Former prime minister Margaret Thatcher worried that sending out leaflets about AIDS would encourage people to “experiment”, her former health secretary has said.
Speaking to the BBC, Lord Fowler explained how the campaign, which included warnings that “men who have sex with other men” were most at risk of AIDS, came about in the face of resistance from the notoriously anti-LGBT+ leader.
Margaret Thatcher worried AIDS warnings would make people ‘experiment’, Lord Fowler says
Fowler, who now serves as Lord Speaker in the House of Lords, explained: “Right from the beginning Margaret was a sceptic about having this major campaign… on the dangers of contracting HIV and how you could avoid it.
“There was a section in [the leaflet] on risky sex and Margaret came back on it and said, ‘Do we really need to have this thing on risky sex?’
“Well, as the whole point of it was to warn people about it, it seemed to me that it was essential to have that in.”
He added: “Her concern was – it’s always seemed to me a bit odd – that we were teaching people, telling people things about which they didn’t know – the implication being that, once they knew it, then they would go out and experiment.
“Well, as this was exactly the opposite of our message, it did seem to me curious.”
Fowler continued: “She was just wrong on that. [There was] absolutely no evidence that that took place.”
The former minister revealed that he ultimately sidestepped the prime minister on the issue by working through a cabinet committee on AIDS that did not include her.
He added: “There was nothing we could do for people who had contracted HIV, but we could warn those people who hadn’t contracted it.”
Tory prime minister suggested public information campaign would cause straight people too much ‘anxiety’
Hand-written notes from Thatcher released in 2015 revealed her transparent attempts to block the campaign, suggesting it could “harm morals”.
Thatcher suggested that any benefit caused by a public information campaign about the dangers of AIDS would be outweighed by the “anxiety” caused for people “who would never be in danger” from it. She instead argued for “putting notices in [GP] surgeries, public lavatories etc”.
Objecting to a newspaper advert setting out guidance on safe sex practises, she scrawled: “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.”