LGBTQ+ History Month Blog: The impact of Section 28

Andrew Allocca

Eastlight is supporting and marking LGBTQ+ History Month with our staff and residents, as part of our journey to as inclusive as possible. As part of this, our Head of Development Delivery & Aftercare, Andrew Allocca, has shared his story on the “turmoil” and “dark days” caused by the Section 28 law (now repealed).

"Section 28 of the Local Government Act was enacted in May 1988. It was brought in to “prohibit the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities”, including services like schools and social services. It was repealed in 2003, so this year marks 20 years since that.

Having grown up in the 70s and 80s, I lived through the dark days of the HIV crisis and Section 28. Being a young gay person at school through this time meant that, rightly or wrongly, schools did nothing to combat homophobia in fear of falling foul of Section 28. There were also no positive role models for young gay people at a time in their life when they were coming to terms with their sexuality.

Although I came to terms with my own sexuality in my late teens and early twenties and am now proud of who I am and what I have achieved in my life (including a wonderful husband and two grown children) I do feel that I would not have had to endure so much turmoil if it wasn’t for Section 28. 

I was at school when Section 28 became law and, although I was not out, I already knew I was gay. This meant that I had no confidence that even discussing my inner turmoil would be accepted. I had one teacher whom I felt I could confide in: my art and saxophone teacher.

I was 14 and knew I was gay, but the only life experience I had to draw on was that this was wrong - a sin - and would make me a deviant. After a one-to-one saxophone lesson, I asked if I could tell him something. He assumed I was in trouble again - not an uncommon thing for me - so said “sure”.

I just sat staring into space for a while and then just broke down and let all my emotions and self-hatred flood out. However, I was stopped the moment I said the word ‘gay’. He explained that he could not talk to me about this subject and could get into trouble. I was told I needed to deal with this on my own.

I was devastated; I had just laid my emotions out and had been rejected, which just confirmed that what I was feeling was wrong and I should be ashamed. As an aside, it was also the last time I went to a saxophone lesson, as I associated this with my internalised homophobia.

It was another four years after this incident before I was able to ‘come out’ - not because I was unconfident, but because my mental health had deteriorated so much that I felt I only had two choices. So, I decided on the apparently less destructive option and ‘came out’.

It’s only my view, but I firmly believe that Section 28 resulted in a significant proportion of young people losing their life to AIDs during the 80s and 90s, purely down to the lack of relevant sex education for young gay people. This led to young people - young gay men specifically - having risky and damaging experiences. 

My experience at school was not an isolated case, and there are many thousands of people who went through the same thing. My friend Craig said: “Growing up, I didn’t know what it meant to be gay. I just knew it was wrong – it was something to be ashamed of. I believe that Section 28 put me at risk because I didn’t get any sex education that was relevant to me – no advice about what a healthy relationship looked like. I had no role models.”” 

What was Section 28?

“Section 28, part of the Local Government Act, was a law that existed between 1998-2003 that prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality by local authorities” in the UK.

When a booked published in 1983 by Gay Men’s Press called 'Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin' was released in the UK, it aimed to give children the knowledge about different family dynamics.

However, the Education Secretary at the time, Kenneth Baker, was quick to declare the book as “grossly offensive homosexual propaganda”.

The then Tory Prime Minster, Margaret Thatcher, said: “Children need to be taught to respect traditional moral values and are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay. All of those children are being cheated of a sound start in life.”

After Section 28 was passed, there was some debate over where it should be applied. Whilst head teachers and boards of governors were exempt, schools and teachers became confused about what and wasn’t permitted.

At the time, a National Union of Teachers statement remarked that: “While Section 28 applies to local authorities and not to schools, many teachers believe, albeit wrongly, that it imposes constraints in respect of the advice and counselling they give pupils. Professional judgement is therefore influenced by perceived prospect of prosecution.”

Similarly, the Department for Education and Science made the following statement in 1988 regarding Section 28: "Section 28 does not affect the activities of school governors, nor of teachers... It will not prevent the objective discussion of homosexuality in the classroom, nor the counselling of pupils concerned about their sexuality."

In response to these criticisms, supporters of the bill claimed that the NUT and Department of Education were mistaken, and the section did affect schools. Thus homophobic bullying went unchallenged, and those young people who sought out support from their teachers in coming to terms with their sexuality were shunned for fear of prosecution.

If you would like to know more, please watch the video below: ‘Gay rights: Life under Section 28.”

“Thank you for taking the time to read my story."

Andrew Allocca, Head of Development Delivery & Aftercare.