1988 has been a year of increased harassment of lesbians and gay men by government authorities. It has also been a year of strong fight back with lesbians and gay men taking to the streets and fighting for the right to be openly gay, not to be intimidated back into the closet. Clause 28, introduced by the Thatcher government in Britain, is one such example of harassment that has generated fierce resistance.
Clause 28 states that “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 pretend family relationship.”
It is important not to see the attacks on lesbians and gay males as a single issue as from the outset the Thatcher Government has attacked all progressive political forces in Britain. Working class living standards are lower. The provision of health, education and housing has been slashed. Trade unions have been viciously attacked with the miners, print workers and health workers being on the front line. The black community has for years been the focus of restrictive immigration laws, police abuse and other racist attacks.
The Thatcher Government has used the fear of AIDS to ram Clause 28 through which has opened lesbians and gay men up to increased victimisation, by employers, service providers and the public. The incidence of “poofter bashing” increased since the Clause was introduced.
Since Clause 28 has become law it has meant that any positive lesbian or gay male programs that promoted lesbian and gay male relationships as a viable alternative have lost their funding. It has virtually outlawed the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality by prohibiting discussion and distribution of information.
This attack by the right wing is happening world-wide, not only in Britain. There is a strong push by the right wing to strengthen the image of the monogamous, heterosexual nuclear family as the only ‘acceptable’ and ‘proper’ relationship.
A British lesbian feminist revolutionary political group, called Wages Due Lesbians, point out how Clause 28 will particularly effect lesbians. They state that as women, lesbians have less economic and social power than men, that this in turn makes it more difficult for lesbians to come out and this also lessens the prospect of living independently. They point out that section 2a of Clause 28 is a direct assault on lesbian women and their children. Now that families of lesbian mothers can be regarded as ‘pretend family relationships’ there is more danger then before that their children can be taken either by individual men with the courts backing or by direct intervention of the state through social agencies. They further point out that for black lesbians they have this added burden as well as the racist attacks they already suffer. Wages Due Lesbians rightly conclude that ‘dismissed’ as ‘pretend’ lesbians can ‘be driven underground and denied resources and facilities which should be our by right.’ They also emphasise that in Britain there is increasing racism, escalating police powers and other government measures which encourage competition for limited funding amongst working class people. Wages Due Lesbians argue “Clause 28 is already being used to censor not only literature by or about lesbians and gay men but also political perspectives that go against the status quo. This will deny young people, especially, access to information and will terrorise us further into not coming out.”
Lesbians and gay men have come out in force to attack Clause 28, linking with the trade union movement and other activists. The British gay movement has mobilised the biggest rallies in its history. In April 50,000 marched in London more than doubling the 20,000 who marched in February. International support has also been significant. A 50,000 strong rally protesting against Clause 28 was held in Amsterdam. In both Sydney and Melbourne Anti-Thatcher rallies, organised to protest Thatcher’s official Bicentennial visit, attracted large crowds.
In Melbourne about 2,000 people turned out to protest Thatcher’s visit and a substantial portion of the crowd were lesbians and gay men outraged by Clause 28. The rally was organised around a multi-issue platform that successfully united many sectors of the community angered by Thatcher’s many crimes.
Speakers pointed out that Northern Ireland is still occupied and that the Thatcher Government is continuing the systematic oppression of Irish people. It was also pointed out that racism doesn’t stop at Britain’s shores as the Thatcher Government gives support to the apartheid regime in South Africa.
The rally also highlighted that Thatcher’s visit was an affront to Aborigines as she came to Australia to ‘celebrate’ two hundred years of oppression of Aborigines.
A highlight of the rally was a strong protest from all participants against Clause 28, strengthening the international solidarity with the movement in Britain.
The general feeling of participants at the rally was that what is happening in Britain can happen in Australia. Australian lesbians and gay men need to follow the British example. The lesbian and gay movement needs to be strengthened and become more militant. Links with the trade union movement and the left must be forged if we are to fight that attacks already occurring here and defeat any Clause 28 type attack. A strong multi-issue movement that is an integrated part of the left will stop to homophobes in their tracks.