The first I knew about Clause 28 was a flyer I was handed outside Birmingham Cathedral in 1987.
On one side was the famous poem which begins ‘First they came for the socialists….’ about how in 1930s Germany the Nazis were picking off opponents and groups they deemed undesirable one by one. On the other side, a brief description of a hate-filled law the Tory government of the day was hell-bent on introducing.
The core element of Clause 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act was to stop local authorities from ‘promoting’ homosexuality. So vague was the wording that this might have included anything from libraries stocking books by gay authors to teachers being unable to protect children from homophobic bullying in their schools. We were already dealing with AIDS, and now this! Sick to my stomach I ran into the nearby Cathedral and wept openly for the first time in years.
Working as a Community Curator on Queer the Pier I have once again been brought face-to-face with those dark days. And though at times this has been quite harrowing, I have been utterly captivated by the archives stored at The Keep that document the response in the south-east to this pernicious legislation.
Likewise I have been thrilled to meet so many people who were part of that struggle in our area – people who have memories of marching through Brighton’s streets in protest against the act. Especially those who have lent objects from their own private collections to the exhibition.
In fact, in a cabinet devoted to the extraordinary lives of ordinary people in Sussex, not only do we have photos of a famous march between the two town halls of Brighton and Hove lent by Paul Clift, but thanks to Alf Le Flohic we have one of the actual banners carried on the protest itself.
Sadly we lost the fight and Clause 28 became Section 28 in 1988, triggering years of institutionalised homophobia and who knows how much unnecessary pain and heart ache.
Though perhaps the most poignant thing about this dark episode in our history is that rather than sounding the death knell for our small but growing gay community, Clause 28 galvanised queers like nothing had done before – creating support networks that became the foundation for the proud and confident LGBTIQ+ community we know today.
Thankfully Section 28 was repealed in Scotland in 2000 and the rest of the UK in 2003.
Even so, for me the fact that such a law could have been introduced in my own lifetime is a chilling reminder to just how fragile our hard won rights are and how vigilant we must be of those who wish to take them away.
This story is just one of many Sussex LGBTIQ+ histories we are bringing to life through Queer The Pier. To discover more from over 200 years of our queer past come along to the exhibition in 2020. In the meantime look out for more blogs inspired by objects and ephemera collected for the exhibition.
Queer the pier will launch in 2020, but in the meantime:
- Keep an eye on this blog for updates on our progress
- Come to Brighton LGBTQ+ History Club for more inspirational stories from our community
- Also, be sure to post your queer memories on our twitter and Instagram pages with #queeronthepier!
Daren Kay, Queer the Pier working group member