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LGBT community remembers Margaret Thatcher for the homophobic Section 28 law

LONDON – Amid all the accolades and tributes being paid to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who died today at age 87, are voices from the LGBT community who remember the conservative leader for legislating the anti-gay law, Section 28.

Peter Tatchell, one of the leading human rights activists in the United Kingdom, criticized “The Iron Lady” for her anti-gay positions and for other reasons.

“Margaret Thatcher was an extraordinary woman but she was extraordinary for mostly the wrong reasons. So many of her policies were wrong and heartless,” he said.

“Nevertheless, I don’t rejoice in her death. I commiserate, as I do with the death of any person. In contrast, she showed no empathy for the victims of her harsh, ruthless policy decisions,” Tatchell said.

“Thatcher initiated policies that paved the way for the current economic crisis: the decimation of Britain’s manufacturing base, the get-rich-quick business mentality, the promotion of the free market and the poorly regulated banking sector. This led to imbalances in the economy. The financial sector gained undue influence, with few checks and balances. These distortions were exacerbated by Blair and Brown but Thatcher began the train of events that led to the present economic meltdown,” he said.

“In 1988, the Thatcher government legislated Britain’s first new anti-gay law in 100 years: Section 28. At the 1987 Conservative party conference she mocked people who defended the right to be gay, insinuating that there was no such right,” Tatchell said.

“During her rule, arrests and convictions for consenting same-sex behavior rocketed, as did queer bashing violence and murder. Gay men were widely demonized and scapegoated for the AIDS pandemic and Thatcher did nothing to challenge this vilification,” he said.

“To her credit, she shattered the sexist glass ceiling in politics and got to the top in a man’s world. However, on becoming Prime Minister she did little for the rights of women. She was a macho, testosterone-fuelled right-wing politician,” Tatchell said.

“Her political agenda was almost entirely divisive and destructive, including mass unemployment and urban decay. She emasculated local government and boosted police powers to the detriment of civil liberties. The striking miners and their families were ruthlessly crushed on her orders. She oversaw the use of police state methods. Baton-wielding police struck down peaceful miners. People travelling to support the strikers were pre-emptively arrested. Protesting miners at Orgreave were framed on false police evidence,” he said.

American gay activist and blogger Dan Savage also brought up Section 28 in his blog today:

I was living in London—waiting tables, seeing plays, stealing silver, pining after British boys—when Section 28 was being debated. The law prompted Ian McKellen to come out of the closet and it prompted some righteous lesbian parents to tag Thatcher billboard with "Lesbians Mums Aren't Pretending." Coming at the height of the AIDS epidemic, Section 28 instilled panic. It felt like this law might the first of many anti-gay laws to come. Instead Section 28 was the beginning of the end for political homophobia in the UK. Because McKellen wasn't the only gay person to come out in protest. And you know what happens when gay people come out.

So thanks for that, Maggie.

Welsh writer Tom Doran wrote about Thatcher’s legacy on gay rights in a piece published by The Daily Beast.

As a member of Parliament (MP) in the 1960s, she was one of only a handful of Conservatives to vote for the decriminalization of homosexuality, a truly forward-thinking and brave gesture that she deserves a great deal of credit for.

Sadly, as Prime Minister, she would squander much of that credit (ironically enough, for a politician who put such stock in thrift) by lending her support to one of the nastiest anti-gay measures of modern times: the infamous Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which forbade schools from teaching "the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship." This was despite the open secret (among Westminster insiders, at least) that several prominent members of her government were themselves gay, albeit in reinforced-steel closets. It remains one of the darkest spots on her legacy.

History, however, always proceeds with a good dose of unintended consequence. It was Section 28, more than anything else, that galvanized and mobilized the modern British gay rights movement which, in just a quarter of a century, is on the verge of securing full legal equality for gays and lesbians. In her heart, I doubt Thatcher really regretted that development.

Meanwhile, the Log Cabin Republicans did not reference Section 28 in its statement issued today by Gregory T. Angelo, executive director:

Log Cabin Republicans mourns the loss of Margaret Thatcher, a conservative heroine and a maverick with the ability to convey conservative principles in a way few others could. In a gesture similar to her contemporary Ronald Reagan's opposition to the Briggs Initiative (which inspired the founding of Log Cabin Republicans), it was Thatcher's brave move to buck her colleagues and vote to decriminalize homosexuality in the 1960's that paved the way for modern conservatives such as Prime Minister David Cameron to make the conservative case for marriage equality today.

Our prayers go out to the Iron Lady, her family, and the people of the United Kingdom who have lost an unparalleled and irreplaceable leader.

Section 28 was repealed in November 2003.

Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at ken@sdgln.com, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.