Supporting queer young people: legacy of Section 28

This month is Pride month. While everyone celebrates the historic achievements and advancements made by the LGBTQ community, let’s spare a thought for the queer students who are struggling in schools and colleges everywhere. While the Pride movement rightly celebrates the milestone that was the removal of Section 28, we have a tendency to ignore how it affects young people even today.

Where did it begin?

The neglect of the LGBTQ student began under Margaret Thatcher’s reign, when she  implemented the Local Government Act 1988. While this act was wide in scope, it is most notorious for Section 28, that stipulate that schools could not “intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality”.While the text of the Section simply stated “intentionally promote”, what happened was that teachers felt unable to combat homophobia, in fear of falling foul of the law.

Baroness Knight, the key catalyst behind the law, later apologised three decades later for any negative impact. Despite this, she stopped short of apologising for the existence of the section itself, which David Cameron would later go on to do. The act would go on to be repealed in 2003, much to the delight of LGBTQ individuals across the country.

What’s happening now

Despite key figures within the Conversative party either denouncing or silently changing their mind on the section, their efforts in combating the damage caused by it has been mixed. For example, while the government provided funding to several well-received programmes dedicated to combating queerphobia in schools, they silently axed funding for it in 2020. This resulted in schools not being able to financially support anti-bullying training.

Additionally, while schools are required to implement an inclusive Relationship & Sex Education curriculum in the upcoming academic year, this is being met with backlash from various religious communities for going against their scriptures. This is just one of the long-term side effects of the Section being repealed, with students in the LGBT community being denied representation of themselves through popular media including books, plays and movies.

It’s a regional thing

When exploring the experiences of minorities in UK schools, it’s important to consider regional attitudes and beliefs in order to fully understand the context of these experiences. . For example, in a 2018 national survey done on the LGBTQ community, there were no specific statistics on the percentage of LGBTQ individuals in the North East. However, the research showed that queer people in the United Kingdom had a lower life satisfaction compared to those who don’t identify as queer.

Additionally, Stonewall conducted a survey regarding queerphobic bullying that found that 46% of queer students experienced queerphobic bullying in the North East, compared to 40% of students in London and 36% of students from the South East. This suggests that the North-South divide may come into play when it comes to queerphobia within schools.

Finally, in 2019, there was an increase in the amount of hate crimes experienced by the LGBTQ community including by 60% in County Durham in particular. This came after reports of homophobic hate crimes occurring in the region. The ignorance towards this issue by the general public is partly based on the idea that “you now have legal rights, now shut up”, which completely ignores the lack of representation in media, popular culture…….and education!

“Won’t somebody think of the children?”

Due to the weaponization of LGBTQ education by political parties and religious groups and the more adult-centric focus of the LGBTQ community, many educational analysts and talking heads forget that there are queer children at the centre of the discussion, who will grow up to be queer adults. This ignorance has resulted in many of the young LGBT population in our region really struggling during this time, with 60% of LGBTQ youth in the North East having been the most likely to feel isolated during the various lockdowns.

This is in addition to harrowing nationwide statistics that have found that LGBTQ youth are between four and seven times more likely to attempt suicide in comparison to the general youth population.

What now?

It’s legitimate to feel disheartened by the way that queer children are denied fair representation within the UK. However, there are a variety of ways that we can campaign for better representation and support for queer students in Britain:

  • Explore how the curriculum can be adapted to be more LGBT inclusive – it’s so easy to look at the obvious subjects of PSHE and Science and think that creating an inclusive curriculum ends there. However, homophobia in PE is still very much present, and there are so many pioneers in the ‘hard’ subjects of IT and Mathematics that were part of the queer community.
  • Support charities and organisations that support queer students – from Sexpression delivering inclusive RSE sessions in schools across the UK to Stonewall continuing to conduct research into the experiences of queer students, there are so many groups stepping up the plate in supporting and representing the groups that the government are continuing to neglect.
  • It isn’t just schools that matter – While it is easy to look at schools as the “be all or end all” of inclusivity and diversity, they can only be as inclusive as the government is willing to be. We’re still struggling with homophobia in the political system – with even an equalities training officer in Parliament being reported to have used a homophobic slur. Continuing to highlight how MP’s ignore or gaslight the LGBTQ community will help us combat queerphobia on a wider level.
  • Hold businesses to account – while this has been known in the queer community for some time, we are now starting to see how in a capitalist society, businesses only support Pride where it is marketable and legal.  Therefore, we must highlight and support businesses that actually donate to LGBTQ organisations.

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