Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When Protecting Children From “Inappropriate Materials” Equals Homophobia

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.   

Gather around folks, it’s story time.

Now back in the 80s, in the decade I was born in the UK we were governed by the Tory party lead by She-Who-Will-Not-Be-Named. And they did many many things that will cause many many people in this country to curse their names, stick pins in their images and look forward to dancing on some graves.

While the full list would be very very long, today I’m going to talk about Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988. If there were any British GBLT people in the room you can identify them by the way they just started cursing, breaking things and generally working into a spitting rage

See, this little law and spectre of our childhoods, prevented local governments from promoting GBLT people as real loving people with real loving relationships. Particularly and most painfully it prevented schools from mentioning GB LT people at all – and certainly in anything like a positive light. This, obviously, meant that if teachers were even inclined to prevent homophobic bullying, they weren’t actually able to do so. As an extra consequence, we never heard of any GBLT role models at all. I never heard of Alan Turing and I’d long since left school before I discovered that *gasp* Oscar Wilde was gay!

Section 28 was notorious and it was the law that GBLT people here hated and despised and one of our biggest goals to try and strike it down. Here were many repeal efforts, unfortunately the Tories fought bitterly to protect it even when She-Who-Will-Not-Be-Named was no longer in power. Of note in particular, David Cameron (our current PM), William Hague (ex-Tory leader and current Foreign Secretary), Iain Duncan-Smith(ex-Tory leader and current secretary of state for work and pensions) and Theresa May (current Home Secretary and, I kid you not, Equalities Minister) were all supporters of the law.

Eventually, however, the bigotry was pushed back after a change of government and in 2003 the law was repealed and many of us who had suffered under it breathed a huge sigh of relief, danced in the street (some of us still dancing after the age of consent was equalised) and generally celebrating.

So, a happy ending right? Yes, so we thought (well, except for all these homophobes in high office. Especially Theresa May – Theresa May as Equality Minister, it’s almost funny).

But fast forward to today and we have a new schools initiative for Free Schools and Academies and it’s all very eye-rolly since it’s very obviously a backdoor manner to get more privatisation into the education system as we expect from the Tories. These are pegged to be the most preferred form of schooling and thousands of kiddies will come under their aegis – and more to come. But, what’s this? We read down the rule book these schools have to follow and we find Clause 28 in which Headteachers will be told that children must be "protected from inappropriate teaching materials and learn the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and for bringing up children.

My oh my that language seems awfully familiar. So kids will be protected from “inappropriate materials” (that’s us GBLTs by the way, in case you missed it) and how marriage is so important (we can’t get married, of course. A previous version of this rule stressed “committed relationships” funny how it was edited). And they even called it Clause 28.

And the moral of this story is? Never ever assume a battle is won. Never think you’re safe, never relax your guard. Check the fine print of every law, keep a weather eye on the courts, make sure you’re aware of events and ye gods don’t listen to their oh-so-pretty speeches. Equality and justice don’t only have to be won, they have to be protected to be preserved because the bigots will always try to fight back.

So it’s back to the 80s it seems. Take it away Boy George. Hey, at least with them calling it Clause 28 we can reuse all our old campaign banners and music. Yay, I guess?  I’m going to get a stiff drink. Or 4.