Thursday, 23 November 2017

Gay liberation – the 1980s backlash

This blog has previously taken a trip back in time ( to discover how previous generations viewed the subject of homosexuality. The prevailing viewpoint in the 1950s was by no means as accommodating on this subject as it is today, indeed it was positively hostile. However, by the late 1960s a greater tolerance had emerged, which resulted in the decriminalisation of homosexual activity between males over the age of 21. During the next twenty years the gay liberation bandwagon became an integral component of the liberal ‘progressive’ agenda. During the 1980s a number of Labour councils, mostly in London, demonstrated their support for this cause by creating gay and lesbian committees. The spread of the deadly disease Aids amongst homosexual men during this period did nothing to dent their enthusiasm for promoting the demands of this vocal and indulged minority group.

The Conservative government of the time took a much less sympathetic view of the matter. It is worth remembering that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was amongst the minority of MPs who voted against the 1967 homosexual reform bill. A number of Conservative MPs were becoming increasingly concerned that Labour education authorities were beginning to promote homosexuality to schoolchildren as an acceptable and normal part of a relationship. This resulted in the inclusion of a clause in the Local Government Bill which sought to ‘prevent a local authority from giving financial or other assistance to any person for the purpose of publishing or promoting homosexuality as an acceptable family relationship, or for the purpose of teaching such acceptability in any maintained school’.

The MP who introduced this clause in 1988, David Wilshire, produced a dossier with examples of the sort of activity it aimed to curtail, ranging from local authority advertisements for lesbian and gay officers, to extracts from books such as the well publicised picture book Jenny lives with Eric and Martin, which depicted a young girl who lived with her gay father and his partner, that was intended as a guide for teaching children about homosexuality.

In the House of Lords the government spokesman Lord Skelmersdale opined that ‘we are all agreed that the most dangerous and pernicious effects of loosening sexual values are on children. Schools must approach the difficult task of teaching their pupils about sexual matters in a responsible and sensitive manner. We must ensure that children are not subject to insidious propaganda for homosexuality.’ He added that ‘there have been instances of the use of unsound teaching methods and materials, and the propagation of extreme and unrepresentative views of sexual ethics and mores, in the main related to the presentation of homosexuality’. This statement reflected the view of the government that although the practice of homosexuality might be tolerated, it should never be promoted or encouraged. It was a viewpoint that is likely to have been supported by the majority of the population at the time.

The clause did not intend to close down all discussion of homosexuality in schools. In the words of the minister the government sought to ensure that ‘schools should be prepared to address the issue of homosexuality, provided they approach it in a balanced and factual manner, appropriate to the maturity of the pupils concerned. The issue cannot he ignored by schools when it is widely discussed in society and when pupils may well ask questions about it’. But he added the warning that ‘any teaching about homosexuality must never, in any sense, advocate or encourage it as a normal form of relationship. To do so would be educationally and morally indefensible’. Within a generation Conservative ministers would take a diametrically opposite view to this by openly celebrating homosexual relationships as entirely normal, to the extent that they were eager to legalise same sex marriage, just one example of the Conservative Party establishment’s craven surrender to politically correct intimidation.

On behalf of the Labour opposition Jack Cunningham expressed his support for the new clause, stating that his party ‘did not believe that councils or schools should promote homosexuality’. However, this viewpoint was at odds with the policies of many of the more militant Labour councils and party activists of the time. The Liberal Party spokesman Simon Hughes (then still in the closet) also supported that part of the clause which debarred local authorities from promoting homosexuality or publishing material which promoted it. So there was a cross party agreement on the main objectives of the clause, which is now difficult to believe given the vociferous condemnation of this measure that was subsequently adopted by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Back in the late 1980s Conservative MPs still had the confidence to voice their true feelings about homosexuality. In the debate one female member retorted to an opponent in these terms ‘it depends on what one means by "civilised". I do not regard the practice of sodomy or buggery as being civilised’. Not a view that you are likely to hear by back bench Tories today. Another sceptical Tory MP stated ‘I accept that it is necessary to protect children and to ensure that irresponsible local authorities do not promote homosexuality’. Under a supposedly Conservative government we now have a LGBT History Month in schools, but needless to say there is no debate on whether it might be ‘irresponsible’. One Conservative MP provided an example of a Labour council’s agenda to promote homosexuality in schools revealing that ‘there was a long and sustained campaign by the council to have homosexual and lesbian relationships taught in schools as being as valid as heterosexual relationships. Parents came to see me in their hundreds to express their great concern about the policy and to express their opposition to it’. He added ‘that children should be protected from any insidious and dangerous influences, such as homosexuality’ before going on to condemn ‘advertisements of teaching posts that contained invitations to men and women of any sexual orientation to apply for posts’. Far from being ‘insidious and dangerous’ most Tory MPs today are happy to bend over backwards in celebration of gay identity.

Another Conservative MP reminded the house of the then religious consensus on the sinfulness of homosexual practice by declaring ‘Christians believe that the homosexual act is intrinsically immoral and evil. That is a respectable view, even if opposition members do not accept it. We should not be browbeaten into accepting the argument that we should not seek to promote what most people believe to be the norm in our society, which is a heterosexual loving relationship’. This was the crux of the Government’s thinking, namely, utilising the power of the state to promote that which is considered beneficial to society and the upbringing of children – traditional heterosexual marriage, and deter the promotion of what is deemed detrimental to that societal norm – promiscuous and risky homosexual relations.

Although there was cross party support for the principle of the clause there was opposition to the details. Simon Hughes for the Liberals questioned the definition of ‘promoting’ in the clause and asked ‘does a leaflet promoting safe sex for homosexuals, which is funded by the Government, count as promoting homosexuality? If not, where is the dividing line? What about the funding of help lines, counselling lines or centres promoted by local authorities for lesbian women or gay men?’ Jack Cunningham for Labour proposed amendments to ‘make it clear, first, that we do not believe that any local authority has or should have a duty to promote homosexuality, but this should not include services or information to homosexual people or those personally close to them, such as their family or friends’. It is unclear why local authorities should ever become involved in these kind of counselling services which, if they are of any use, are better left to private initiatives funded by homosexuals themselves.

Parliamentary opponents of the clause claimed that it would lead to hostility towards gay people. In the words of ex-GLC leader and future London Mayor Ken Livingtone ‘Conservative members are responding to a wave of hysteria and bigotry that has been whipped up by the popular press. It has been absolutely disgraceful. They have come to accept that in some areas children are being taught how to be lesbians. It is easy for those outside who live with the day-to-day prejudice against lesbians and gay men to laugh it off, but that pernicious lie has bitten deep into the popular conscience’. He added ‘that a recent survey showed that three out of five gay people aged 15-21 had been verbally abused, one in five had been beaten up, and one in five had attempted to commit suicide’. This kind of ‘survey’ is an example of 'advocacy research', the main aim of which is to trawl for support to reinforce an already agreed policy position. The respondents are clearly self selecting and the supposed findings grossly exaggerate the true situation. In any case, he appears to be confusing a limited and specific measure to restrict the promotion of homosexuality, with a broad incitement to attack homosexuals, a link that only existed in the fevered imagination of the gay lobby.

Another London Labour MP, future leader Jeremy Corbyn, announced his own brand of alarmism on the proposal declaring ‘since the clause emerged I have received a large number of anguished letters and distressed phone calls from people, previously frightened, who had been prepared to come out as gay and lesbian. They suddenly saw that, in the clause, the light of oppression burnt fiercely. They realised that they would be in physical danger. They have witnessed the attacks on gay book shops and gay clubs and have witnessed the degree of Fascism that is aroused by such clauses moved by Conservative Members.’ It is crazy hyperbole such as this which gives politicians a bad name. In the event there was no discernable increase in public hostility towards homosexuals as a result of the implementation of this clause.

Mr Corbyn continued ‘we shall be introducing into our society a degree of censorship that will be a legal minefield for years to come. Such censorship will create fear in librarians, theatre managers, film directors, writers, publishers and booksellers, as well as in all sorts of other people who want the freedom to disseminate information and views.’ In fact very quickly the censorship would all be in the other direction, anyone criticising homosexuality in any shape or form would be denounced as ‘homophobic’ as the politically correct establishment gradually entrenched its power.

The presenter of the clause Mr Wilshire responded to his critics thus ‘there are those who say that there should be no restraint on the promotion of homosexuality or on its factual presentation. One of the letters that I received says: if it is legal it can be promoted. We have heard claims that any restraint in this area is an attack on civil liberties. If that argument is followed, it will lead to an attitude of "anything goes" in this country’. In time this ‘anything goes’ would apply almost exclusively only to homosexual behaviour. With the rise in the feminist promotion of ‘rape culture’ and paranoia over paedophiles, biologically normal and broadly accepted forms of heterosexual expression would become increasingly circumscribed and castigated. Mr Wilshire finished by proclaiming ‘there is absolutely no need for me to stand here and apologise for seeking to prevent local government from doing something that I know that it should not be doing. I see no need to apologise for making it less likely that people are confronted by homosexual propaganda’.

Mr Wilshire’s clause became widely known as “Section 28’ after it passed into law and remained on the statute book for about fifteen years before being repealed by the Blair government. No local authority ever faced a legal challenge as a result but it probably helped put a brake, for a time, on the gay lobby’s agenda of promoting homosexuality as a perfectly normal, perhaps even commendable, form of sexual expression. After its repeal all the fears of Conservative MPs were realised in full as schools and local authorities became centres of indoctrination for homosexual and lesbian propaganda. There is absolutely no justification for this, and certainly not in schools. The issue of homosexuality, whether for or against, should be of no concern or interest to local authorities, as it is a private matter upon which individuals can reach their own conclusions, without manipulation by the state. In retrospect the Thatcher government’s fears over homosexual propaganda in schools appear more than justified. So there is a strong case for the reintroduction of the Section 28 objectives, coupled with a requirement to promote heterosexual marriage as the as the best means of raising children in a safe and caring environment.

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