Exclusive: I was a lesbian teacher under Section 28 and it was absolutely frightening

Today marks 30 years since the homophobic legislation Section 28 was enacted, which censored schools from “promoting” homosexuality.

Section 28 resulted in the silencing of LGBT people across the UK, “vicious” homophobic headlines in the press, and much self-censorship as teachers feared being fired just for being LGBT.

The legislation was intensely protested – perhaps most prominently by a group of lesbians who abseiled down the House of Lords and invaded BBC News live on air.

Alongside many other protesters, Sue Sanders, the founder of LGBT History Month and chair of Schools OUT UK, campaigned against it.

Sanders also worked as a teacher under Section 28.

“It was absolutely frightening – the right-wing press were vicious against homosexuals,” she told PinkNews.

LGBT rights activist Sue Sanders speaks to PinkNews

“There was no support at all – if you were found to be lesbian or gay and a teacher, the chances were you’d be sacked.

“Because I’m white and I’m middle class, I used my privilege to be out.

“I have always been out in the classroom. Sometimes it would be yelled at me that I’m a lesbian and I would turn around and say, ‘Well, that’s not news, why do you feel the need to shout it out?’”

While teaching, Sanders had a formal complaint made against her for being out at school.

“About a year later, I walk into the classroom and written on the blackboard is ‘Sue Sanders is a lesbian.’

“I rubbed it off and said, ‘This is the work you need to do,’ and they said, ‘Well, we want to talk about it.’

“So I said maybe if you finish your work we’ll have five minutes at the end of the lesson – we had a brief chat and the usual questions were asked.

“The following day I go into school and the head says there’s been a complaint.”

Sanders was accused by a parent of one of her students of “flagrantly thumbing your nose at society.”

She was then told by the headteacher she would be unable to ever teach the pupil again.

“Other teachers will tell you that if they were out, they went very quietly back in the closet,” she said.

“The shadow of Section 28 is very long – it is extraordinary to think that it has been dead for 15 years.

Protesters in 1978. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“You can go into schools now and there will be teachers now who are still afraid to talk about lesbian and gay issues.

“Their assumption that it’s not appropriate, that it’s not acceptable, that it’s not legal, is still there.”

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