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Clause (or Section) 28  
 
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In British law, the Section 28 of the Local Government Act, enforced from May 1988 until September 2003, prohibited local authorities from promoting homosexuality or teaching in state schools the acceptability of homosexuality as a "pretended family relationship."

The section practically banned council funding of books, plays, leaflets, films, or any other material depicting homosexual relationships as normal and positive. There was widespread opposition to the introduction of the section and several political battles were fought to repeal it.

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Adoption of the Section

The political antecedent to Section 28 was a Private Members Bill entitled "An act to refrain local authorities from promoting homosexuality," introduced by the Conservative peer Lord Halsbury in the House of Lords in 1986. Lord Halsbury believed that the material published by certain London councils was intended to indoctrinate young people into thinking that homosexual relationships were better than heterosexual ones.

At the time the Conservative government led by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher considered the Bill "unnecessary," risky, and "open to harmful misrepresentation." Still, the Bill passed through the Lords, and was introduced by the Conservative MP for the constituency of Birmingham-Edgbaston, Jill Knight, in the House of Commons. It was eventually dropped because of lack of government support and the announcement of the 1987 general election, which Thatcher won with a solid majority.

Near the end of 1987, Jill Knight, who had been re-elected MP for Birmingham-Edgbaston, introduced the clause into the Local Government Bill. Knight and other Conservative MPs had been prompted to act by a sensationalized tabloid newspaper story about the children's book Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin, found in the library of a Labour-controlled council. Authored by Danish writer Susanne Bosche and illustrated by Andreas Hansen, the book tells the story of a child who lives in a household with two gay men as her fathers.

The clause was inserted at the committee stage of the Bill on December 7, debated in Committee on December 8, and was adopted by the full House of Commons on December 15, just before the Christmas recess. The legislation took effect on May 24, 1988.

While going through Parliament, the proposed legislation was labeled using a variety of clause numbers, as other clauses were added to or dropped from the Bill (in Britain, proposals are called clauses before they become law). After they become law, they are known as sections. Thus, this piece of legislation is referred to as both "Clause 28" and "Section 28."

The Battle against Section 28

The battle against Section 28 incited the British gay and lesbian movement into action. It may be said to have made gay activists out of people who might never have come out. For example, the actor Ian McKellen established himself as an activist in the battle against the law. He came out in a BBC radio interview in response to the legislation, and then joined with other prominent gay men and lesbians to form the Stonewall Group, Britain's first major lesbian and gay rights lobbying organization.

Other organizations, including the group OutRage!, were formed to combat the legislation and to agitate for its repeal. The largest political demonstrations on behalf of gay and lesbian rights in British history were motivated by Section 28.

Effects of the Legislation

Although no one was prosecuted for breaching the section, the law achieved its goal of making local authorities cautious about funding material or events dealing with homosexual issues. As a result of Section 28, many local authorities were reluctant to grant public space to gay and lesbian organizations or to host glbtq publications in their libraries. Still, the legislation was not as effective as its sponsors might have hoped.

The caution that local councils exercised is apparent from the fact that the London Borough Grants Scheme, for example, suggested in its notes for guidance that applications in contravention of Section 28 would not be considered. In 1998, the Birmingham City Council withdrew plans to publish an information booklet for young people that included, among other topics, issues related to sexuality and dealing with prejudice.

At the same time, however, some efforts to enforce Section 28 zealously were thwarted. For example, the Shropshire County Council ceased funding the Telford Lesbian and Gay Youth Group, which provided support and counselling services to young people, because of "concerns" over Section 28; but funding was restored after gay rights campaigners protested.

Similarly, Calderdale Library Services refused to stock copies of the gay newspaper Pink Paper, ostensibly for fear of breaching Clause 28. Eventually, however, the library relented in the face of protests.

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Margaret Thatcher. As Prime Minister, Thatcher called Clause 28 "unnecessary and risky," but nevertheless supported it and other repressive legislation targeting homosexuality.
  
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