Section 28

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Government Act 1988 was a controversial amendment to the UK’s Local Government Act 1986, enacted on 24 May 1988 and repealed on 21 June 2000 in Scotland, and on 18 November 2003 in the rest of the UK by section 122 of the Local Government Act 2003.

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”.

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.  Because it did not create a criminal offence, no 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.

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. 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.

In “Not for your hands”, David wrote:

In The Milkman’s On His Way I tried to deal very directly with a teenager’s growing awareness that he’s homosexual, his gradual acceptance of this, and the life, warts and all, that it leads him to. Ewan emerges from the closet much more happily than Tim in “In the Tent”: he’s unencumbered by the restraints of religion. I wanted it to be a novel for young adults, so it went to Margaret Dobson. She was enthusiastic; we signed a contract and she gave me an advance — then she reluctantly changed her mind as other people in the firm protested. ‘You simply can’t,’ they told her. There were significant differences between the version that she saw and the book as Gay Men’s Press finally published it; it contained no explicit sex. When GMP took it (after refusing it initially on the grounds that they had no means of distributing it), I realised its audience would be adult gay men, not teenagers, so I described Ewan and Leslie wanking together, and wrote the now infamous page on which Ewan is fucked by Paul. It is this page rather than anything else in the book that has provoked so much hostility, years after it was published, from our legislators on the lunatic right — Dame Jill, David Wilshire, Baroness Cox, Peter Bruinvels, Dame Elaine et al—and which sent a government minion to Gay’s the Word to buy a copy.

The publicity in 1987 and 1988 about The Milkman was very unpleasant, even though that publicity vastly increased its selling power. I don’t like the blatant lies in the newspapers, or the same lies repeated, unchallenged, on radio and television — that it is, for example, the story of a fourteen-year-old boy who is seduced by his teacher, that five-year-olds in the classrooms of Haringey are forced to read it, and so on. Nor did I much relish the Minister for the Arts saying I had done a great deal to undermine the standards of family life. It’s as if I had written a pornographic book, whereas my intentions, and I’m sure the effect of them, were moral: I had in mind a muddled, anxious teenage reader trying to come to terms with the fact that he’s gay, and I hoped my book would help him towards a happier life than my own.

But in 1982 when The Milkman came out the moral climate was obviously very different. The reviewers praised it; a better novel on this particular subject, they said, was not to be found. No one objected. Sales were immediately good, and have consistently remained high: an average of two thousand copies a year, but more than that during the Clause 28 controversy. Total sales so far are about twenty-five thousand. I’m puzzled: who on earth is buying it, and why? Though gay men read it, it isn’t a novel for adults, and teenagers don’t spend their money on it. It certainly isn’t a children’s book, and I have little sympathy for those few libraries who put it in their children’s section – as if they deliberately wanted to encourage the wrath of the fascists. Many sales, I think, have been to libraries for their adult section. I was delighted with the chief librarian I met who, having heard of the fuss, decided to read it: there were only two copies in his local authority area, so he immediately ordered twelve more…

TRANSCRIPT:… “Children are being taught they have an inalienable right to be gay. All of those children are being cheated of a sound start in life.” — Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, October 9, 1987. Conservative Party Conference. Blackpool, United Kingdom. The full speech was 47 minutes long so this edit is to expressly show the statements she made related to gay people. There is a list of complaints she makes about the education of children in the UK – including the featured comment on the teaching to gay children that they “have an inalienable right to be gay”. The full speech can also be viewed online, starting at the section of the speech on Education of children, at this link:… and there you can see the relevant section which the above edit is extracted from. The world’s leading LGBT market resource is Out Now Global

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.”

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

“If Section 28 and the attitudes behind it had remained then society would still believe that gay people are second class citizens and that it is right that they should be treated as second class citizens.”
Sir Ian McKellen