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There's No Evidence Theresa May Actually Said This Quote About Lesbians

An image of the prime minister has gone viral – but there's no evidence she actually said the words ascribed to her.

This picture of Theresa May allegedly talking about the need to curb "the promotion of lesbianism in Merton's schools" went incredibly viral over the weekend despite little evidence she actually said it.

The image has been retweeted tens of thousands of times by various accounts, including this example posted by the famous Mancunian photographer Kevin Cummins. It has also been shared widely on Facebook.

It quotes May as saying: "Curbing the promotion of lesbianism in Merton's schools starts with girls having male role models in their lives."

Merton, in southwest London, is where May served as a councillor between 1986 and 1994. According to a local newspaper she later rose to become deputy head of the council, with responsibility for education.

Many of the posts contrast the lack of attention given to this quote, purportedly from the 1980s, with media coverage of comments made by leading Labour politicians during the same era.

However, it's not clear where the quote came from and whether it is at all real.

One of the first accounts to post the image was a Twitter account named "Gideonomics", which has 1,400 followers. It repeatedly posts anti-Conservative attack memes, some of which have dubious sourcing – such as a screengrab of a fake Lincolnshire Conservatives Twitter account.

None of the images offer a source for the quote. Several attributed it to the local Wimbledon Guardian newspaper, but there is no evidence of the quote on the internet, its archive has been destroyed, and local libraries only have partial editions.

Jim Palmer, the newspaper's content editor, said the paper's staff had "no idea" if the quote was real since they "don't have an archive on site". What's more, until this weekend there was no mention of the quote on the internet – and even now the only search results are from people asking if it is real.

This suggests the meme's creator either has access to a 1980s paper archive of the local newspaper or they simply made it up.

Just to confuse matters the picture in the meme is from 1992 – when the future prime minister was running against a young man called Tim Farron for the constituency of North West Durham.

A Conservative campaign spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that the quote was false. "Not going to dignify people making up lies like this with a comment," the spokesperson said.

In 1988 – the date that many of the posters attribute the quote to – Margaret Thatcher's government passed local government legislation that included the later-infamous Section 28. This clause stated that local authorities and the schools they ran must not "intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or promote the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship", and became a focus for LGBT campaigners.

Tony Blair's Labour government attempted to repeal the legislation in 2000 but was blocked by the House of Lords.

It was finally repealed in England and Wales in 2003, with MPs given a free vote on the matter. May, by then MP for Maidenhead, abstained on the issue, meaning she did not vote either way.

Her own record on LGBT rights is mixed. She voted with her party in 1998 to ban a reduction in the age of consent for gay people and in 2002 she also voted against allowing same-sex couples to adopt children. Analysis by Pink News shows how she later softened her stance on LGBT issues and in 2004 voted in favour of same-sex civil partnerships, before helping Liberal Democrat junior minister Lynne Featherstone push through the UK's same-sex marriage legislation in 2013.