Britain is nation transformed since dark days of Section 28: Stuart Andrew

We are marking two decades since the repeal of Section 28, which banned the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities and the portrayal of it as a “pretended family relationship”.

I speak from personal experience as a gay man. The Britain of the 80s and 90s is a world away from the Britain we call home today.

I stood for election in Wrexham in 1997. Unfortunately just before the election campaign I was beaten up, and the press got hold of the story. I remember being frightened to admit that it was a gay bashing, and I tried to hide it. It was only a year later that I had the courage to stand up and say that it was because of my sexuality.

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In 1988, when Section 28 was introduced, only 11 per cent of the public approved of same-sex relationships. Anti-LGBT sentiment was rife across society, schools and the workplace. LGBT people were all but invisible in the media, and I am sad to say that our politics harboured a great deal of the same prejudices.

Stuart Andrew, Conservative MP for Pudsey, pictured in Horsforth Hall Park in 2017.  Picture Bruce RollinsonStuart Andrew, Conservative MP for Pudsey, pictured in Horsforth Hall Park in 2017.  Picture Bruce Rollinson
Stuart Andrew, Conservative MP for Pudsey, pictured in Horsforth Hall Park in 2017. Picture Bruce Rollinson

The Britain of today is a nation transformed. Our cities, towns and counties annually play host to the colour and sounds of a hundred Pride parades. We are a nation of all kinds of families, of out and proud LGBT pupils and teachers, and of inclusive businesses. Our media, from sport to family programming, not only includes LGBT people but celebrates them. I take pride in the fact that this Parliament is the most LGBT Parliament in the world.

And yet, despite those great strides, the harmful legacy of Section 28 lingers on. Through a combination of silence and fear, young LGBT people were denied knowledge of what healthy same-sex relationships looked like. They were denied information about how to keep themselves safe when embarking on future sexual relationships. Perhaps most painfully of all, everyone who was part of the LGBT community was marked as “other”.

Teachers prohibited from discussing LGBT issues were themselves stifled and negatively affected by the policy. Some were forced to remain in the closet for fear of the impact on their careers and others felt they had no choice but to leave education behind altogether.

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The bullying of LGBT people all too often went unchallenged because of the chilling effects of Section 28. Compounding that problem further was the lack of positive role models for young people. All but a handful of celebrities were closeted, and LGBT people were confined to the fringes of our media. I am glad to say that that has changed for the better in recent years. LGBT characters and stories are prominent across TV, streaming and books, and the impact of such stories on young people can be profound. To see your own journey and hopes reflected back at you in shows such as Heartstopper is both comforting and empowering.

But television is no replacement for formal education about healthy, consenting relationships and sex education.

Today, primary-age students are taught the reality of modern Britain: that families come in all shapes and sizes. Some children have two mothers, some children have two fathers. This is a reflection of our diverse society, and of the importance of tolerance and respect in binding our nation together.

The impact and legacy of Section 28, though fading, remains, but we have moved forward in leaps and bounds as a society.

Stuart Andrew is Equalities Minister and Conservative MP for Pudsey. This is an edited version of a recent Westminster Hall speech.

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