Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who was a controversial figure in moves towards equality and who was hailed by some as a gay icon, including the artists Gilbert and George, died of a stroke this morning.

Despite some controversy around Section 28, which in 1987 banned the teaching or promotion of homosexuality and was passed under her government, Baroness Thatcher supported legalising homosexuality in the 1960s, in the face of fierce opposition from Tory traditionalists.

In 1967, she voted in favour of the decriminalisation of homosexuality, in England and Wales. While she was Prime Minister, it was made legal to be legal to be gay in Scotland in 1981 and in Northern Ireland in 1982.

Today Lord Bell confirmed she had died, and said: “It is with great sadness that Mark and Carol Thatcher announced that their mother Baroness Thatcher died peacefully following a stroke this morning.”

On Section 28, at the Conservative Party Conference in October 1987, Baroness Thatcher attacked “positive images” of gay people during her speech, saying she worried that: “Children are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay.”

Section 28 was repealed in 2003, and in 2009, David Cameron apologised on behalf of the party, saying it was “a mistake” to introduce the legislation.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell commented on the passing of Baroness Thatcher, saying “she was extraordinary for mostly the wrong reasons”, but going on to say: “I don’t rejoice in her death. I commiserate, as I do with the death of any person.”

He continued: “In 1988, the Thatcher government legislated Britain’s first new anti-gay law in 100 years: Section 28. At the 1987 Conservative party conference she mocked people who defended the right to be gay, insinuating that there was no such right.

“During her rule, arrests and convictions for consenting same-sex behaviour rocketed, as did queer bashing violence and murder. Gay men were widely demonised and scapegoated for the AIDS pandemic and Thatcher did nothing to challenge this vilification. “

In his first major interview on gay rights, back in 2006, Conservative MP Francis Maude, said that his party’s approach to gay rights in the 1980s and 1990s were wrong, that Section 28 was a mistake and expressed his love for his openly gay brother who died of AIDS 12 years ago.

Matthew Parris, the journalist and political commentator, said he wished he had come out as gay while he was a Tory MP in the 1980s, and also said that that Baroness Thatcher knew he was gay.

He said: “I told her I was gay when I went to say goodbye to her, and she put an arm on my wrist and said, ‘Matthew that must have been very difficult for you to say’. She meant it kindly.”

Before dying of AIDS in 1985, the Earl of Avon, who was widely known to have been gay, was appointed by the Baroness as Under Secretary of State for the Environment, and before that Energy, from 1983.