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Section 28 returns: UK schools ban 'promotion' of gay issues

Gay students and teachers in three British academies are facing Russia-style homophobic policies with the re-introduction of PM Thatcher’s rule banning the ‘promotion of homosexuality’
The introduction of Section 28 in the 1980s blocked teachers and students from discussing homosexuality in schools.

Two UK academies have stepped back to the 1980s by banning teachers from saying anything positive about gay life.

Gay Star News can reveal Colston Girl's School in Bristol and Swindon Academy have re-introduced anti-gay language from Section 28, which banned the ‘promotion of homosexuality’, into their Sex and Relationships Policy.

The schools’ policy states while ‘objective discussion of homosexuality may take place in the classroom,’ ‘the governing body will not permit the promotion of homosexuality’.

When late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher approved Section 28 in 1988, the controversial amendment effectively blocked teachers from discussing homosexuality in the classroom, or providing support to any LGBT student who approached them for help.

The law was completely repealed in Great Britain in 2003 and the Conservative Party later apologized for introducing the legislation.

But 10 years later it has resurfaced in these three state-funded academy schools, threatening efforts by students, teachers and LGBT organizations to fight homophobic bullying in schools.

It comes as Russia faces criticism for its own, even wider, laws banning the 'promotion' of homosexuality to children. Current UK Prime Minister David Cameron has criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin over the rules.

The re-emergence of the policy in Britain will be particularly awkward for him as allowing schools to become academies and have greater indepence is a pet policy of his Conservative Party.

He has had to work hard to change the image of the Conservatives as the anti-LGBT 'nasty party', a reputation they got in part because of Section 28, and which he hoped his championing of gay marriage equality would have overcome.

Wes Streeting, Head of Education for leading gay rights group Stonewall, told Gay Star News: 'In spite of the legal equality that gay people enjoy in Britain today, there is much more to do to achieve equal treatment for Britain’s 3.7 million lesbian, gay and bisexual people.'

'Section 28 was abolished ten years ago because of the harmful effect that homophobic bullying has on the education and wellbeing of children. More than half of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people experience homophobic bullying today to such an extent that one in four attempt suicide and the majority self harm. All the evidence shows that schools with policies to tackle homophobic bullying and an inclusive curriculum achieve better outcomes for their pupils.

'Head teachers and governors who are only prepared to acknowledge gay people in the context of stopping their pupils from catching HIV and AIDS are simply not up to the job of educating and safeguarding the children in their care,' Streeting added.

Siobhan MacMahon, spokesperson for the LGBTIQ Green Party Group has condemned the homophobic policy: ‘It’s clear that there should be a national mandatory curriculum ensuring that every school gives students the information they need about sex and sexuality. The freedom granted to Academies and Free Schools to introduce such homophobic policy leaves LGBT students out in the cold.

‘School must be a safe space for LGBT students and teachers, the reintroduction of Section 28s does not allow for that,’ she added.

GSN is awaiting further comment from the Department of Education.

A Change.org petition has been launched to ‘tell the school this is unacceptable!’

Section 28 was part of the 1988 Local Government Act in the UK. It said a local authority 'shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality' or 'promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship'.

The opposition to Section 28 helped catalyze the LGBT rights movement in the UK with the birth of organizations like Stonewall, while fierce support by religions organizations and some media pushed a homophobic campaign against ‘predatory homosexuals’.

UPDATE: More schools have been found to have 'Section 28' anti-gay policies. Read more here.

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