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Wednesday, 19 January, 2000, 20:37 GMT
Section 28: A gay man's view

Edinburgh-based Duncan Hothersall is a volunteer with the Equality Network.

The organisation aims to see an end to the prejudice and ignorance which it says lesbians, gays and bisexuals suffer.

Mr Hothersall, a 27-year-old gay man, outlines why he believes Section 28 reinforces discrimination on the basis of sexuality and why it should be repealed.

Section 28 - the infamous law which bans schools promoting "the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" - was the product of Thatcherite extremists in the late 80s.

Even the Thatcher government was unwilling to include it in its Local Government Bill when it was put forward in 1987.

However, it came into law as a back-bench amendment in 1988, through the use of the same scaremongering tactics being used today.

'Scaring the public'

Building on the "loony-left" attacks on Labour-controlled councils proponents of the clause suggested that, without this "protection" children would be exposed to gay propaganda and pornographic material.

Scaring the public has long been a popular tool of oppression, especially against lesbians, gay men and bisexuals.

We must look at the truth behind the lies, and see the frightened, bullied children, condemned by cardinals and businessmen, who need our help
Duncan Hothersall
Immediately teachers' organisations and trades unions pointed out the foolishness of this argument.

In Glasgow, Edinburgh and cities all over the UK the introduction of the clause provoked some of the largest ever political demonstrations in the UK; teachers marched alongside church representatives, politicians and civic leaders against the homophobic law.

But the Conservative majority in London prevailed, and the UK gained the dubious accolade of being the first country in Europe to introduce new legislation discriminating against gay people since Nazi Germany.

It is worth noting that the majority of Scottish MPs (there was no Scottish Parliament at the time, of course) voted against Section 28.

'Pernicious law'

People claim that because it has never been used (no local authority has ever been prosecuted under its terms) it has had no effect on the lives of gay people.

They are wrong. This pernicious little law may never have had to stand up in court but its looming presence in the classroom and in the council chamber has had a profound effect.

Gays Duncan Hothersall says gays have suffered
In general terms, Section 28 legitimises homophobic discrimination.

It not only reinforces the fact that it is perfectly acceptable in Scottish society to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexuality, but states that, if you are a teacher, not to discriminate could land you in jail.

Section 28 has been used by some local authorities to legitimise homophobic attitudes.

In other cases, authorities have been prevented from supporting their lesbian, gay and bisexual citizens by the law.

For example, Section 28 was the reason Edinburgh District Council some years ago refused a grant of £200 to fund a crèche for a lesbian film and video screening event.

Damage to individuals

Of course the real damage done by this law is to individuals, most often young people who are so vulnerable to homophobic attitudes.

It constrains the ability of educators to support and advise young people so that they can make informed decisions about their relationships and those of their peers.

It also reinforces to young people the notion that homosexuality is unacceptable and undesirable.

Young lesbians and gays are denied, by the existence of this legislation, the right to even-handed, rational information about their sexuality.

And here lies the true cost of having this piece of bigotry in our classrooms, because young people who are growing up lesbian, gay or bisexual and facing discrimination from peers, teachers and the law all too often suffer terribly as a result.

Destroying lives

Homophobic bullying continues to destroy young lives.

More than a third of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered people surveyed in Edinburgh in 1999 reported that they had been victims of homophobic bullying in school.

Ten per cent said they suffered ill treatment at the hands of staff.

And in some cases, this suffering leads to suicide.

Many of these effects can be traced directly back to Section 28.

It is simply not good enough for ancient, entrenched attitudes about "perversion" to dictate the laws of Scotland in the 21st century.

We must look at the truth behind the lies, and see the frightened, bullied children, condemned by cardinals and businessmen, who need our help.

Section 28 must go.

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Section 28: your questions answered.

See also:
19 Jan 00 |  Scotland
Section 28: Education Minister Sam Galbraith
19 Jan 00 |  Scotland
Section 28: Church leaders
19 Jan 00 |  Scotland
Section 28: A parent's view

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