It’s 30 years since Margaret Thatcher’s government introduced section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 - which banned schools from ‘promoting homosexuality’. IAN CRAIG takes a look at how much things have changed - or haven’t - since then.

THE introduction of section 28 proved a critical moment in attitudes to the LGBT community in Britain.

The regulation stated schools “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.

The law is largely cited with having caused young LGBT people to feel marginalised while putting them at risk of bullying and reinforcing bigoted attitudes.

It’s true to say strides have been made in recent years - the section itself was repealed in Scotland in 2000 and the rest of the UK three years later. And last month the Welsh Government announced sex and relationships education in Welsh schools is to be revamped, including teaching of LGBT issues.

But how much has society really changed since 1988?

Plaid Cymru Carmarthen East and Dinefwr AM Adam Price is one of three openly-gay AMs in the Assembly.

In an article written to coincide with last month’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, he reflected on his time campaigning against section 28.

“A protest against section 28 was the first LGBT march ever in Cardiff, if not in Wales, and I was on that march,” he said. “Attending that march, for me, was like a first step in the process of coming out as a gay man.

“Thirty years on, I’m here - a proud, open, gay man in public office serving the people of my country and I am proud today to be celebrating the LGBT community.”

He added, while “significant progress” had been made in LGBT rights, he believed “there is work still to be done”, particularly with relation to the transsexual community.

“Recently published statistics from Stonewall Cymru show that 41 per cent of trans young people in Wales have attempted suicide and that 77 per cent of trans young people have self-harmed at some point in their lives,” he said.

“Trans young people also face high rates of bullying and mental health issues.

“Fewer than 60 per cent of LGBT pupils in Welsh schools don’t receive education about LGBT issues. LGBT young people face higher rates of bullying and mental health issues.

“There has been a significant rise in transphobia and smear campaigns directed towards the trans community in the media. Trans women in Wales in particular face significant challenges including increased vulnerability to hate crime, violence and abuse.”

The 1980s were already a turbulent time for the LGBT community, and section 28 only added to this.

Nichola Davies of campaign group Rainbow Newport reflected on the time.

“Talk to any young person today and it will become obvious that they see the rights they enjoy, including the right of gay people to have their relationships recognised in law through civil partnerships or marriage, as set in stone, as everyday as a cup of tea,” she said.

“However, in 1988 it was very different for gay people.

“It would be hard pressed to find a recent British law more controversial and more reviled than section 28.”

She said it was this sense which led to LGBT groups banding together and campaigning for more recognition of their rights, forming groups such as Stonewall.

“The music scene at the time was very influential with many artists having a very strong gay identity,” she said. “However, if you lived outside the big cities like London or Manchester, life could feel very different. And if you lived in traditional areas like South Wales the isolation was tenfold .

“Many people still hid their sexuality for fear of losing their jobs, family and friends, many even choosing to get married for fear of exposure.

“Section 28 changed the school environment - many teachers did not want to deal with the subject of homosexuality and gay people, again out of fear, fear of losing their jobs or even fear of prosecution.

“Narrow-minded educators were bolstered and emboldened in their prejudice.

“As a result, most schools ignored or even pretended that gay people didn’t exist.”

She added it was young people who suffered the most.

“Homophobic abuse was rife and went unchallenged and was, in some cases, encouraged,” she said.

“Young people felt silenced and isolated while their teachers and schools did nothing to address the situation.

“This institutional homophobia affected people for decades to come, hidden shame, loss of career progression, exclusion from their communities or isolation from their families to the detriment of their physical, emotional and mental health."

Thirty years on, Ms Davies said it is important the LGBT community recognises the battles fought by past generations to win the rights they enjoy today.

“Rainbow Newport is very conscious that we cannot take these rights and protections for granted and we acknowledge that they are not a given and could, through legislation, be undone," she said.

“Section 28 should be consigned to the history books and the lessons learned should be taken forward within our movement, to ensure that never again will the LGBT community be placed in such a dangerous position.”

Politicians, too, have been quick to criticise the policy.

Speaking during a debate on the issue in the Senedd last month, leader of the house Julie James called section 28 “a defining moment for quite a few of us in what was then a pretty low point in many of our political careers”.

“There are lots of bad things you can say about the Thatcher years, but that’s certainly right up there as one of the things that was just intolerable,” she said.

“I, too, almost cannot believe that, 30 years on, I have a son who’s going to marry his partner, and I’m going to go, and we’re going to be very pleased.

“He grew up in an era when people tried to stop that being taught as an ordinary family relationship. I’ve never been so incensed by anything, I think, on a personal level, as I was by that.”

She added: “I’m straight, but what difference does that make to any of this? That’s not the point. People should be allowed to live their lives the way they choose, as long as they don’t do any harm to anyone else, and I don’t understand why anyone has any problem with that at all.”

For its part, the Welsh Government and the Welsh Assembly have taken great steps - with the Assembly named the UK’s leading employer of LGBT staff by equality charity Stonewall earlier this year. And, of the three-openly gay AMs currently in the Assembly, two - Neath’s Jeremy Miles and Delyn’s Hannah Blythyn - are members of Carwyn Jones’ cabinet.

Speaking at an event hosted by LGBT website Pink News last week, counsel general Mr Miles said: “I am very proud to be one of three out LGBT members of the Assembly, and one of two LGBT members of the Welsh Government.

“I never tire of saying that and it never ceases to amaze me that I can say it.”

He added: “There is nothing we can do which is more valuable in life than to help someone else to be themselves.”

The first minister also spoke at the event, saying: “Too often we assume the LGBT community knows politicians are on their side. But we don’t say it often enough.”

He added: “Thirty years ago Margaret Thatcher denounced local education authorities for teaching children that ‘they have an inalienable right to be gay’.

“The Welsh Government wants all our learners to know that they have an inalienable right to be happy - this is the driving force behind the changes we are introducing in Wales.”

He added, although he believed Wales and the UK had “come a long way” since the introduction of section 28, there was still far more to be done.

“We have to make sure those days never, ever return,” he said.

“Section 28 is consigned to history, but its consequences can sill be felt in the education system.”

And Conservative Monmouth AM Nick Ramsay said the legacy of section 28 should “teach us a powerful lesson about how we treat other human beings”.

“Section 28 was divisive and callous and I am delighted that it has been consigned to the history books,” he said. “But we cannot and should not forget the way that the LGBT community was treated.

“There remain lessons to be learned from section 28 and the impact that it had, not just on minority groups in Britain, but on wider society.”

He added: “We cannot be complacent and think that the battle against prejudice, discrimination and intolerance is over, so education continues to be critical.

“The more time I spend with young people in Wales today, it is very clear that they are very comfortable living in a Wales where everyone is treated equally and they have no interest in the prejudices of the past.

“That said, a part of the process of learning about the rights we all enjoy today means also learning about the rights which were denied in the past, helping ensure that future generations do not make the mistakes of their predecessors.”

The new sex education model, to be called Relationships and Sexuality Education, or RSE, requires schools to teach youngsters about forming and maintaining healthy, happy and fulfilling relationships, and will take into account LGBT issues. It will come into place by 2022.

Speaking when it was announced education secretary Kirsty Williams said: “Though section 28 has been consigned to history, its effect can still be found within our education system.

“Schools often find it difficult to provide fully inclusive sex and relationship education, and can struggle to respond to the diverse needs of their learners, rather than following a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

“This must change.

“I believe Wales must do more to support all of our young people to develop healthy relationships, maintain good mental health and keep safe.”

She added: “Thirty years ago Margaret Thatcher denounced local education authorities for teaching children that ‘they have an inalienable right to be gay’.

“I want all our learners to know that they have an inalienable right to be happy - this is the driving force behind the changes we’re proposing.”

But no one is under any illusions there is still work to be done.

Also speaking in the Assembly last week Ms James said: “I am in no means complacent, nor should we be, and we would not suggest that LGBTQ+ people no longer face discrimination.”

She added: “In a world today where voices of intolerance and prejudice have been growing louder, it is very much time for us in Wales to ask ourselves: how tolerant are we?

“How much have we learned, and how committed are we?

“Our answer is resoundingly that we care more than ever, and that we must join our voices together with our allies and through all our networks to continue to strive for a more tolerant, more open and more welcoming society.”