Outcry over free schools’ Section 28-style ban on ‘promoting homosexuality’ reveals more with policy

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Following reports that free schools have introduced Section 28-style language into their sex education policies, there has been an outcry from LGBT rights groups who have said the policies are of “major concern”, and other schools with similar policies have been revealed.

Several British schools have recently come under criticism for reintroducing terminology from Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Section 28 by banning the “promotion of homosexuality” in classrooms.

Castle View Enterprise Academy in Sunderland, Swindon Academy and Stockport Academy have reintroduced anti-gay language from Section 28, which banned the “promotion of homosexuality”, into their Sex and Relationships Policy.

On the board of Governors at Castle View sits Baroness Armstrong, a Labour peer in the House of Lords, and former Cabinet Minister.

Now it appears that more than just those academies have similar policies, which have been heavily criticised for the similarity in language to the now repealed Section 28.

Many schools have not included such policies, and many do not share their sex education policies online, but it appears that more schools carry the policies than originally reported.

Schools OUT co-chair Sue Sanders said, “The wording is of major concern. While it would be quite inappropriate to try to change a young person’s sexuality – which is arguably impossible anyway – the term ‘promotion of homosexuality’ is a throwback to the dark days of Section 28, when the law made it explicitly clear that non-heterosexuals were inferior and could not form proper families. We will be writing to these academies to seek reassurance that this is not the implication and to entreat them to change their terminology in the first instance.

“Our schools are still not safe spaces for our LGB and T pupils, staff and parents. Would that they were. The last thing we need is to return to the vocabulary of the Thatcher era that perpetuated the myth that we were literally unspeakable in the classroom.”

Fellow co-chair Tony Fenwick added: “Last weekend I joined a protest at Whitehall against the Anti-homosexuality Propaganda Bill and its appalling consequences in Russia. The wording and the spirit of the Russian Bill were inspired by Thatcher’s Section 28, although it goes much further in its scope and in terms of who it will criminalise. Please don’t tell me a week later that I have to start fighting against the return by stealth of such discriminatory legislation in my own country.

“The Equality Act makes it illegal to discriminate against people on the grounds of sexual orientation. The Public Sector Equality Duty says schools must foster good relations between the ‘protected characteristics’ (i.e. LGB people and other protected groups). These academies will be inspected by OFSTED and are subject to the same rules and guidance as LEA schools. They must know this and at this stage I think we need to work on the principle that there is an issue of semantics. I take comfort from the fact that the policy statements say: ‘objective discussion of homosexuality may take place in the classroom’.

“If, however, the intention is to imply that one form of sexual orientation is inferior from another, or that homosexuality can only be discussed in a negative context, then the law is being broken and action must be taken. The ambiguity is also worrying. If a member of staff tells a pupil who comes out as lesbian, gay or bisexual that there is a youth support group in the area and gives the details, would that be ‘promoting homosexuality’? We need answers and we need them fast.”

Back in 2011, the wording of a clause in the model funding agreement for UK free schools and academies prompted a controversial comparison with infamous Section 28 legislation.

A Change.org petition which has already gathered over 1,500 signatures calls for all academies to scrap any such policies.

Section 28 of 1998 stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” and that schools “could not promote of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.

Section 28 was introduced by the then Conservative backbencher Jill Knight, now a member of the House of Lords. The 90-year-old peer has recently resurfaced into the news following her criticism of the same-sex marriage act, and her strange attempts at justifying her opposition by making platitudes, such as suggesting gay people are good with “antiques”.

In an exclusive interview with PinkNews in June, gay Tory MP Conor Burns claimed that Margaret Thatcher did not have a problem with gay people despite her signing Section 28 into law.

He said: “She had a number of people, who you could identify by reading stuff about her, very close to her who were openly gay. She had no problem with that.

“The Section 28 stuff has taken a somewhat mythical status. Section 28 was a backbench amendment to a Local Government Bill. This was not something that was hatched in the flat of Number 10 when she was making Denis his bacon and eggs in the morning.”