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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 23 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 34
Brits challenge their version of 'Don't Say Gay' - Thatcher-era law still widely influential a decade after its repeal
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Brits challenge their version of 'Don't Say Gay' - Thatcher-era law still widely influential a decade after its repeal

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Before there was Vladimir Putin's 'Don't Say Gay' law, there was Maggie Thatcher's Section 28.

Introduced by Thatcher's Conservative government in 1988, Section 28 of the Local Government Act banned the 'promotion' of homosexuality by local authorities and said that schools could not 'promote the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.'

While no penalties were specified in the law, and no one was ever prosecuted for violating it, local councils feared they would lose government funding, and removed any references to the LGBT community from school curricula.

Section 28 was repealed by the Scottish parliament in 2000, and in England and Wales by Tony Blair's Labor government in 2003.

SCHOOL RULES UNCHANGED
Now, a decade after the law was repealed, LGBT rights activists charge that scores of British schools still implement the old anti-Gay policy.

On August 17 a petition went up on Change.org calling out three British council schools -Castle View Enterprise Academy (CVEA), Swindon Academy, and Stockport Academy -for keeping the old 'Don't Say Gay' policies in place.

On August 19, a report issued by the British Humanist Association (BHA) said that 45 council schools either retain the old Section 28 language banning 'promotion of homosexuality' or are 'unhelpfully vague on the issue.'

CVEA principal Janet Bridges admitted to an 'administrative error,' but LGBT activists pointed out that CVEA's Sexual and Relationships Education (SRE) policy statement includes the pledge that the school's 'Governing Body will not permit the promotion of homosexuality.'

King James's School, a state school in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, stipulates in its SRE policy statement that the school will 'ensure that homosexuality is not promoted as a pretended family relationship whilst not encouraging homophobia.'

'It is simply unacceptable that over a decade after the repeal of the pernicious Section 28 that these schools continue to enforce similar policies, while others have statements which are overly vague on this matter,' BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal said.

OFFICIALS PLEDGE INQUIRY
Meanwhile, Britain's Department for Education (DfE) said that it is investigating activists' claims.

In a statement to PinkNews, a British LGBT news website, a DfE spokesman said '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.'

The opposition Labor Party also called on the British government to respond to charges that schools are reverting to anti-Gay policies.

'[Conservative Education Secretary] Michael Gove must intervene to ensure that all schools obey their duties under the Equality Act,' Labor's 'shadow' Education Secretary Stephen Twigg said.

'Labor got rid of Section 28 in 2003 to ensure that schools taught about homosexuality in an open and honest way. Homophobic bullying is still too common in schools, we must ensure that we redouble our efforts to tackle such prejudice.'

Britain's 2010 Equality Act, passed by Gordon Brown's Labor government before it lost power in the 2010 national election, codifies British anti-discrimination laws and includes prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

In Britain, 'council schools' are the equivalent of American public schools, while British 'public schools' are what Americans mean when we say 'private schools.'

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