TW// Homophobic content
With the upcoming release of My Policeman, and a recent discussion during the cast panel at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the topic of LGBTQ+ rights in the United Kingdom, specifically Section 28, has been brought up in fandom circles. As knowledge is power, especially when it comes to something as polarizing as this subject, No Stunts wants to provide you with a bit of information on the topic and encourage you to follow up with your own research. The more you know, the better advocate you can be.
Commonly referred to as Section 28, this clause was part of the Local Government Act 1988 in the UK. Effective from 1988 to 2003 in England and Wales (Scotland struck it down in 2000), it prohibited “the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities.” In simpler terms, it severely limited the ability of local government agencies, including schools, to speak about or support anything that could be considered “promotion of homosexuality.” Such a broad statement was widely debated as proponents for and patriots against the clause attempted to specifically define what was included in the ban. Many councils took the safe route by disallowing any and all talk or activity that even remotely circled around the subject of queerness. And while the bill no longer exists on official records, its repercussions are still being felt in the UK’s queer community.
Let’s point out a couple areas that were hard hit: education and community.
Education: Teachers felt especially scrutinized under Section 28 as they attempted to wade through the murky waters of what they could say and do to assist their students. Often, they remained silent for fear of breaking the law and facing disciplinary action or even arrest. This led to immeasurable amounts of unpunished bullying as students realized they would not be held accountable for their actions. Queer students felt isolated and ashamed of being their authentic selves. In many cases, they were denied important sex education relevant to their situations that would help them create and navigate safe and healthy relationships.
Community: Because of its ambiguous wording, the law caused many councils to refuse funding for queer community initiatives. This included much needed continued sex education (beyond school, as mentioned above), but extended to support groups, employment assistance, and medical care. Law enforcement often took a heavy-handed approach when it came to punishing those who stepped outside the lines. They knew it was unlikely for them to be reprimanded for their missteps.
Those against Section 28 did not just sit back and let things happen, though. Protests, both meticulously organized and grassroots-style, began almost immediately. Celebrities, like Sir Ian McKellan of The Lord of the Rings fame, put their names to the cause by speaking out against the law and participating in marches. Groups of women chained themselves to the gates of Buckingham Palace. Demonstrators took over television stations to force their objections into public view. And from all of this came possibly one of the UK’s most recognizable LGBTQ+ rights group: Stonewall. This organization/charity, named after the New York City Stonewall riots that took place in 1969, was founded in response to Section 28 and fought long and hard to get it repealed. We are not going to go into too much detail on Stonewall in this article (it deserves a write-up of its own…), but we encourage you to do some research on this organization. It is still around today battling globally for the rights of LGBTQ+ people everywhere. They have successfully fought campaigns that equalized the age of consent, granted IVF rights to same-sex couples, and introduced civil partnerships. Needless to say, they are a big deal!
For 15 years, Section 28 stood firm on the record books in the United Kingdom. While positive and hard-won progress was made during that time toward gaining back rights and destigmatizing millions of people, the negative effects of the law were long-lasting and some still exist today. The minds of those who cannot see past their own experience will never be changed in an instant. Intolerance and bullying toward the queer community is not gone. That is why queer books and films, including My Policeman, are so vital to the world right now. Even if all they do is spark a conversation, like the panel at TIFF, it’s an opportunity for all parties to learn. We cannot continue to fall into the trap of history repeating itself. Section 28 was cruel – devastatingly so. There is no excusing those who upheld this vicious law. But we need the future to be colored by the good things that came from it. We are including some links to web pages below that will give you more information and tell some individual stories. Take a look and then talk with your peers, ask questions, and lend support. Don’t let small minded people with too much power ever do this again.
Articles/Stories about Section 28: