20th anniversary of the repeal of Section 28

16th November 2023 marked the 20th anniversary of the repeal of Section 28 – a legislation that was in place between 1988 and 2000 in Scotland, and 2003 in England and Wales, that prohibited local authorities and schools from ‘promoting homosexuality’.  

The legislation denied generations of LGBTQ+ pupils a chance of seeing people like them represented in school life and school materials provided, with books, films, leaflets, and plays representing same-sex relationships banned. Teachers were also not allowed to teach about same-sex relationships and issues, and anyone who broke that law could face disciplinary action.  

In 2023, nearly three in five (61%) of LGBTQ+ people have heard of Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 – including a quarter (24%) of those who know a lot about it, 29% of those who don’t know a lot about it, and 8% who have personally experienced it. This rises to 15% of 35-54 year-olds who belong to the LGBTQ+ community experienced this legislation, mostly as pupils.  

The legislation did not just affect teachers and pupils – those working in the volunteering sector, with young people, or activists in the LGBTQ+ community were also affected by the oppressive nature of the legislation. 

Regardless, the awareness of this page in British history is significantly higher in the LGBTQ+ community than it is in the general UK population. Among all UK adults, just 33% have heard of Section 28, including 11% who know a lot about it and 19% who don’t know much. Among straight or heterosexual adults, just 31% have heard of Section 28, including 9% who know a lot and 18% who know a little 

When considering the impacts of Section 28, nearly all (96%) of those who have personally experienced it claim it has had a negative impact on them. Most commonly, it delayed or stopped the people affected from being open about their sexuality (61%), which has been particularly true for gay men (72%). Similarly, 55% claim it has made them feel excluded (70% for gay men). More than half claim that living through Section 28 limited their knowledge of LGBTQ+ issues (53%), and made them think that being LGBTQ+ was uncommon (53%). Worryingly, half (50%) claim that it had a negative impact on their sexual health awareness.  

The legacy of Section 28 cannot be understated – LGBTQ+ people aged 35-54 (11%) and 55+ (15%) are significantly more likely to not be open about their sexuality with anyone in their life than those aged 18-34 (4%). In 2023, LGBTQ+ people aged 35-54 are also more likely to feel unrepresented in British politics (53%) than those aged 18-34 (46%), perhaps revealing a long shadow of Section 28 on their feeling of belonging in Britain.  

Written by Eliza Arkuszewska, researcher at Opinium.