Sunday, April 14, 2013

Thatcher's homophobia: the forgotten legacy

Caught between rising homophobic violence and tackling discrimination, Thatcher made it very clear where she stood.

In the wake of former PM Margaret Thatcher's death, a military-scale process of sanctification has been shoved down the British public's gullet.

Watch the way Newsnight covered her legacy on the day she popped her clogs, or how Ken Clarke and her biographer Charles Moore were slobbering all over her name for most of the last episode of BBC Question Time, and you'll start believing that figures such as Mother Teresa and Florence Nightingale were actually a pair of hoodlums compared to the Iron Lady.

And yet, in the flurry of hagiographies and tributes to this "extraordinary woman", her long list of heinous political acts seems to have been ENTIRELY forgotten. In particular, the way her rampant homophobia became integral to British law.

Which, you will understand, hardly sits at ease with the relentless campaign to portray her as Holy. The papers may tell you that she was stubborn or, at a push, that "some people saw her as fairly divisive", but that Thatcher was behind Britain’s first new anti-gay law since 1885 is so utterly embarrassing that they just won't mention it.

And before your average Tory pops up to tell you that no, she actually stood for LGBT rights, just like they're unashamedly passing as "fighting apartheid" the fact that she and her party dubbed Nelson Mandela a "terrorist" for the whole of her political career, here's a number of things that Maggie did to further institutionalise homophobia in Britain.

Like human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell writes, "At the Conservative party conference in 1987 Mrs Thatcher mocked people who defended the right to be gay, insinuating that there was no such right. During her rule, arrests and convictions for consenting same-sex behaviour rocketed, as did queer bashing violence and murders. This backlash coincided with her successive “family values” and “Victorian values” campaigns, which urged a return to traditional morality and family life".  

And, in fact, this is what she publicly said:
"Too often, our children don’t get the education they need—the education they deserve…
Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay…
All of those children are being cheated of a sound start in life—yes, cheated".
Which is how, aided by a hysterical tabloid campaign about "the loonie left" and "gay lobbies" along with talks of AIDS as "the gay plague" and the barefaced lie that "GAY PORN BOOKS [were being] READ IN SCHOOLS", in 1988 the Thatcher government steamrollered in the homophobic Section 28.

The Act, which remained part of the statute book until Labour scrapped it in 2003, was as controversial and ambiguous as it was soaked in hate and deep prejudice.

In one fell swoop, Section 28 crucially advocated censorship - preventing local authorities and schools from discussing ("promoting", the hideous wording was) homosexuality or engaging in anti-bullying activities, sneered at "pretended family relationships", and added insult to injury by linking homosexuality to "the spread of disease".

It is almost impossible to believe that such an ignorant piece of legislation was part of the British legislative framework and that half the Tory party was still defending it tooth and nail as recently as 2003.

Nevertheless, caught between rising homophobic violence and intolerance, and the calls in favour of tackling discrimination and promoting acceptance, Thatcher made it very clear where she stood.

No coincidence that, shortly after Section 28 became law, the offices of a gay newspaper, Capital Gay, were burnt down and lesbian and gay helplines reported a threefold increase in "queer bashing".

Which is why, when the current hysteria over Maggie's beatification subsides a little, hopefully the world will manage to remember how such a detestably homophobic piece of legislation was entirely in line with Thatcher and her character. Now hopefully buried forever.