The Arts Lobby was formed in early 1988 to fight Section 28, the UK law prohibiting "promotion of homosexuality" by local authorities. The prohibition was intended to extend to gay-themed books, films, and artwork in libraries and schools. A group of actors, gay and straight, brought attention to the fact that the proposed bill (eventually passed into law) was an attack on art and literature as well as on homosexuals.
We introduced ourselves to the press on Monday, 25 January 1988. Two days later, during a debate on Radio 3, I introduced myself to the public as a gay man.
On 5 June 1988 we presented "Before the Act," a gala at the Piccadilly Theatre, to protest Section 28, which had been enacted on 24 May 1988. The programme consisted of material created by gay men and lesbians, or on gay themes — exactly the type of "promotion of homosexuality" that might be considered impermissible under the act. The pieces were performed by actors, singers, and writers including Maria Aitken, Francesca Annis, Jane Asher, Alan Bates, Jill Bennet, Suzanne Bertish, Simon Callow, Michael Cashman, Ian Charleson, Judi Dench, Paul Eddington, Rupert Everett, Stephen Fry, Jill Gomez, Rupert Graves, Richard Griffiths, Sheila Hancock, Heather Harper, Hot Doris Band, Lucy Jenkins, Miriam Karlin, Janis Kelly, David Kernan, Sara Kestelman, Mary King, Maureen Lipman, Nichola McAuliffe, Alex McCowen, Daniel Massey, Edna O'Brien, Gary Oldman, Gregory Parsons, Edward Petherbridge, Harold Pinter, Joan Plowright, Hugh Quarshie, Anna Raeburn, Simon Rattle, Vanessa Redgrave, Miranda Richardson, Elise Ross, Richard Sandells, Antony Sher, Imelda Staunton, Juliet Stephenson, Patrick Stewart, John Thaw, Timothy West, and James Wilby.
Although we failed to stop passage of Section 28, we did succeed in limiting the damage and in 2003 the law was repealed, without ever having been successfully prosecuted.
Members of the Arts Lobby joined me in December 1988 for Crusaid.
From an interview in "Gay Times," April 1988
Peter Burton: section 28 appears to have been a personal and political road to Damascus for you; what first made you aware of it?
Ian McKellen: Carole Woddis of City Limits came up to me at the end of Acting Shakespeare at the Playhouse Theatre and gave me some information. Until then, I hadn't heard of the clause. She was involved with a group of people who call themselves the Arts Lobby, which is under the guidance of Richard Sandells of Gay Sweatshop and which had had the idea of attacking section 28 from the arts point of view. Of course, they object to the clause, root and branch as I do but the whole point was to limit the attack to one aspect of the clause. With that in mind, we devised the idea of the press conference. I'm rather surprised with myself for not having heard of it before but because I was putting on a show, like most actors, I stopped reading newspapers. Once I started working on it and realized there was something I could personally do to help aged forty-eight it seemed impractical to avoid saying any longer that I was gay myself. The Independent, in a Profile which appeared on February 20th 1988, referred to my playing the card of coming out but it didn't feel like that to me. As an actor and a gay man I take this law very personally indeed and I hope one's indignation is taken very seriously.