Cardiff & District Law Society is delighted to introduce you to the new chair of our LGBTQ+ Subcommittee, Marc Jones. Marc has written a welcome, below, filled with useful information on what to expect from our subcommittee’s work to support LGBTQ+ lawyers and employers and allies, and more information about LGBTQ+ History Month 2022 which takes place each February.
By way of introduction, my name is Marc Jones. You may have seen various communications on LinkedIn over the past few months but for those who are not aware, I am delighted to say that I have taken over the role of Chair for Cardiff & District Law Society’s LGBTQ+ sub-committee as part of the wider D&I Committee.
One of my key focus points as Chair of the sub-committee is to expand the fantastic support network that I have created in my own firm to LGBTQ+ individual and allies in the wide region.
I am very much aware that not everyone is fortunate enough to have an LGBTQ+ support network of their own – at home or at work – and the sub-committee could be their only opportunity to feel connected with people like themselves and allow a big platform to share their voices and unique experiences, which is why inter-networking for me is such a high priority in our community and sector.
Whilst I am still in the early days of forming the sub-committee I am very keen to get a date in the calendar as soon as possible for our launch event – please look out for more correspondence on this in due course, but I am hoping it will be great way to meet up in person and get a flavour of what we are about as a sub-committee and our goals for the year ahead.
In the meantime, if you are interested in joining the sub-committee please do feel free to reach out our Administrator at CDLS. I am very keen to get a good cross section of passionate LGBTQ+ advocates involved in the sub-committee especially to share their own points of view and help direct where we take the sub-committee going forward into 2023.
LGBTQ+ History Month
LGBTQ+ History Month is celebrated worldwide to honour the unique and inspiring history of LGBTQ+ rights and the related civil rights movements up to the present day. In the United Kingdom, LGBTQ+ History Month has been celebrated in the month of February since 2005 in the wake of the abolition of Section 28 – which is the topic of focus for my article this month.
My aim going forward for LGBTQ+ History Month is that each February, the sub-committee will circulate an article on a different significant topic or individual in LGBTQ+ history every year.
I believe that it is important to remember and educate others on the contributions made by LGBTQ+ people in history as they not only helped pave the way for the rights and freedoms that we enjoy today, but it is a part of history that has been erased for many decades and now deserves to be brought to the forefront.
This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the abolishment of Section 28, so whilst there is still a lot of work to do, I hope we can all take the opportunity to recognise how far we have come as a society in progressing the rights of LGBTQ+ people to live their lives freely without shame.
To explain where we are now, I thought I’d outline the history of Section 28 and its legacy today.
The year is 1987. The AIDs epidemic is costing lives across the world at an alarmingly high rate and an already marginalised portion of the community is being penalised, blamed and shamed by the world’s media. The combination of the spread of AIDs (largely, amongst gay and bisexual people), the spread of right wing fear-mongering by the press and the rise of ‘Thatcherism’ and it’s government’s conservative policies make being an open and proud LGBTQ+ person in UK during the 1980’s unimaginable for some and unbearable for many.
The widespread fear which was created out of the AIDs epidemic – largely targeted at gay and bisexual people – was largely focused on the perception that sexual orientation played a significant factor in the spread of AIDs. The perceived ‘link’ between a person’s sexual orientation and an epidemic which was costing the lives of thousands of people, led to individuals taking a step back and looking at what they believed to be authorities and institutions that seemingly ‘promoted’ homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle – largely, local authorities and subsequently, schools.
In June of 1987, Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government won their third UK general election. Four months after their election win at the Conservative Party conference in Blackpool, Margaret Thatcher delivered the following speech in relation to the current state of education in the UK which even to this day is seen by many as the first signal of the beginning of the implementation of the controversial legal reforms that followed:
“Children who need to be taught traditional moral values are being taught they have an inalienable right to be gay (…)”
“(…) children are being cheated of a sound start in life—yes cheated.”
What was Section 28?
Section 28 (or Clause 28) was an insertion into to the Local Government Act 1988 which read as follows:-
“2A Prohibition on promoting homosexuality by teaching or by publishing material
(1) A local authority shall not—
(a) intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality;
(b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.
(4) In subsection (1)(b) above “maintained school” means,—
(a) in England and Wales, a county school, voluntary school, nursery school or special school, within the meaning of the Education Act 1944; and
(b) in Scotland, a public school, nursery school or special school, within the meaning of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980.”
In the context of education, Section 28 made it illegal for a teacher in a school which was maintained by a local authority in England, Scotland and Wales to teach or talk about homosexual relationships to their students or allude to the acceptability of homosexual relationships. The sad irony of Margaret Thatcher’s statement was that Section 28 actually cheated an entire generation of students who grew up to be gay of a sound start in life. The wide-reaching effect of Section 28 meant that any student that was bullied for being gay (or even perceived to be gay) couldn’t get the support of their school faculty, who instead were forced by law to turn a blind eye to homophobic bullying.
The legacy of Section 28 today
The repeal bill for Section 28 finally received royal assent and was abolished on 18 September 2003. It’s application was wiped clean from the statutory books but sadly, the 15 years of damage inflicted on an entire generation of LGBTQ+ youth was not so easily erased. Today, interviews with people in their 40’s and 50’s who lived through the devastating impact of Section 28 on their school years – a critical time in their emotional and personal development – talk of the negative effects this has had on their mental health in adult life. Many still live with the shame and disconnect from society and the lack of trust in authorities that are meant to exist to support us.
If you are interested – I recommend reading ‘Straight Jacket’ by Matthew Todd which is an in-depth look at ‘gay shame’ in the context of some of Matthew’s own experiences, including living through Section 28.
I was very fortunate to avoid the application of Section 28 as it was abolished at the exact same time that I started comprehensive school in September 2003. In fact, I am ashamed to say that I had no idea the legislation existed until I watched an episode of Rupaul’s Drag Race UK two years ago where a contestant called Divina De Campo shared their experiences about growing up in Yorkshire as a schoolchild during the 1990’s in the midst of Section 28, leading to them having struggles with accepting their sexual identity in school as a result of the bullying they received and the lack of support from teachers.
This leads me onto my point why celebrating LGBTQ+ history is so important for all of us, LGBTQ+ or not, as I do believe it is a generous portion of history that has been wiped from the books and it is something we need to be reminded of to understand ourselves better and all of the wonderful LGBTQ+ people that are in our lives.
Thank you very much for reading. Please do get in touch with us here if you would like to find out more about the LGBTQ+ sub-committee, LGBTQ+ History Month or Section 28.
Marc Jones is the Chair of the Cardiff & District Law Society LGBTQ+ Subcommittee. He is an out and proud gay man and a passionate ambassador for LGBTQ+ equality and representation, especially in the legal sector. He is also the Cardiff office representative for his firm’s internal LGBTQ+ network, which aims to be a forum and support network for LGBTQ+ colleagues and allies and encourages all employees to be their true selves at work and help raise awareness of the issues facing our community.
Marc was born and raised in Swansea where he also studied the Law LLB and Legal Practice Course at Swansea University. For the past five years, Marc has been employed at Eversheds Sutherland (International) LLP in Cardiff, where he first started out as a Paralegal, and is now completing a training contract (he is due to qualify in September 2023).