Silencing Queer Voices in Education: A Return to Section 28?
‘Department for Education (DfE) advises teachers on how to ‘tackle sensitive issues in a politically impartial way’ (The Times, Feb 2022)
This was the headline of The Times newspaper on Thursday 17th February, and has been taken from recent Department for Education (DfE) guidance. The headline and report have been met with a very vocal outcry of concern from the teaching community, LGBTQ community and PoC/BAME community, over the possibility of this guidance turning back the times and undoing all the progression in educational diversity made in recent years.
Concern from the LGBTQ+ community comes from the way the article and the document refer to ‘sensitive topics such as race and gender’ and the need to teach them in an ‘impartial’ way. In a world still living in the shadow of Section 28, and where its influences are still very much felt, the raised voices in the LGBTQ+ community call for the country to not return to a time of silencing the queer stories and voices in schools.
‘Partisan political views’
The DfE document advises that teachers refrain from teaching, discussing or imparting ‘Partisan political views’, which it describes as the one-sided interests of a particular group which seek to ‘change the law or change government policy.’ It goes on to explain that this ‘includes the views and campaigns of groups such as Stonewall.’ The worry from the LGBTQ+ community is that, while it could be interpreted that Stonewall’s views are one-sided in that they seek to change the law or government policy for a particular group of the population, their one-sided nature seeks to make the world more fair and more equal for all LGBTQ+ people. If Stonewall is silenced in education, we risk a generation of children growing up knowing nothing of what it is to be LGBTQ+ and children from LGBTQ+ families thinking their families are wrong in some way.
In the opening address of the DfE document, Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, states that ‘the guidance would prevent contested theories from being promoted as fact’. Contested theories? Is this to state that sexuality and gender identity are ‘theories’? The wording throughout the education secretary’s opening statement is reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 Tory Party address, where she raises concerns that ‘Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay’. Being gay, bi, trans or queer in anyway is no more a theory to contest than that of gravity, and the attitude and feeling of this section of the document feels very similar to the attitude which led to the passing legislation ‘Section 28’ in the late 80s.
Section 28 - Promoting Homosexuality
In light of Thatcher’s 1987 address, the government brought in new legislation, in May 1988 which ensured that all schools could not ‘promote the teaching [...] of the acceptability of homosexuality’. This banned all mention of LGBTQ+ people in lessons, books or any educational material. This has meant an entire generation of people, educated from 1988 to 2003 when it was repealed (although the effects of the legislation were not lifted instantly), growing up not learning about LGBTQ+ relationships, people, community, history or rights.
For children and young people growing up questioning their sexuality or gender, this led to shame, fear and isolation. It is very hard to grow up to be something you don’t see represented for you. For heterosexual, cisgender children and young people, this led to them not knowing that LGBTQ+ people exist, not respecting their lives and causing societal attitudes to LGBTQ+ to becoming increasingly negative.
While the government seeks to ensure our children receive a broad and balanced curriculum entitlement - a goal shared by every teacher - the language in the article and report feels heavily reminiscent of the long shadow of Section 28. Yes, they fight for the rights of a particular group of people, but without Stonewall to constantly push for equality and representation, it would be a slippery slope back to the educational silence of the past. The LGBTQ+ community has every right to react to this article and this report with fear. We have educational representation and celebration now - that is a bell you cannot unring.
This article was written by Evie (She/Her), a passionate, proud deafie, autism mamma, queerie, wife, teacher, writer and word geek. You can follow Evie over on Twitter here.