Recent events in Birmingham and Manchester are a stark reminder that in 2019 same-sex relationships are still highly contested among some people.
I was born in 1975 and there has been a seismic shift in attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people in my lifetime. This shift has also happened alongside significant changes in the law. When I was a child, it would have been entirely legal to stop me from taking a job or buying a product simply because of my sexuality. Now, this is against the law. Although homosexual acts between men was ‘decriminalised’ in 1967, the gross indecency law of 1885 wasn’t repealed until 2003 – I was aged twenty-seven. I wasn’t able to get married, foster children or join the military. Today, all of these things are possible. And with the exception of joining the military, I’ve done all the others!
Back when the Government introduced Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, local authorities were prevented from promoting same-sex relationships. The result of this was that schools simply did not introduce their pupils to the subject. I was thirteen-years-old at the time and although we had PSHE lessons in school, I cannot remember one single occasion when same-sex relationships were mentioned.
Quite simply, LGBTQ+ people were completely invisible in my school. Outside of school, the result was that LGBTQ+ people had a target placed on their back, with the 1980s seeing the highest ever levels of offences under the archaic gross indecency laws of the 1880s . Homophobic bullying was rife in my school and all the LGBTQ+ kids were not given any tools to live. I was left feeling completely alone. The striking thing about the current ‘controversy’ is the language that is being used by those who oppose same-sex relationship education. It’s exactly the same old tired arguments that the likes of Thatcher was using back at the time of Section 28 in 1988.
Both in 1988 and 2019, concerns are being expressed that young children will be exposed to something dangerous and undesirable and that if they are exposed to ‘it’, they might catch some of ‘it’. There is lots of academic research that is interested in why people might be non-straight and this is still largely inconclusive. However, we can be fairly certain that you can’t ‘catch’ it!
But this isn’t the issue here. The issue is that LGBTQ+ people are still considered by some as dangerous and undesirable. So much so, that it’s worth depriving them of their right to a school experience that recognises their existence and one that supports them in their growth and development.
To the school leaders who have caved in to this bigotry: you should be ashamed! It really doesn’t matter if you identify as LGBTQ+ or not, as practitioners each of us has a duty to uphold the principle of equality and inclusive practice; whether this is tackling racism, sexism, disablism, heterosexism or any other form of oppression within the class room.
I really don’t know how this recent crisis is going to play out, but I do worry that LGBTQ+ people are witnessing the tide turn away from the real progress that I have witnessed in my lifetime. What I do know is that the period of LGBTQ+ rights that we now enjoy are a mere blip in a long and deeply homophobic British history. Therefore, we all have a responsibility to make sure that this reversal doesn’t happen.
(Keith Bishop is a foster parent, former youth worker and is now a Senior Lecturer in Children, Young People and Families at Newman University in Birmingham. He tweets at https://twitter.com/Keith_Bishop_)