Exploring the Impact of Section 28

How does the past influence the stories we tell about queer life in the present? What are the effects and by-products of living through and/or living in the aftermath of a moment of restriction and repression on sexual identity?

Section 28 (Local Government Act 1988) stipulated that local authorities should not ‘intentionally promote homosexuality’. It was a key facet of Thatcher’s Britain – a context where HIV/AIDS was sometimes not only linked to but also blamed on gay men. Though repealed in 2003, the legacy of this legislation has arguably been long-lasting

What will the project involve? 

This is an iterative project about the power of stories. At an urgent moment when homophobia and transphobia is becoming increasingly emboldened, the project will explore how important it is to share, hear, perform, and reflect upon queer stories in the wake of repression.

Supported by two research assistants, performance artist Tom Marshman, alongside academics with backgrounds in the arts and humanities, law, and social sciences more broadly, will interrogate existing research, supplement this through archival research, and explore anecdotal stories from the LGBTQI+ communities to develop new understandings and responses to the research questions.

At various points in the project members of the team will meet (online or in person) or communicate about its development, share knowledge and research, plan and rehearse. The key aspect of this collaborative work will be a series of workshops.

At the beginning of the process the researchers will hold two internal team workshops to examine the team’s collective knowledge, archives and publications. This early stage will also involve archive research undertaken by Tom and primarily the two research assistants.

Following this, three tea party community events will allow Tom to collect data for future performances. This work will be followed by a salon-style approach to community engagement/performance – by ‘salon’ the team mean a social gathering, presided over by a host, with conversation, a purpose to please/entertain, to exchange ideas, for example. In utilising salons, the team will develop work already trialled in the Brigstow project ‘Posed as a Woman,’ where the salon form was adopted for team meetings.

Salons will be based on research already undertaken and be led by Tom but will also include some of the academic members of the team sharing their work, performances from Tom – and Tom will encourage collaboration from the audience, inviting responses and recollections from the community. In doing so, the researchers hope that the audience will become active participants in Tom’s work, shaping it as it develops and grows. And the team can explore the salon as a potentially productive space. In order to develop/reflect on this collaborative, performative way of working with the community the researchers will hold a further team workshop.

Over the course of the project the researchers will create a series of podcasts, with the team considering aspects of the project and its results/outputs. The research and new material discussed will inform future touring iterations of the performance artwork – creating both legacy and ongoing research possibilities.

The team are particularly interested in focusing some of the research on LGBTQI+ communities who were “coming of age” at the time of the clause’s beginnings, exploring anecdotal evidence widely discussed in the LGBTQI+ community about the impact of the Section on this generation alongside academic research. They will examine the impact that Section 28 had in shaping LGBTQI+ community identities at this formative time in their lives, and any ongoing impacts still felt. In parallel to this Tom will consider his own lived experience as a 15-year-old in 1988, he will question and interrogate whether his own work, especially the ‘oversharing’ of his own stories through his performances, might be seen as a by-product of this era

In doing so, the project will bring together the personal archives of an artist (feelings, memories, stories, performances), archives, academic research, and the experiences, rememberings and reactions of the community to find new ways of understanding and talking about moments of ‘repression and silence’ and their effects

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Lois S Bibbings (Law, University of Bristol) is a researcher of law, gender and history. Her multidisciplinary work includes a focus on social policy, engagement, methods and an interest in stories from below. In the 1990s she was researching sex education, including Section 28. She has decades of experience of working with and/or within the community (including with vulnerable groups), and has collaborated on creative projects.
  • Tom Marshman has been a practising artist for 25 years, producing over 60 projects across different mediums. An overarching theme of his work is that of the outsider and their story, particularly regarding the LGBTQI+ experience, stories that have been omitted through archival silence. His expertise is bringing audiences together to playfully think about serious and important social histories. His performance practice welcomes intergenerational and intersectional audiences and their allies, people interested in history, students and academics.
  • Sarah Jones (Historical Studies, University of Bristol) is a social and cultural historian whose research explores gender, sexuality, and the history of science and medicine. She has worked broadly on histories of sex education and advice.
  • Hannah Charnock (Historical Studies, University of Bristol) is a social historian whose research focuses on the history of inter-personal relationships in twentieth-century Britain, including on sexuality.
  • Peter Dunne (Law, University of Bristol) is undertaking a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship on the legal status of trans and non-binary people in English family law. Peter has a particular expertise on the rights of LGBTI communities and his FLF project brings together diverse outputs (articles, videos, cartoons, blogs) to engage different audiences in his research findings.

What is to come?

The direct output of this project will be the salon and tea party performances, and the creation of podcasts. There is potential for the project to inform research papers, blog posts and lead to further funding bids.

Beyond this project, Tom is interested in developing this work and his practice as a writer, possibly in the form of a memoir. The salon as a method might be explored/developed – as an academic engagement/research method. The archive work will allow the team to consider the potential to pursue this aspect of the project.