Throughout June, GeekMom celebrates Pride Month with lots of LGBTQ content. Follow the Pride Month tag to find all the content in one space (including LGBTQ content from previous years) and keep checking back for more throughout the month. Today’s book review is Outrageous! By Paul Baker.
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Trigger Warnings: Homophobia, transphobia, hate crimes, homophobic slurs.
Section 28 was a piece of British legislation that lasted from 1988 to 2003 and banned the “promotion” of homosexuality by local authorities and schools. The impact of the law has been immense with an entire generation of queer youth growing up in an environment made hostile to their very existence. Outrageous! by Paul Baker tells the complete story of the legislation from its origins to its eventual repeal and why the fight still isn’t over.
Told over seven chapters, Outrageous progresses roughly chronologically, beginning in the 1960s with changes to the law that decriminalized homosexual activity between consenting adult men over the age of 21; interestingly, homosexual activity between women has never been illegal in the UK. We get to explore how the press reacted (suffice to say, rarely in a polite and kindly manner) and hear snippets from debates within both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. As the years go by and the specter of HIV and AIDs begins to loom, anti-gay rhetoric increases, and pressure to legislate against the so-called “promotion” of gay lifestyles increases alongside it. It’s this, along with dozens of other factors that are covered here that lead to the implementation of Section 28.
Along with looking at the people responsible for creating the law, a parallel chapter explores those who fought against it. All the now-infamous protests are looked at including the women who invaded the BBC News studios during a live broadcast and those who rappelled down into the House of Lords mid-debate using clotheslines! But alongside these headline-grabbing moments, the book looks at the thousands of other protests that were taking place all over the country both in the run-up to Section 28 being made into law and throughout the time it was on the books. It was this endless barrage of protest and the non-stop work of campaigners who eventually brought about its demise and much of this work is explored. There are many interviews with people who were on the front lines, not least Sir Ian McKellen who helped co-found Stonewall. But not everyone agreed on how best to fight back and this dichotomy is explored too, considering multiple points of view and how it may well have been just that variety that helped the fight keep going.
Finally, Outrageous explores the work that is left to do. This is currently most noticeable on the issues of trans rights with trans people coming under attack in the British press and political circles now more than ever. It’s hard to accept that the same fights are still happening decades after they began, but thankfully a new generation of campaigners and protesters are working tirelessly today, just as their predecessors did in previous eras.
Outrageous is a vitally important book that charts a very specific time in history and ensures that it can never be forgotten. I also very much appreciated that the author acknowledged how much the recorded story of Section 28 and the work against it is framed from a white, cis perspective, and how it is important to make sure that queer people of color are not left out of the story both in the past and the future. Despite the heavy topic, it is written in a surprisingly light-hearted and conversational style, something that helps a lot given the sensitive topics it covers on every page. I’ll admit that I had been worried going into this book, but almost every page is filled with British colloquialisms and even sarcasm and that leads to the feeling that rather than being given a history lecture, you’re instead sharing a few beers with a well-educated friend who is hugely knowledgeable on the subject.
That doesn’t, however, mean that Outrageous is an easy read. The book repeatedly quotes from the press and politicians from the 1950s and on, and some of the language used by them is beyond foul with the worst kinds of slurs and stereotypes being not only uttered but laughed about by those in power. The newspaper headlines were some of the hardest things to read, and I ended up taking a break to read another book halfway through this one because I needed a break from the barrage of grotesque imagery being used. The book refuses to sugarcoat the truth here, and despite it being difficult to read, I appreciated it for doing so because I strongly believe that there are some in the press who would happily print such things today if they believed they could get away with it. Books like Outrageous are necessary to try and prevent history from repeating itself.
I grew up with Section 28. Fun Fact: my entire school life from pre-school to leaving for university happened under its oppressive thumb, and it’s impossible to know how much of an impact it really had on me and the millions of other queer youth who grew up never seeing or hearing our own lives represented in books or other teaching materials. With my own son starting secondary school just last year, it honestly took me aback to see posters for the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance on corridor walls and books prominently featuring queer characters in the library—things that would have been unthinkable just 20 years ago.
Outrageous is a book I would highly recommend to anyone wanting to fight for civil liberties because it shows how easily they can be taken away under the guise of “protecting children.” It frequently makes for uncomfortable reading, but this at least is a story with a happy ending—something we can only help is the case for more marginalized groups in the future.
GeekMom received a copy of this title for review purposes.