The Equality Network, Scotland’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGB&T) equality charity that leads the Equal Marriage campaign in Scotland, has warned against a “damaging return to Section 28” in Scotland’s schools.
Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 was repealed by the Scottish Parliament amid significant controversy in June 2000.
The law, introduced by the Thatcher Conservative government, was widely condemned as discriminatory. It stipulated that local authorities should “not intentionally promote homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.”
The Equality Network, which played a leading role in the campaign to repeal Section 28 in Scotland, argued that Section 28 had a “chilling effect” on schools, and meant they felt unable to effectively tackle homophobic bullying and prejudice, and failed to provide a fully inclusive educational environment for young LGB&T people.
Now, twelve years after its repeal, the Equality Network is concerned that opponents of same-sex marriage are attempting to “reintroduce Section 28 by stealth”, which it says would have “extremely damaging consequences for young people”.
Scotland for Marriage, the umbrella group campaigning against same-sex marriage in Scotland, and its member organisations have issued a series of demands to the Scottish Government outlining changes they would like to see made to Scotland’s education system.
They have called on the Scottish Government to introduce new laws and guidance that would:
· Encourage schools to only teach about heterosexual marriage
· Give teachers a right to tell children that same-sex relationships are wrong
· Discourage schools from using materials that include LGBT people
· Give teachers a right to refuse to use materials that include LGBT people
· Give parents a new right to opt their children out of any lessons that mention same-sex relationships
· Ban primary schools from mentioning same-sex marriage
· Force other schools to treat same-sex marriage as a ‘controversial’ issue
The demands come after Peter Kearney, spokesperson for Scotland for Marriage argued during an STV Scotland Tonight debate that same-sex marriage should not be promoted to school children, and school pupils in Scotland should instead be taught that same-sex relationships are “harmful, risky and dangerous” and lead to “premature death”.
Brian Souter, co-founder of Stagecoach and a leading figure in the Keep the Clause campaign against the repeal of Section 28, has also recently waded into the same-sex marriage debate during an appearance on BBC Question Time. Announcing his opposition to same-sex marriage and calling for “protections” for teachers who oppose same-sex marriage,
“This isn’t an equality issue, it’s a morality issue…marriage is a union between a man and a woman…what are we going to teach in our schools on this subject… teachers have said they are uncomfortable or unprepared to teach this new relationship.”
Asked about his leading role in the campaign against repealing Section 28 he argued:
“That was to do with what we taught in schools and that is what I think the issue’s about.”
Tom French, Policy Coordinator for the Equality Network, said:
“We are deeply concerned that opponents of same-sex marriage are attempting to reintroduce Section 28 style discrimination back into Scotland’s schools. This would roll back equality and have a damaging effect on young people and the wider education system. We firmly believe that school should be a welcoming environment for all young people, regardless of their sexual orientation or family situation. Schools have a duty of care to their pupils and it would be wrong to allow discrimination against LGBT people in the education system.”
The Equality Network say that opponents of same-sex marriage are scaremongering over what will be taught in schools. They point out that the same groups made the same false claims during the Keep the Clause campaign, when they wrongly said that if Section 28 was repealed inappropriate materials would be used in schools with a damaging effect on young people. As the Equality Network said at the time, this claim has turned out to be completely false.
The Equality Network say that in the twelve years since Section 28 was repealed Scottish schools have become more inclusive and better able to tackle issues like homophobic bullying, for instance, good progress has been made in Scotland towards agreeing a national approach to anti-bullying work including pro-actively challenging homophobic bullying. The Equality Network argue that this can only be achieved through education that focuses on positive messages about the diversity of Scottish society and families, including LGB&T people
They warn that any attempts to reintroduce Section 28 style discrimination would be a major setback to the progress made on LGB&T equality, and would worsen homophobic bullying in schools.
The Equality Network say that far from going back to Section 28, Scotland needs the Scottish Government to do more to make schools more inclusive, and to tackle homophobic bullying. They point to a recent study by LGB&T Youth Scotland, Life in Scotland for LGB&T Young People (2012), which found that 69% of LGB&T young people had been the victim of homophobic bullying in Scotland’s schools, and 64% of young people described school as a ‘bad’ experience for LGB&T people.
LGBT Youth Scotland has worked with nearly 40 schools across Scotland over the last two years, witnessing an increase in the confidence of young people to include their LGBT peers and increased acceptance of friends and families.
The Scottish Government is currently running a public consultation on the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill to legalise same-sex marriage in Scotland.
The consultation closes on Wednesday March 20 and a final version of the bill is expected to be introduced to the Scottish Parliament in the summer.
To respond to the consultation click here: