheated.”
Now, it is really quite shocking to hear the then prime minister of the UK, of only just thirty years ago, utter those words as we know that sort of talk would not be excepted in today’s political discourse.
However, it does. The discussion around transsexual individuals’ tends to be whipped up into a huge verbal frenzy and labels these individuals’ as something obscure and to be feared. The debate around feminism and that movement being anti-trans woman is essentially excluding people that really just want to be accepted for who they choose to be. The transsexual population in the UK is only around 1%; but from the extent of coverage in the tabloid and right wing press you would think it was a much larger social group. Perhaps we should remember and reflect on the debates and oppressions of the past in this country when dealing with individual’s choices or sexual orientation and however they choose to identify. We should also be mindful that 48% of people that identify as trans have attempted suicide at some time in their life according to Stonewall (2015): that is nearly half that have attempted suicide.
The repeal of the Clause 28 first took place under the first devolved Labour/Liberal Democrat Scottish Government in 2001, after huge grassroots campaigning against it, and was eventually repealed in England and Wales in 2003. This legislation was specifically designed to ‘other’ and alienate groups within society when they needed the support and advice the most. This policy targeted a time when young people are developing and forming romantic relationships, where sexual education and feelings of belonging are crucial whilst in the state education system. I am confident in seeing a brighter future of LGBTIQ+ individuals in Scotland with the political parties across the spectrum supporting the work, and intentions, of the TIE (Time for Inclusive Education) Campaign at ensuring that LGBTIQ+ issues will be discussed in the classroom.
In 2009, David Cameron the then prime minister of the Conservative led Coalition Government, apologised in the House of Commons for the introduction of Clause 28 and stated his party ‘had got it wrong’. Since then his party has decided to alienate those who receive State benefits and those who choose to make the United Kingdom their home or who are trying to get here fleeing war and persecution. The famous tabloid headline, on the front of the Daily Mail, of David Cameron referring to ‘swarms of immigrants’ shows the hand in glove support for Conservative ideology in contemporary Britain amongst the main stream media.
The then Home Sectary, and now Prime Minister, Theresa May facilitated the creation of the ‘hostile environment’ that lead to ‘go home’ vans driving round residential areas of London; thought to house high numbers of immigrants. In 2017, Theresa May addressed the party conference suggesting ‘lists’ for foreign workers and stated “when change [to immigration levels] happens to quickly it makes creating a cohesive society impossible”. This is also the same hostile environment that lead to the Windrush Generation scandal, which happened earlier this year, which resulted in British citizens: being denied access to the UK after visiting family abroad, losing their jobs and being denied healthcare though the NHS for cancer.
The controversial Clause 28 legislation might be resigned to the history books of UK Politics and remembered by those in the LGBTIQ+ community but the othering and fear creation remains just as prominent within the ideology of the Conservative Party. A hatred which has often been, and continues to be, perpetuated by the tabloid newspapers and other right-wing media outlets. The Tory Party remains the ‘nasty party’ targeting ‘problem’ sections of society, that they themselves have selected, and the main stream media continue to bleat the headlines of hate from the rooftops.