Today, 18th November 2013, marks the tenth anniversary of the repeal of Section 28 – but what was it, and what impact did it have? I look at the legislation from a personal point of view.

sex-ed-chalkboardIt’s September 1999, I’m fourteen years old I’m at high school. Less than a year ago, not long after my thirteenth birthday, I came out as gay to my friends, my family, my fellow students – everybody. It didn’t come easily but I’d felt so much better for it – I could finally be myself.

Today was the day we learnt about “the sex” at school. We’d known this was coming since before we broke up from school for summer holidays. As we all piled into the PHSE room there was a nervous but excited feeling in the air. The boys were playing the big macho image and the girls were giggling.

Our form teacher, walked into the room and pushed a VHS into the player and sat down at her desk. Here it was. I was finally going to learn about sex! I shuffled my chair closer so I could soak in the wisdom…

– A man and a woman walk into the room.

– They’re both wearing dressing gowns. 

The guy is pretty hot! Oh boy they’re dropping the dressing gowns I wonder what’s undernea…

– The naked man and woman turn into drawnings before anyone can see anything.

– We get a run down of the internal and external anatomy in cartoon form.

– Back to the man and woman, they’ve got their dressing gowns back on and they’re heading to bed.

It’s going to happen! I’ll get to find out what this “sex” is!

– They shut the door. 

– The woman is now pregnant and giving birth. It’s a horrible mess.

– Video ends.

That was my school sex education. I had no idea how the baby came to be. The mechanics of sex weren’t explained. There was no mention of gay people either. I wanted to raise my hand to ask what do gay men, or lesbians do? What do straight people do for that matter? The video was no help at all! But I was too shy to ask in front of all my friends and fellow students – so I let it pass.

A few days later I took my PHSE teacher aside and asked her what happens in gay sex? Is it like straight sex? How come the video didn’t talk about it? She simply said she wasn’t able to talk about it. When I pushed her on why she wasn’t able she told me that they simply weren’t allowed because of something called “Section 28”.

Section 28, also entitled  “Prohibition on promoting homosexuality by teaching or by publishing material”,  was intended to prevent the promotion of the “homosexual lifestyle” as a valid alternative to the traditional, heterosexual, family model. It included such clauses as: ‘A local authority shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality’. 

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure a confused fourteen year old asking how sex happens when you fancy boys and not girls doesn’t fall under the heading of promoting homosexuality – but the teachers were clearly so concerned about crossing the line that they chose not to discuss the subject at all.

Another clause of Section 28 states  ‘Nothing in subsection (1) above shall be taken to prohibit the doing of anything for the purpose of treating or preventing the spread of disease’.  I received no warning or advice about HIV at school, in fact I received no education about sexually transmitted infections at all. The straight kids were given the message that sex is for procreation in a monogamous relationship – in that model STIs aren’t a big worry, but that’s not real life for most teenagers – and especially not a confused gay teenager.

Fast forward eleven years and you have me receiving my HIV diagnosis, after nine years of getting various STIs – all because my school and my teachers, the people supposed to prepare me for life, felt unable or unwilling to do so because of a piece of legislation passed by right wing homophobes in 1986.

Section 28’s legacy is felt throughout the country, in people who ended up pregnant, with an STI, confused and ashamed about their sexuality or even, like me, HIV positive. Ten years on and the bill remains repealed, but the hurt done remains too.

Over the past few years we’ve seen a incredible number of Free Schools and Academies open across the United Kingdom, with their independent status comes freedom with regards to the way they teach certain subjects – and sex education is one of them. There have been several reports of schools dropping topics like LGBT relationships, STIs and contraception – some dropping sex education all together.

Are you worried? Because I am.

Tom Hayes
(@UKPositiveLad on twitter)



  1. The sex eduaction I got at school was in biology lessons: a description of the reproductive cycle of the rabbit. Then right at the end, almost drowned out by the bell to mark the end of the lesson) “People do something similar too.”

    • The legislation left teachers unwilling to teach many of the finer points of sexual health, relationships and contraception for fear of breaching section 28 – so they taught the bare minimum which wasn’t what the students needed in life.

  2. The most common comment I hear from people about their sex education is that they couldn’t work out what the teachers were going on about – as if normally coherent adults became gibbering idiots when talking about sex. And sadly since schools are still failing to deliver adequate sex education the gap is being filled by hard-core pornography, which will lead to all sorts of misconceptions and unrealistic expectations.

  3. I was raised by a VERY right wing religious family known as Pentecostals, named after the Pentecost in the bible. My dad was an evangelist in said church ( read ‘cult’ ) so, needless to say, sex was not to be discussed. And our public schools didn’t teach sex AT ALL. I had to find out about it from my friends, mostly older boys. I was very fortunate to have a friend who was 4 years older than me. We were musicians in a gospel group at our church. He played the Saxaphone, I, the piano. I was 11 when we met, he was 15. He had a girl at the time, but with us being thrown together on weekends for concerts and travel, we had to sleep together often. One night he made an innocent move, rolling over next to me, spooning me from behind. I was hoping for something to happen, but all I got was a feel of him next to me with an erection. As time went by, we did become lovers, until one day my Mom decided to lave my abusive father, and move back to our hometown. Any way, the point is, I lost my virginity at a very young age. I wanted to so so willingly. He didn’t force me. I pursued him. He didn’t know much about STD’s, so we never discussed them. Later in life, when I turned 18, I discovered the gay bars, and I was like a kid in a candy store. Within 8 to 10 years, I contracted HIV. My doctor who tested me, used the original title of the virus, calling it HTLV III, to give you an idea of the time. Eventually, I worked at two of the largest gay bars in town. I watched as more than 800 people I knew from the bar die in less than 5 years. The bar owner used my skills at graphic design to promote benefits to raise money to help these guys with their medical bills. Eventually, we helped create the cities first AIDS organization that handle case services for health care and palliative care, as well as hospice. Nobody gave a damn that the fags were dying, so we had to help each other through the crisis. I remember before AZT, the wrenching horrible ways this disease manifested itself. The vomiting, the wasting of muscle tissue, the inability to eat. I watched as each and every one of my closest friends died. It got so bad, I couldn’t take it anymore. So, I moved to a larger city, and started life over again. I work hard to stay healthy now. But sometimes, I get overwhelmed, and need some private time to nurture myself. I’ve found going to the gym is a great way to relieve the stress. But I often think back to my upbringing, and how strict and relentless my dad was about religion. The most interesting thing is I later found out my dad the evangelist was/is a card carrying, albeit very closeted, gay man, as well. If my parents hadn’t been so uptight, I might have been saved from all of this. Damn religious fanatics! I’ll never forgive the church for its inability to have any perspective on the real world in anyway. Ooh…maybe we can sue the church??? Eh! Just a thought!


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