How far have we really come?

The 1970’s and 1980’s saw a massive rise in homophobia and transphobia. The AIDs epidemic was blamed on gay people and that made it so much easier for the government to pass laws such as Section 28. That was a law passed in May 1988 that forbode the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools, libraries and film. Many people felt and continue to feel so much pain surrounding the censorship of gay people during this time. The effects of this can still be found in some households today and it gave many people an unconscious bias against the LGBTQ+ community.

At the height of the AIDs epidemic, the government began to use propaganda to scare gay people into becoming straight. They painted the community as a hurtful thing that would threaten a traditional way of life and spread across the country. Homophobia became an everyday occurrence and hatecrime began to spread across the country. This meant taht Section 28 was passed with little to no resistance from straight people. During the announcement of the new law, Margret Thatcher stated that, “children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay.” This attitude defined the veiws of most people during the 1980’s and it meant that the hate that gay people faced was unavoidable. Children were bullied out of schools, couples had abuse shouted at them in the street and the whole community became isolated. In the late 90’s, Matthew Sheppard became the target of one of the worst homophobic crimes commited. He was an openly gay student in Wyoming. He was brutally attacked and left to die in a field alone. His murder caused outrage globally and inspired some of the feirce activists that changed the future.

Brave people began to rebel against the government after Section 28. The most famous of these protests is the three women who abseiled into the House of Lords. This made national news and the public began to see the damage that was being caused by the law. Another group of lebians stormed into the BBC and disrupted a news broadcast, twenty thousand people marched in the streets of Manchester and a widely loved actor, Ian Mckellen came out as gay, paving the way for other entertainers to come out in the 90’s such as George Micheal and Freddie Mercury. Princess Diana helped to break the stigma surrounding AIDs by visiting people in hospital and comforting them. After a 15 year battle, Section 28 was finally revoked in 2003 with equal marriage coming to Britain in 2016 and to the whole of the UK in 2019. David Cameron apologised for the hurt that his former party leader caused and there’s an unofficial plaque in Parliment which commemorates the three women who initially fought against Section 28. There are people like Andrew Moffat who set up programmes for the education of children about the existence and acceptance of LGBT people.

The social change in the last few decades is astonishing but there’s so much more that needs to happen before LGBTQ+ can finally feel safe enough to be themselves. The most recent statistics from Stonewall show half of LGBT people don’t feel safe enough to come out to their family because of the threat of being thrown onto the streets. This fear is definitely valid as 24% of young homeless people are gay children who were evicted by their own parents. The prejudice follows them everywhere with half of pupils admitting to hearing homophobic slurs and one in seven LGBT people avoiding medical treatment for fear of discrimination. This constant feeling of being unsafe has led to 52% of LGBT people experiencing depression in the last year. The struggles for LGBT people in the UK have been awful but we’ve fought through most barriers. This isn’t the case for the 72 countries that criminalise same-sex relationships and the 12 countries that still have the death penalty.  Internationally, there is still so much work to be done. We’ve come far but is it really enough?

Article by Young Reporter Maddy Wainman
First appeared in Grimsby Telegraph 2nd June 2020