Clause 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 caused a controversy in the United Kingdom over the promotion of homosexuality. This addition to the act was enacted on 24 May 1988 and repealed on 21 June 2000 in Scotland, and on 18 November 2003 in the rest of Great Britain. Clause 28 stated that a local authority "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship".


Because it did not create a criminal offence, no prosecution was ever brought under this provision. However, it did cause many groups to close or limit their activities. It also promoted the need for censorship. For example, a number of lesbian, gay and bisexual student support groups in schools and colleges across Britain were closed out of fear of breaching the Act.

The 1980s was the era of Margaret Thatcher's Government, which brought large-scale social changes; it was also the era in which AIDS was first reported. Given the domination of central government by conservative thinking, most gay rights activists were to be found in the Labour Party or the Liberal Party. These campaigners and their supporters progressively managed to raise gay rights issues in local party meetings. This resulted in a number of local authorities changing their policies to include the words "sexual orientation" in a list of unacceptable discriminations.


After Clause 28 was passed, there was some debate as to whether it applied in schools or whether it applied only to local authorities. While head teachers and Boards of Governors were specifically exempt, schools and teachers became confused as to what was actually permitted and tended to err on the side of caution. Some local authorities continued to deliver training to their staff in their education system on how to deliver their services without discrimination against homosexuals. Gay rights advocates, such as Stonewall, OutRage!, The Pink Paper and the Gay Times formed the major opposition to Clause 28 and led the campaign for its repeal. Political parties that were opposed to Clause 28 included the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party. In the House of Lords the campaign for repeal was led by openly-gay peer Waheed Alli. Perhaps the most famous act of opposition to Clause 28 came when Shaun Woodward, a Conservative MP with a transgender sister, defected from the Conservative Party and his seat and joined the ruling Labour Party in opposition to the Conservatives' continued support of Clause 28.


The main point of argument claimed by opponents of Clause 28 was the complaint that it discriminated against homosexuals, and hence was an intolerant and unjust law. By excluding homosexual support groups and appearing to prevent teachers from protecting victims of homophobic bullying, Section 28 was actually endangering vulnerable children. Also, the claim that Clause 28 made the assumption that homosexuals were inherently dangerous to children. This implies an association between homosexuality and paedophilia, as obvious from the "predatory homosexuals" argument of the supporters of the law. Not only did Clause 28 prevent the active promotion of homosexuality but also it appeared to give a legal reason to oppose it in schools and other forums if necessary. Many people claim that Clause 28 was a law which gave an impression to the public that the government sanctioned homophobia. Also, this clause gave the impression that that because homosexuality could be "promoted" it was a choice which people could be persuaded to make.

What are your thoughts about how we have progressed since this time?

Join the conversation