18 November 2003: Section 28 bites the dust
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18 November 2003: Section 28 bites the dust

The hated Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 was finally wiped from the statute books.

This had already happened in Scotland, bringing an end to an unprecedented attack on the rights of LGBT people by the state. Its repeal was one of the very first acts of the newly devolved Scottish Parliament.

Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 had banned local authorities and schools from ‘promoting homosexuality’. 

This had deprived generations of LGBT pupils the chance of seeing people like them in the books, plays, leaflets or films their schools could stock or show. Teachers weren’t allowed to teach about same-sex relationships; anyone who broke the law could face disciplinary action.

The effects were devastating and have sadly proved long-lasting and research shows that anti-LGBT bullying is still widespread with more than half of pupils (52 per cent) reporting hearing homophobic slurs frequently at school (Stonewall School Report 2017).

It was the campaign against Section 28 which led to the creation of Stonewall.

Lord Michael Cashman, one of Stonewall’s founders, told the Guardian: "What was so incredible was the political opportunism. Section 28 had been brought in on the back of the stigmatisation and discrimination suffered by gay men; in particular those dealing with AIDS and HIV. Some people were facing the most appalling deaths, and this was designed to kick us firmly underground. Looking back, if we had won the battle of Section 28, Stonewall would probably never have been founded.

"I don’t think we would have progressed to equality as far as we have now. The fact that we lost meant we had to make sure another Section 28 didn’t happen again. Maybe if we had won, we would have all sat back, glowed, then lived in inequality for decades after."

The repeal Bill received Royal Assent on 18 September 2003. Ben Summerskill, Chief Executive of Stonewall at the time, said: "Its removal is hugely important because it is totemic ... It was deliberately designed to stigmatise and demean 3 million people."

We have made incredible progress toward LGBT equality over the last 30 years, but the fight is far from over.