Thirty years since the introduction of Section 28, Danielle Mustarde looks back at her school days under the amendment 🍎
BY DANIELLE MUSTARDE
Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 was a controversial amendment to the UK’s Local Government Act 1986, enacted on 24 May 1988 and repealed on 21 June 2000 in Scotland, and on 18 November 2003 in the rest of the UK by section 122 of the Local Government Act 2003.
Thirty years today, Section 28 was enacted across the United Kingdom.
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”.
Though I wasn’t born until a year later in 1989, this 1988 amendment brought in by Thatcher’s government would set the stage for the educational environment in which I, and many of my friends and family, were educated in here in the UK.
As a child in a small, largely white, working-class school in the north east of England in the 90s, I wasn’t aware of Section 28. I was, however, very much aware of the existence of same-sex relationships, lesbians, and gay men – namely due to the fact that a close family friend was a very out and proud lesbian (and also one of the first people I spoke to about my own sexuality).
Still, it never really occurred to me that these kinds or relationships or sexualities were never mentioned formally at school, but then, sex in general was rarely mentioned anywhere other than in the serious whispers and not-so-serious giggles of the playground.
Even in secondary school, I don’t remember ever having heard of Section 28. Though there were both students – and teachers – who many of us knew were gay, lesbian, or bisexual (at the time, I didn’t know any trans or nonbinary folks).
I wasn’t raised in a politicised environment and looking back, I really had very little awareness of the politics taking place around me until I left the small town I grew up in for university.
Looking back now though – I’m angry. I’m angry that, when I first started to acknowledge my feelings towards people of both the opposite and same-sex as a twelve or thirteen-year-old, I’d not been taught in my English class that Oscar Wilde was gay, or that Virginia Woolf was bisexual.
In science, no one had mentioned that Alan Turing had suffered as he had because of his sexuality, and no teachers stepped in to correct students in the playground when they’d excitedly babble about Corrie’s fictional trans character Hayley Cropper, calling her a “tranny” without really understanding what it meant. Or, when we’d all, myself included, repeatedly use the word “gay” as slang to mean something was uncool.
But the blame can’t fall on my teachers – it was Section 28 and the UK government who were to blame.
Alongside that anger though, I also feel thankful. Thankful to our family friend – the self-appointed “Uncle Karen” – for just being there and being frank about her sexuality, identity, and relationships. For my “mam”, as we say in the north east, for speaking about same-sex relationships with the same blasé tone as she did anyone else’s.
For the many LGBTQI protestors who, unbeknownst to a youthful me, were storming the BBC News at six o’clock to fight for their right to love who they love, or the bloody fabulous group of lesbian women who were abseiling into the House Of Lords the evening before this very day 30 years ago – one of whom I actually had the pleasure of meeting at an LGBTQI event in London not so long ago.
And lastly, for the teachers who, through both primary and secondary school, were – quietly – but openly LGBTQI. Through them, I believe many of the kids I went to school with found their first positive LGBTQI role models and, in a time when it was against the law to teach the “acceptability of homosexuality”, they managed to do just that just by being visible.
Though Section 28 is no longer in place, we must remember that it was only 15 years ago that it was repealed in England and Wales, 15 years – that’s all – and the legacy of the amendment has had a ripple effect on schools and education across the country for much, much longer.
That is why the work of organisations such as Diversity Role Models, which actively seeks to prevent homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools, are so important.
In fact, I recently went into a school with DRM as a role model and, as nerve wracking as it was beforehand, it was such a positive experience to see “LGBTQI” written on a whiteboard (no chalkboards for these kids) and half a room-full of hands excitedly shoot into the air at the question, “Who knows what each of these letters stand for?”
Today, I’ll be thinking of the LGBTQI people who were visibile (and those who couldn’t be) in my life when I was younger, and of the activists who fought so hard for the rights we now enjoy here in the UK. But I’ll also remember that, as Stonewall’s Ruth Hunt said of the anniversary, “We cannot become complacent”.
Fifteen years in the wide expanse of history really is nothing more than the blink of an eye, and if we want to make sure things continue to progress – particularly in the many other countries around the world where LGBTQI people are still very much at risk simply because of their sexuality or gender identity – we must continue to share our histories, our support, and keep conversations around LGBTQI people, rights, and culture energised, relevant and very much alive.
After all, many of the pro-Section 28 conversations that took place in 1988 sound a little too familiar when we think about the conversations surrounding trans and queer people’s rights today… #Section28
This piece was originally published on the DIVA website in May 2018 and has been re-shared in response to the #NoOutsiders conversation happening across social media on LGBTQI-inclusive education
Only reading DIVA online? You’re missing out. For more news, reviews and commentary, check out the latest issue. It’s pretty badass, if we do say so ourselves.