Section 28

In 1988, the Government implemented a controversial Section 28 to the Local Government Act. The amendment 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.’ The legal discrimination of homosexuals had a damaging effect on the gay community. Shortly after Section 28 became law, for instance, the offices of gay newspaper Capital Gay were burnt down. By 1989, the number of gay and bisexual men convicted for consenting same-sex behaviour was almost the same as in 1954-55, when male homosexuality was illegal. Despite many Councils refusing to perform Gay Sweatshop plays, the resistance to Section 28 was also successful in galvanizing support for the gay community.

‘I think it was Tony Banks in the Clause 28 debate, said that this could mean that companies like Gay Sweatshop couldn’t operate. I think he said it in this sort of context. And there was immediately this kind of ‘good thing too’ from the Right. Just making fun of the name itself. … I think in some ways it galvanised support, and we were instrumental in setting up the Arts Lobby. We called a meeting and Richard Sandells carried on working with the Arts Lobby  and pulled in people like Ian McKellen. It was sort of his coming out, Section 28. Then Ian McKellen became very central to the Arts Lobby, and I think Stonewall came out of that in a way. It did have negative affects, it meant when we tried to take plays to local authority funded theatres there were cancellations. There were councillors blocking it, Clause 28, Section 28. It was a Clause before it became a Section. But in a way it kind of gave strength to the whole raisons d’etre of the company, because there was a feeling that well, ‘We have to meet this company.’ It was more in situations like around that time Theatre Centre was going to tour a play about lesbians. I know it made Theatre Centre very wary, because you couldn’t book a tour if the teachers were scared of taking the play. Whereas with Gay Sweatshop we weren’t a schools touring company, it affected us less.’ Phillip Osment, 2013

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