Gay shame is a central theme in Channel 4’s It’s a Sin.
Shame seriously affected the lives of the characters in this drama, which was set during the AIDS crisis in the UK during the 1980s.
I was so moved by It's a Sin, I decided to reflect on my experiences of gay shame growing up a decade later, in the 90s.
As a direct result of homophobia and the AIDS crisis of the 80s, Thatcher's government enacted Section 28. And it was Section 28 that continued to cause gay shame in the 90s and well into the 2000s.
It often amazes me how many counsellors I train, who’ve not heard of Section 28! When working with LGBTQ clients, particularly of my generation this is something we all need to know about.
What was Section 28?
A government act which stated that a local authority:
"shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality"
"promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”
This was children being prevented from learning about gay people positively!
Section 28 in my primary school
Starting school in 1989, just one year after Section 28 was enacted, I sadly experienced the effects of Section 28 first hand.
I don’t remember knowing any different. I was only 5. But I do remember as the years went by how homophobic slurs and bullying were left unchallenged.
Gay people were seen as strange and diseased.
Section 28 in my high school
I can remember when I was about 14 someone asking our Personal and Social Education teacher something about gay sex and she just said she couldn’t answer. It was the strangest thing.
I can’t help wondering what it would've been like if we’d had social media in those days. School pupils could have caused a storm and an uprising against this. Instead we sat in fear.
We had subconsciously learned that being gay was bad. We had all internalised that shame.
How did Section 28 create gay shame?
Those of us, like me, who were gay, had that added fear of, what if someone were to find out? So much energy was used up with continual internal denial and internalised shame.
You see, this is what happens to people when there are no role models, no openly gay teachers and very little positive media coverage, let alone gay characters in soaps and movies.
There was no one to look up to and no one to learn from. No googling. No social media. Gay children were isolated and when we reached our teens we realised the government was against us too.
Was it just gay people that suffered?
It wasn’t just the gay pupils who suffered; everyone suffered.
This act was so damaging that it shaped the views and minds of many of the adults today. It put that dark shame about being gay on our whole society.
What happened to me after Section 28?
Section 28 was not repealed until 2000 in Scotland, and 2003 in England and Wales. Growing up in Scotland this means that I was freed from this act for my last 2 years at school.
However, I cannot remember there being change.
Although I do remember something strange that happened in my last year at school.
A gay rape scene
Our English class was studying a poem that had a scene of a gay rape. Our teacher tried to get us to say what had happened and the class was silent for what felt like forever.
I think everyone understood it, but....
no one could dare say the word GAY aloud in class.
Finally someone did.
Did the teacher think we hadn’t understood it? Did she want to try to bring gay characters into the classroom?
It still amazes me today that a poem about a gay rape was the only gay literature that we were exposed to.
Where were the positive images?
Where were the role models?
Where was the inclusive sex education?
Want to read more?
If you enjoyed this blog why not read my blog about the shadow of Section 28 and my experiences working as a gay teacher in the mid 2000s.
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