THE repeal of Section 28 in England and Wales in 2003 is rightly seen as a landmark moment in the path to LGBTQ+ liberation in the United Kingdom – but harking back to it now increasingly feels more like an exercise in PR than any meaningful statement on equality in contemporary Britain.

The past weekend marked 20 years since the legislation – which banned the “promotion of homosexuality” (read: acknowledging that gay people exist) in local authorities – was repealed by the then Labour government under Tony Blair.

Three years earlier, the Scottish Government had already patched the equivalent Section 2A from the statute books.

Yet in 2023, I doubt that either of Westminster’s leading political parties could be trusted to take the principled stance that was needed to see such bigotry expelled from the law. Were the current Westminster contingent to be suddenly transported 20 years into the past, I have no confidence at all that the repeal of Section 28 would have happened – even as Labour continue to make hay of it on social media.

Of course, all progressive legislative steps are never quite as inspirational as the neatly packaged and simplified talking points they eventually become. Labour may hashtag “love wins” regarding the repeal of Section 28 now, but at the time they were riven by internal divisions and delays until the end.

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And it’s not the only time that Labour has unfairly used LGBT+ history to portray themselves as more progressive when it became safe to do so.

Earlier this year Keir Starmer noted that he was proud of Labour for having overturned, in 2000, the ban on LGBT people serving in the armed forces – but failed to mention that the decision was taken only AFTER the European Court of Human Rights had ruled it was a breach of people’s right to privacy. In actual fact, government lawyers attempted to defend the ban at the time.

The National: Starmer

Not so much something to proud at all, it seems.

Still, eventually scrapping Section 28 did take a degree of courage. Repealing the legislation was at the time viewed, correctly or otherwise, to be a deeply unpopular position.

Could anyone, hand on heart, say Starmer would have had the fortitude to now take such a position in opposition to perceived public opinion?

Worse yet, when the Conservatives enacted their undemocratic Section 35 order to block Scotland from passing the Gender Recognition Reform Bill (which modernises the means by which transgender people can apply for a gender recognition certificate) Starmer and his party hand waved it through without protest.

In turn, the Scottish branch of Labour was suddenly unable to say whether it would support the bill in the future, despite originally having been vocal proponents of the legislation.

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Speaking to the Sunday Times after the Conservatives had overridden Scotland’s parliamentary democracy, Starmer stated: “The lesson from Scotland is that if you can’t take the public with you on a journey of reform, then you’re probably not on the right journey.”

That logic alone would be enough to exclude much human rights legislation, including the repeal of Section 28 and opposition to re-introducing the death penalty.

Between the authoritarianism of the modern Conservatives under Sunak, Truss and Johnson, and the spineless amorality of Labour under Starmer’s leadership, I doubt either Scotland or the rest of the UK would have shaken off Thatcher’s homophobic legacy so easily, should they have been the dominant political figures of the early noughties.

Rather than challenging the rise of anti-LGBT narratives, the Labour party has instead adopted them. The language of anti-trans activism and organisers is regularly parroted by the Labour front bench – all of which echoes the arguments made against LGBTQ+ people in the 1980s and 90s.

Perhaps the only position that the Labour leader has resolutely set himself in opposition to the public on is in his shameless refusal to back a ceasefire in the occupied Palestinian territories, even as thousands are brutally murdered by the Israeli regime.

I find it quite crass that Labour still believe they can market themselves as a progressive party with past glories while, in reality, standing in the way of further LGBTQ+ and humanitarian progress. Particularly when so many past opponents to progressive reforms have, in time, apologised for the hurt and lost generations their reckless ignorance have created.

In her party conference speech earlier this year, Labour MP Anneliese Dodds claimed that, unlike the Conservatives, Labour would never use the lives of trans people as a political football.

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Labour have already done that. They did it when they used the Conservative government’s block on the GRR Bill to attack the SNP.

They did it when they U-turned on their policy of trans self-id to placate the right wing. They did it when they spoke like a progressive party to one demographic, while visiting homophobic churches with the other.

They did it when they defended Labour MP Rosie Duffield even as she signed a letter opposing a ban on conversion therapy. And had Starmer been running the country in the 2000s, I’ve no doubt he would have kept Section 28 in place Watching the contemporary leaderships of both Labour and the Conservatives, I can’t help but feel I am peeling back the curtain on an endless cycle of indifferent damage – violate the rights of others; defend it; fight it; repeal it; apologise; rewrite it … then start again with someone new.