Government Sanctioned Homophobia and the Deaths of Section 28

Between 1987 and 2004, Section 28 of the Local Government Act not only allowed but forced the public sector to discriminate against LGBTQA+ individuals. In the time Section 28 was law, 18 people were violently murdered in homophobic attacks.

It is my opinion that Section 28, the Tory establishment that created it, and the tabloid press that fermented the moral panic leading to its inception, are responsible for these deaths.

What is the basis for this claim?

The causes of hate crime are nuanced and many, but can be summarised into a few leading theories:

  • Hate crime is a strategy for defending against threats posed to ‘valued identities and ways of life’.

  • Where there is social support for the victimisation and persecution of a group from the wider community, hate crime will be more prevalent.

  • The media encourages hate crime by creating, promoting and maintaining stereotypes about marginalised communities.

  • The dissemination of ‘hate amplifying political discourse’ by political parties drives incidents of hate crime.

If we look at the political, media and social climate of 1987 in which Section 28 was introduced, it is clear the environment was ripe for hate crime to flourish.

When Thatcher remarked that “children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay”, she not only appealed to the idea of ‘valued identities and ways of life’, but also lead the Conservative party to disseminate ‘hate amplifying political discourse’. MPs and Lords were allowed to stand in parliament and call homosexuals ‘rivers of venereal diseases’, and a moral ‘evil’.

The media outrage over publications like ‘Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin’, and Labour’s policy of funding LGBTQA+ outreach groups through local councils further stoked public outrage against the queer community, by appealing to the idea of ‘protecting’ the nuclear family.

The public at large supported measures against homosexuality, with the 1987 British Social Attitudes Survey reporting that 75% of the population felt that homosexuality was ‘always or mostly wrong’, possibly due in large part to the fear of AIDS, and the association of the disease with the queer community. This widespread sentiment provided the social support for sexual orientation motivated hate crime to flourish.

Section 28 enabled, and actively promoted intolerance towards the gay community. It also mandated discrimination in public sector services. This meant that homophobia went unchallenged, and practises such as arresting gay men for the act of ‘solicitation’, but not hooligans for homophobic assaults, were common.

It is in this environment that 18 homophobia-motivated murders were carried out.

  • Christopher Schliach was murdered in his home in September 1989. He was stabbed more than 40 times. His case remains unsolved.

  • Henry Bright was stabbed to death in his home in December 1989. His case remains unsolved.

  • William Dalziel was beaten to death in January 1990 and died from a fractured skull. His case remains unsolved.

  • Michael Boothe was kicked to death by a group of six men in April 1990 in Hanwell, West London. His case remains unsolved, and led to the formation of direct action group, OutRage!.

  • Peter Walker, Christopher Dunn, Perry Bradley, Andrew Collier and Emanuel Spiteri were murdered in 1993 by serial killer Colin Ireland. Ireland preyed on gay men; his crimes motivated by homophobia. Institutional homophobia in the police force hampered the initial investigation into the murders, and enabled Ireland to remain undetected for longer.

  • Robyn Brown, a trans sex worker, was stabbed to death in her flat in February 1997. Her case went unsolved for 12 years.

  • Andrea Dykes and her unborn baby, Nick Moore and John Light were murdered in the May 1999 neo-Nazi terrorist attack carried out against the Soho gay bar, the Admiral Duncan.

  • Jaap Bornkamp was stabbed to death in June 2000 in an unprovoked attack. His case remains unsolved.

  • Damilola Taylor was stabbed to death by a gang in November 2000. Taylor was subjected to homophobic abuse and bullying in the days leading up to his murder. His case remains unsolved.

  • Geoffrey Windsor died in June 2002 from head injuries after being beaten in an unprovoked homophobic attack. His case remains unsolved.

  • David Morley was murdered by a gang of youths in October 2004. The jury convicted his killers of manslaughter, despite being convicted of murder. (Morley had also been a casualty of the 1999 Admiral Duncan bombing, where he worked as a barman).

Few people remember or even know about these murders. Boothe’s murder, which has been likened to the 1993 murder of Stephen Lawrence, prompted an internal review of police homophobia, and yet his name remains largely forgotten, and there is no memorial for his death.

The lack of public consciousness of these brutal attacks, and the fact that most remain unsolved to this day indicates a complete failure on the part of UK society to care about violence levelled against the LGBTQA+ community.

There was no government pressure to investigate these murders; the Home Office did nothing to pressure the police to solve them. Of MPs who served as Home Secretary between 1987 and 2004 who were present at the vote on the Local Government Act, all supported the addition of Section 28. No wonder then, that they cared not to intervene.

The 2007 Metropolitan Police Review which examined the investigations into some of these murders, including Boothe’s and the victims of Colin Ireland, found that “police procedures and attitudes may have hindered the apprehension of criminals targeting the LGBT community”, and that the police force considered homosexuals inherently as ‘criminals’, rather than victims.

Section 28 did not directly cause these murders, but the environment that it helped to create and support allowed 18 individuals to be murdered without public outrage, without adequate resources to find their killers, and without memorial even today.

It’s time that we reckon with the legacy of government sanctioned homophobia in this country, and the very real and incredibly dangerous consequences that it has. Hate crimes have risen year on year since records began in 2011, with recent events such as Brexit, right-wing nationalism, unchecked social media and the toxicity of the tabloid press facilitating this rise. When our own Prime Minister refuses to apologise for calling gay men ‘tank-top wearing bumboys’ and comparing gay marriage to bestiality, the public at large is emboldened in its intolerance.

This history month let’s hold our politicians to account for their actions and try and prevent another era of community bloodshed.