Outrageous! The Story of Section 28 and Britain’s Battle for LGBT Education by Paul Baker - review by Richard Canning

Richard Canning

Don’t Mention the Milkman

Outrageous! The Story of Section 28 and Britain’s Battle for LGBT Education

By

Reaktion Books 328pp £15.99 order from our bookshop
 

As anyone familiar with Paul Baker’s fantastically camp Fabulosa! The Story of Polari, Britain’s Secret Gay Language would expect, his new book, in spite of its bleak subject matter, is more uproarious than self-pitying. Section 28, introduced in May 1988 by the Thatcher government (though it had originated on the backbenches the previous year), forbade the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality by local authorities – or sought to do so, at least, since in its fifteen-year existence not one successful prosecution was brought under it. But, as Baker shows, lives were changed and sometimes ruined by it, particularly in the case of schoolteachers and librarians. Moreover, it set a template for similar laws in Russia, Hungary and beyond.

Baker, born in 1972, is well placed to tell this sorry tale. He does so with an eye on those much younger, for whom the very existence of such a law might seem improbable. He describes how, on his sixteenth birthday, he watched four women disrupt the Six O’Clock News in an attempt to stop Section 28 passing through Parliament. Sue Lawley memorably conceded, ‘We have rather been invaded.’ Nicholas Witchell’s proactive response generated the headline ‘Beeb man sits on lesbian’. Section 28 became law the next day, notwithstanding the efforts of protesters, several of whom a few months earlier had abseiled into the House of Lords (a first).

A strength of Baker’s book is the clear outline it provides of the history of Section 28 and the context in which it arose. Many know that in 1967 the Sexual Offences Act saw the partial decriminalisation of male homosexual acts. Who knew, however, that a Tory backbencher,

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