Article @ Morning Star, published 30 December 2015
Margaret Thatcher fought tooth and nail to stop a national public education campaign on Aids because she didn’t like talking about “risky sex,” government files released today reveal.
Declassified papers from the National Archives showed the bitter battle between Thatcher and her health secretary Norman Fowler over proposals for a major HIV awareness campaign.
LGBT activists and HIV survivors reacted in disgust as they heard that the former PM had been opposed to placing information on the epidemic in visible locations.
In a handwritten note to Mr Fowler, she said: “Do we have to do the section on risky sex? I should have thought it could do immense harm if young teenagers were to read it.”
Thatcher also claimed that the campaign could breach the Obscene Publications Act and pushed for a more conservative and limited distribution of information.
She wrote: “It would be better in my view to follow the [sexually transmitted disease] precedent of putting notices in surgeries, public lavatories, etc.”
Long-standing LGBT rights campaigner and HIV survivor Joseph Healy told the Star of his shock at finding out about Thatcher’s decision.
“There was widespread fear in the gay community. We all knew people who had it, but nothing appeared until the famous ‘tombstone’ TV ads in the late ’80s.
“I saw so many young men die in great pain, many of them ostracised by their families and others because so little was known about the illness.
“This is yet another one of Thatcher’s crimes against the LGBT community, along with section 28.
“So many young lives could have been saved and so much suffering avoided if she and her government had supported a health education campaign.”
Section 28, introduced by the Thatcher government in 1988, prohibited local authorities from portraying homosexuality in a positive light.
The ban was only lifted by Labour in 2003, with current Prime Minister David Cameron voting for partial retention.
The first Aids case in Britain was recorded in 1981 and by 1986 public awareness of the virus was growing rapidly.
London members of direct action group Act Up, which campaigned from the late 1980s onwards on behalf of people living with Aids, accused Thatcher of “wilful neglect.”
Act Up’s Ashley Joiner said: “Margaret Thatcher’s calculated wilful neglect, government inaction and homophobia has directly resulted in the social stigma attached to HIV today.
“The lack of change in discourse since Thatcher’s government, paired with the recent cuts to financial aid, demonstrate how the Conservative government is determined to allow history to repeat itself.”
Thatcher was forced to allow the campaign to go ahead when told the Cabinet was against her objections.
She also attempted to thwart a subsequent campaign involving sending information to every British home.
But she was forced to give way again after her press secretary Bernard Ingham told her: “There is certainly a feeling abroad that the government is doing too little and is not treating the issue with sufficient urgency.”