Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 was an anti-gay piece of legislation, which came into law on 24 May 1988 and was repealed on 21 June 2000 in Scotland, and on 18 November 2003 in England and Wales (it did not apply to Northern Ireland).
During the 1980s, controversy arose about the use in schools of books such as Jenny lives with Eric and Martin portraying gay couples. In particular, the Conservative MP Jill Knight was active in promoting what became Section 28.
The passage of the bill provoked protests, including lesbians abseiling into the House of Lords and invading the BBC's Six O'Clock News. Ad hoc groups were set up to campaign against it, including the Organisation for Lesbian and Gay Action (OLGA) and the Northwest Campaign for Lesbian & Gay Equality.
Effect of the law
Section 28 did not have the effect its promoters intended: it applied only to local authorities, not to school governors or teachers, and it did not create a criminal offence, so no successful prosecutions were ever brought. However it did create a climate in which many teachers were reluctant to discuss gay relationships.
In Scotland the equivalent Section was repealed by an act of the Scottish Parliament under the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition, the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Act 2000.
In England and Wales the Section was repealed in 2003 under the Labour Government. David Cameron spoke against the repeal, but in 2009, while campaigning to become Prime Minister, he apologised for it on behalf of the Conservative Party, and said that the Section had been a mistake and offensive to gay people.
Text of the Section
Section 28 added a new Section 2A to the Local Government Act 1986 as follows:
2A Prohibition on promoting homosexuality by teaching or by publishing material
(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 of treating or preventing the spread of disease.
3) In any proceedings in connection with the application of this section a court shall draw such inferences as to the intention of the local authority as may reasonably be drawn from the evidence before it.
(4) In subsection (1)(b) above “maintained school” means,—
(a) in England and Wales, a county school, voluntary school, nursery school or special school, within the meaning of the Education Act 1944; and
(b) in Scotland, a public school, nursery school or special school, within the meaning of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980.
- Local Government Act 1988 (c. 9), section 28.