01 April 2009

"Jenny Lives With Eric And Martin", Clause 28 and Militant Lesbians Invade The BBC News Studio...

"20,000 people, of all sexualities, marching through the streets of Manchester on a cold February afternoon is not something we are going to forget easily. Nor can we forget the close relationship which was forged between the Campaign and the gay scene. 1988 made us all finally realise that very powerful forces were out to get us."

Gay Life, January, 1989.

So what was Clause 28? How did it happen?

Many people will have you believe that the era before the 1980s was totally liberal, totally free of discrimination or malice. Then the 1980s arrived, slammed on the shoulder pads, stuck the cigarette in the holder, narrowed their eyes and went to work to undo everything and set the clock back.

Of course, that's not true. Some 1960s teenagers, mourning the loss of that decade and their youth since the start of 1970, have been very vocal (for such a kind, sharing and caring generation) in proclaiming just how superior they are to the generations that have followed. Meanwhile, the 1970s have been rewritten as a continuation of the "wonderful 60s". So heavily have the 70s been tweaked and repackaged, I hardly recognise them.

Let's look at the UK reality. In 1967, the decriminalisation of homosexual acts between consenting men in private was passed in England and Wales. Homosexual acts between women had never been illegal.

Although many gay men rejoiced at the news, there were sombre warnings that their new rights should not be "abused". Lord Arran, one of the major advocates for law reform, made the following speech in the House of Lords in 1967:

"I ask those who have, as it were, been in bondage and for whom the prison doors are now open, to show thanks by comporting themselves quietly and with dignity. This is no occasion for jubilations, certainly not for celebration. Any form of ostentatious behaviour now or in the future, any form of public flaunting, would be utterly distasteful and would, I believe, make the sponsors of the bill regret what they have done."

Fast forward to the late 1970s, and queer bashing was as much a sport as ever and gay men on TV were the traditional stereotypes. Accusations were made that much of the momentum behind the American "Disco Sucks" campaign came from racism and homophobia.

The decriminalisation of homosexual acts between men in Scotland took place in February 1981, and the London Weekend Television (LWT) series Gay Life was broadcast that year - although it was not networked.

The decriminalisation of homosexual acts between men in Northern Ireland took place in 1982.

In 1983, the 1981 book Jenny Lives With Eric & Martin, by Danish author Susanne Bosche, was published in England. The book was intended for primary school children and told the story of Jenny, a little girl who lived with her father and his male lover.

It was quickly banned from schools after protests from parents and politicians who feared that it might encourage children to "experiment with homosexuality". And yet parents were allowing their children to display posters of openly gay pop stars like Boy George on their bedroom walls, and indeed buying their children Boy George dollies! It really was an era of contrasts!

Jenny Lives With Eric and Martin is widely accepted as a major milestone on the road to Section (or Clause) 28, which came into effect on 24 May 1988. The emergence of AIDS as a growing epidemic, with gay men as a "high risk" group, was another.

Being well grotty, the "Clause" contained such gems as: A local authority shall not:

(a) Intentionally promote or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality.

(b) Promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality in a pretended family relationship.

The "Clause" has now gone. But have books like Jenny Lives With Eric and Martin come back, I wonder, and if so what has been the reaction of the "wonderfully liberal" people of the early 21st Century?

Published in England by the Gay Men's Press, December 1983.

Jenny has a strop. .

I was very interested in the launch of Jenny Lives With Eric & Martin and bought a copy of the book. It may seem trite, but a memory that remains with me to this day is how shocked some older members of my family were with the suggested nudity in a couple of photographs in the book. We can be terribly smug, superior and "21st Century" about that now (it happens a lot), but it's worth noting that this country was a very different place in 1983!

Grumpy Mrs Jones sticks her beak in.

23rd May 1988 - and militant lesbians, protesting about Clause 28, invade the BBC newsroom. 

Gay men attempting to gain admission to protest at various times were, of course, roughly expelled/blocked.


Sue Lawley struggled on with the news, whilst Nicholas Witchell sat on one of the protesters. Sue said: "...I do apologise if you're hearing quite a lot of noise in the studio at the moment. I'm afraid that, um, we have been rather invaded by some people who we hope to be removing shortly."

Sue Lawley battles on with the news, as the studio technology goes rather wonky...


Bun said...

The '80s were turmoil writ large!

Anonymous said...

Ah the newsroom invasion. I was watching that live as a yet-to-come out teenage gay boy and I remember being incredibly alert to the fact that the protesters off camera had mentioned Clause 28. It was thrilling to me that there were people out there so comfortable in their secuality that they would do something as daring as this. The memory is strong :-)