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social sciences

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United Kingdom II: 1900 to the Present  
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In November, the eight directors and the assistant manager of Gay's the Word were indicted for conspiracy to distribute obscene material, despite the fact that virtually all the titles submitted in evidence were also available in mainstream bookstores. However, all charges against the bookstore were dropped in 1985 following a high-profile campaign by civil liberties groups.

As the Conservative Party shifted to a repressive moral stance, London Mayor Ken Livingston committed the Greater London Council (GLC) to opposing discrimination against homosexuals. In 1984, the GLC affirmed gay rights as part of its anti-discrimination policy and established the London Lesbian and Gay Centre.

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Labour-dominated councils in other cities, including Manchester, Southampton, and Birmingham, instituted programs similar to those of the GLC. Incensed, the Thatcher Government secured passage in Parliament of the Local Government Act of 1985, which abolished the GLC and other councils, effective March 31, 1986.

Influenced by the policies of the councils, Labour Party conferences of 1986 and 1987 supported motions to commit any future national Labour government to outlaw discrimination against gay men and lesbians. In the 1987 General Election, Conservative candidates routinely attacked Labour's pro-gay policies. Although Conservatives retained control of the government, the re-election of prominent gay activist Chris Smith as representative of South Islington and Finsbury (London), despite a lavishly subsidized smear campaign, gave hope to gay activists.

At the Conservative Party Conference held in October 1987, Thatcher expressed concern that children were being taught that gay lifestyles were acceptable. In December 1987, Conservative MP David Wilshire introduced an amendment--Clause 28--to the Local Government Bill that would prohibit government-supported institutions from teaching the normalcy of homosexuality and from making available any materials depicting homosexual relationships positively. The text of Clause 28 was written by Jill Knight, who had proposed the previous year a similar motion, which was defeated. Subsequently, Knight openly assumed leadership of the effort to pass Clause 28.

Stung by defeat in the recent election, Labour leaders initially refused to challenge this proposal, but the Party affirmed its opposition to the amendment by the beginning of March. By January 1988, the Association of Art Historians and other arts organizations expressed their opposition to Clause 28. Coming out in the course of a BBC radio interview, prominent Shakespearean actor Ian McKellen emerged as a leader of the opposition to the amendment.

Reacting to the homophobia underlying Clause 28, gay men and lesbians throughout the UK evinced a renewed commitment to political activism. Over 10,000 lesbians and gay men participated in a march in London on January 9, two days before the House of Lords debated the measure. Even larger protests were held in subsequent weeks. For instance, on February 20, a demonstration sponsored in Manchester by the Northwest Campaign for Gay and Lesbian Equality attracted a crowd estimated between 13,000 and 20,000. After the House of Commons passed the legislation on March 9, protests against Clause 28 continued, including one held on April 30 in London that attracted more than 30,000 people.

By establishing as a principle of British law the belief that homosexuality was a detriment to society, Clause 28 constituted a powerful symbol of the second-class status of gay and lesbian citizens. Nevertheless, in practice, it was easy for local agencies to circumvent the Clause because its wording was so vague. Thus, on May 25, the Department of Education issued an official policy statement advising all schools that it would not prevent the objective discussion of homosexuality in the classroom.

Lesbian Feminism

Produced in 1981 by the Leeds Revolutionary Feminists, the book Love Your Enemy? has been characterized as the first major public declaration of lesbian-feminism in Britain. During the 1980s, the number of lesbian-feminists in the UK probably did not exceed 10,000, but they had a strong impact on the popular conception of lesbian identity because the media utilized stories about them as a means to attack all lesbians and feminists.

According to Hamer, throughout the 1980s, British lesbians heatedly debated a range of issues, including the morality of pornography, which proved to be particularly divisive. While some lesbian-feminists regarded the explicit depiction of sexual acts as inherently oppressive to women, others asserted that positive depictions of lesbian sexuality could be liberating.

Angered by the apparent willingness of some lesbian-feminists to work with the religious right to suppress erotic material, Elizabeth Wilson and other lesbian activists formed Feminists Against Censorship. Among other young British artists, queer activist Tessa Boffin (1962-93) created a notable ensemble of photographs and performance pieces that celebrated lesbian sexual freedom. By the late 1980s, London and other major cities had a significant number of clubs appealing to various groups of lesbians as diverse as "lipstick lesbians" and leather women.

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