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Thursday, 20 January, 2000, 14:36 GMT
When gay became a four-letter word

Section 28 outlawed promotion of gay relationships
Local government is hardly the most riveting subject and the clauses of bills relating to it normally go unnoticed by the general public.

That all changed in 1988 when Parliament passed an amendment to the Local Government Act.

The amendment, Section 28, was intended to stop local authorities promoting homosexuality.
protest
Section 28 galvanised gay protesters
In a nutshell, that meant that council funding of books, plays, leaflets, films or any other material showing gay relationships as normal was banned.

The Local Government Act 1988 also introduced other things such as compulsory competitive tendering by councils for their services.

But it was Section 28 that grabbed the headlines and became a rallying call for gay rights campaigners.

It was originally known as Clause 28 because amendments to laws are called clauses before they become law. After they become law, they are known as sections. (The amendment repealing Section 28 is called Clause 68.)

But when it was announced, 28 became the Number of the Beast for gay rights campaigners who called the section a bigots' charter.

The battle against Section 28 galvanised the gay movement into action and has been credited with the emergence of gay rights groups such as Stonewall and OutRage!
Section 28
(1) A local authority shall not:
(a) intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality
(b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship
(2) Nothing in subsection (1) above shall be taken to prohibit the doing of anything for the purpose treating or preventing the spread of disease.
Lesbians abseiled into Parliament and invaded the BBC's Six O'Clock News the night before Section 28 became law.

"We have rather been invaded," said presenter Sue Lawley as protesters made their point.

But apart from becoming a focal point for gay protests, what is the legacy of Clause 28?

No-one has been prosecuted for breaking it and local-authority-produced literature about homosexuality is still freely available thanks to a loophole which lifts the ban on anything intended to prevent disease, including of course, Aids.

Nevertheless, local authorities have been forced to think twice when public funding touches upon homosexual issues.

For instance, the London Borough Grants Scheme suggests in its guidance notes that applications in contravention of Section 28 will not be considered.

In 1998 Birmingham City Council withdrew plans to publish an information booklet for young people dealing with alcohol, bereavement, eating disorders, racism, smoking and coping with stress as well as issues related to sexuality and dealing with prejudice.

Floodgates fear

Shropshire County Council ceased funding the Telford Lesbian and Gay Youth Group which provided support and counselling services to young people, citing "concerns" over Section 28.

But funding was restored after gay rights campaigners objected.

Calderdale Library Services refused to stock copies of the Pink Paper - a gay newspaper - fearing they would be in breach of Section 28. Following an application for judicial review by Liberty, the civil rights organisation, the library backed down.

Pro Section 28 campaigners such as the National Family Campaign and Family and Youth Concern fear the floodgates will be opened if the law is repealed.

But a spokesman for the Department of the Environment said that existing guidelines by the Department for Education already covered the portrayal of homosexuality by local authorities.

He said: "The government considers that Section 28 stops councils from representing all sections of the community and it serve no purpose apart from upsetting a lot of people."

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