Grim times for gay people under Thatcher in the 80s


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Grim Times…

The 80s were a period of crisis for gay people – but emerging from the decade, the LGBT community would make huge leaps forward in the 90s and beyond. However, in 1989, an issue of Gay Times in my archives makes pretty sad reading.

For a start, the Conservative government had introduced Section 28 of the Local Government Act which instructed local councils that they could not “promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality”. It would be illegal to present gay couples as an acceptable form of family life.

The repercussions of this legislation were very real – and intended. For years, Labour councils that had funded LGBT events, liaison officers and festivals had been crucified in the tabloids as being party of the “loony left”. Millennial readers may struggle to comprehend just how unacceptable it was to large swathes of British public opinion to tolerate gay relationships let alone fund anything to do with the LGBT community.

IMG_7744The Gay Times reported that the Scottish Homosexual Action Group was seeking a judicial review of a decision by Edinburgh District Council to no longer give financial support to open air lesbian and gay festival, Lark In The Park. A council spokesman agreed it had funded the event before but now couldn’t because of the change in the law. Section 28 had real and very sharp teeth.

Why were the Tories so hostile to LGBT people at this time? In the years leading up to Section 28, often referred to as Clause 28, the HIV/AIDS virus had hit gay people hard. Far from receiving sympathy, the tabloids and some very vocal politicians had portrayed the virus as a judgement on a “sick” “lifestyle”. It was referred to as a “gay plague” and in one survey in 1987, three quarters of the UK public stated they thought being homosexual was “always or mostly wrong”.

A “joke” published in The Sun newspaper went like this:

A gay man goes home to his parents and tells them he’s got good news and bad news. The bad news is I’m gay. The good news is I’ve got Aids.

To give you an indication of how bad attitudes were over AIDS on both sides of the Atlantic, a British man was deported from the United States when a small quantity of the drug zidovudine (AZT) and a business card from the Terrence Higgins Trust (an AIDS charity) were found on him by customs. Henry Wilson was held in a jail cell in Minnesota while on his way to San Francisco to take part in trials for a new anti-viral drug CD4.

IMG_7745As for Margaret Thatcher, the British prime minister throughout the 80s, her supporters have argued in recent years that she liked certain gay men as individuals. But I’m afraid as a group, she kicked gay men in the teeth when they were already coping with friends and partners dying in their hands. When Section 28 was being repealed in 2003, Baroness Thatcher, as she had then become, sat next to Lady Young as she opposed the scrapping of this discriminatory legislation.

In better news back in the 80s, Denmark became the first country to legalise civil marriage for LGBT couples in 1989. But it was way ahead of the UK and most of the European Union at this time. If anything, the AIDS virus and a political move to the right had pushed LGBT rights backwards.

When the Left condemned theocrat rule in Iran


IMG_6949Some people on the Left seem unhappy about condemning the infringement of women and workers’ rights in Iran today. Such unease didn’t exist back in the early 80s.

Most of the Left did not welcome the victory of theocrats in Iran. Like many people in that country’s major urban centres, they had hoped for a democracy and a secular republic.

Not only was there dismay at the rise of the “mullahs” – but also the widespread use of capital punishment. It was not only the Shah of Iran’s people being rounded up and disappeared but socialists and democracy activists.

This is a flier for a meeting from the time opposing some of the recent hangings and naming the victims. Labour party members were repelled by this barbarity and were joined by Muslim students in the UK. There were calls for “solidarity” with Iranian workers against the ayatollahs.

Maybe those who are reticent to criticise the Iranian government today should read this blog and remember what the Left used to stand for.

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Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – and an 80s womens group


Aaaah – student union politics in the early 80s. I was Deputy President of Liverpool University student union (Guild of Undergraduates to be exact, the official name) and things were very polarised politically. Thatcherite Tories versus Militant Tendency and some other groups in between. At the university, radically minded feminists were in the Womens Group tackling still very prevalent sexism among blokes at college – particularly in the medical and veterinary faculties.

So – there was bound to be a bust up when the Liverpool University Veterinary Society decided to put on a ‘comedy’ revue in the student union using the OMD album cover but changing the title to Obstetrical Manoeuvres in the Uterus. I arrived at the student union to find a queue of angry women outside my office and needless to say, the vets were forced to climb down.

Here an advert for an OMD tour around that time…