As part of my role in recruiting supply teachers, I always want to stay abreast of the latest education news and research. I use it to create posts and blogs and to ensure the candidates I recruit are aware of educational trends so they are as effective as possible when they go into schools and teach our future generations. I’m not afraid to say that when reading reports and latest news, I come across blind spots in my knowledge and awareness.
One such blind spot was Section or Clause 28. This was a section of the Local Government Act passed in 1988 and only repealed in 2003 (2000 in Scotland). It was led by the Secretary of State for Education at the time, Kenneth Baker alongside Baroness Knight and MP David Wilshire and seemed to be a response to media-stoked paranoia brought about by the publication of a children’s book showing different types of family relationships and the increase in HIV which at the time was misunderstood as a disease of the gay community. Section 28 effectively forbade local authorities from ‘intentionally promoting homosexuality, from publishing material with the intention of promoting homosexuality and from promoting the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’. The then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher said at the time, "Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay. All of those children are being cheated of a sound start in life." Now, I’ve not being living under a rock all my life so I fully appreciate that back in the 80s and 90s homosexuality was a subject that some people didn’t like to talk about or think was ‘normal’ (whatever normal actually is!) however, on reading a recent article about a teacher still struggling to come out to his pupils and their parents and hearing about the current so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill in some American states, I feel quite appalled that schools and therefore teachers were prevented from even showing acceptance of homosexuality and especially not as a normal family set-up. I grew up in the 80s and went to a Catholic school – I don’t recall homophobic slants to lessons but nor do I remember PSHE-type lessons being about acceptance of everyone either. In fact, one memory that resurfaced on reading the article and learning about Section 28, was a recollection of bumping into a lad when I was in my late teens who I’d gone to school with up to the year of our GCSEs. I asked him as part of our conversation where he’d gone after school as I’d stayed on at Sixth Form and he hadn’t. He told me that the school had approached him and said that because they believed he was gay – he hadn’t come out or even defined his own sexuality at that point – it would be ‘better for everyone’ if he left the school to continue his studies elsewhere. Seriously, what?!!! How was that ok? I wonder if the words inclusivity or acceptance appeared anywhere in the Local Government Act or Education Acts at the time?
I also go back to my earlier thought: what is normal? Did being gay back then make someone abnormal or subnormal? A dictionary definition suggests normal is ‘conforming to a standard; usual, typical, expected.’ It doesn’t suggest ‘normal’ is about a majority; we can have multiple standards and each conform to differing ones and still be ‘normal’. As we continue through Pride Month, I’m glad that education has a huge part to play in informing us and the children we teach about the LGBT community and that ‘normal’ is being gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender or straight. Through education, we can learn about differences, preferences and learn to choose our own standards to conform to. And to the teacher in the article I read, I as a parent of school-aged children don’t regard your sexuality or anyone else's to be of any bearing to educating children in school and I hope you are able to overcome the shadow of Section 28 so you can continue to educate future generations in a fair and inclusive manner about embracing differences in those around them.