What were Section 28 and Section 2A?
This is difficult to explain! They were sections of different Local Government Acts.
Section 28 was part of the 1988 Local Government Act. It explained how local authorities must not ‘promote homosexuality’. However, Section 28 said this requirement should be added to Section 2 the earlier 1986 Local Government Act. So the requirement was added as Section 2A of the 1986 Act.
Section 28 and Section 2A said the same thing. They said local authorities must not ‘promote homosexuality’. Lesbian and gay groups in England and Wales used Section 28 as the focus of their campaigning. Lesbian and gay groups in Scotland used Section 2A. So below we talk about Sections 28/2A. The Act did not apply in Northern Ireland.
The new law came into force on the 24th May 1988.
Why was the new law introduced?
It can be seen as part of an angry response to recent improvements in equality for lesbian and gay people. In the 1970s and 1980s the lesbian and gay community became more confident and organised. It became more visible. (We should remember that, at the time, bisexual and trans issues were not usually recognised). Trade unions had improved workplace rights before there was any legal protection. Some local authorities had lesbian and gay support teams. Some schools recognised lesbian and gay families. Also, in the 1980s the HIV/AIDS epidemic arrived. As well as devastating the community it led to more homophobia.
How did the lesbian and gay community respond?
Sections 28/2A sparked activism among lesbian and gay people. At the time the Act came into force 10,000 people protested in London and 15,000 in Manchester. They were joined by allies such as the National Union of Miners at protest events. Several protests were staged by lesbian women, including abseiling into Parliament. There was a famous invasion of the BBC’s Six O’Clock News. One woman managed to chain herself to camera equipment. Another was sat on by Nicholas Witchell. Witchell was a newsreader.
What impact did Sections 28/2A have?
It was never clear how you could ‘promote homosexuality’. The Act did not create a criminal offence. There was no successful prosecution using the clause. However, it did cause misunderstanding and misinformation.
Local authorities cut funding for many lesbian and gay groups. Other groups self-censored and activities stopped. Sections 28/2A did not apply to what was taught in schools. But newspapers and the general public believed that it did. Teachers who might have talked about healthy relationships were discouraged. So another generation of children grew up without a rounded education. They grew up in a national and local culture of homophobic bullying.
You can read about the campaigns to repeal Section 28 and Section 2A in this Legal Dateline
Voices and Visibility 2019