It was revealed this week that 46 UK schools have policies banning positive portrayals or discussions about the gay community, sparking fears that there may be a backdoor attempt to reintroduce an old national ban.
The revelation was made on Monday by the British Humanist Association (BHA), who identified 46 schools that, as part of their sex and relationships education policies, banned mention or promotion of homosexuality or stated that Section 28, which served as a national ban to that effect but was repealed in 2003, was still in place.
Section 28, which stated schools “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality,” is now regarded as a national shame and a law that was allowed to stay on the books for far too long, though it still remains popular among ultra conservative circles.
This discovery was prompted by one girl who contacted the BHA after finding that her school, Colston Girls’ School in Bristol, had language in its policies that emulated Section 28. When made aware of this, the school immediately withdrew the policy and committed to an investigation. Then, a grassroots campaign to have a further three schools, Castle View Enterprise Academy in Sunderland (CVEA), Swindon Academy and Stockport Academy, remove language that emulated Section 28 was started, prompting a wider review by the BHA.
What the BHA found was that 19 schools had policies that appeared “clearly offensive,” while a further 22 implied Section 28 was still in force, and a further three were vague in this regard. It was later judged that as many as 46 schools had policies that could be classed as imposing Section 28-style homosexuality gag rules.
When made aware of this, the Department for Education (DfE) issued a strong rebuke for those schools, telling PinkNews.co.uk:
What these schools have done by singling out homosexuality is unacceptable. All schools can draw up their own sex education policy but they must ensure they do not discriminate unfairly on grounds of sexual orientation. Our sex and relationship education guidance makes it clear that schools should not promote any sexual orientation. The DfE will be looking into these schools.
Rather embarrassingly, at least one of the schools — Northumberland Church of England Academy — had been given gay rights charity Stonewalls’ School Champion status to denote its strong stance in favor of gay inclusion. Its sex education policy was found to contain the following language: “The Northumberland Church of England Academy and the Governing Body will not permit the promotion of homosexuality.”
Stonewall has since said it has written to every school in England to stress the need to attend to such language, adding that this is “a timely reminder, if any were needed, that in spite of the hard-won legal equality we now enjoy in Britain there’s so much more to do to make sure that all young people can one day realise every ounce of their potential.”
Of further concern is the fact the DfE appears to have removed gender identity from its drafts of the the national curriculum’s own equality guidelines. This, the DfE has told Gay Star News, was in fact an “error” in the drafting process — though, Gay Star News notes an earlier comment would suggest it wasn’t simply a typo. Regardless, the DfE has confirmed that gender identity will be in the final guidance.
Regarding the Section 28 like policies, the BHA issued a release on Wednesday saying that “a large number of the schools concerned have removed the relevant statements or have committed to reviewing their policies.”
The BHA, after looking at the matter closely, suggests that in many instances, the school policies may not have been overt homophobia or an attempt to return to Section 28, but simply an oversight where policies have been redrafted from older ones, or a lack of awareness that, despite a decade having elapsed, Section 28 is no longer in force.
As such, the BHA cautions against jumping to conclusions, as many already have, that this is an attempt to make a return to Section 28 by the back door.
Banning so-called promotion of homosexuality is known to facilitate a climate of fear and intolerance against the LGBT community. Indeed, it reinforces to LGBT kids that their feelings and identities should not be talked about, and in some cases has been shown to create such a noxious climate as to push kids to the brink of suicide.
So, while it is important not to exaggerate this issue, this investigation and the subsequent actions that were taken were very much worthwhile and important for ensuring that all children feel valued in the classroom.
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