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Charity caves in over gay sex issue

A leading children's charity is denying accusations of homophobia after recalling 7,000 copies of a sex education pack which offered advice for young gays and lesbians.

Save the Children has launched an investigation into how the "inappropriate" issue of Spotlight magazine came to be published and sent out to thousands of schools and youth centres. The quarterly magazine has previously covered topics such as citizenship and poverty, and is intended to be used by teachers as a discussion tool. Now Save the Children has written to all subscribers "strongly advising" them not to use the November 1997 issue, entitled Sex and Society.

The charity claims the magazine portrayed sexual activity in an unsuitable light. A spokesperson said: "This is absolutely not about homophobia. The magazine simply didn't fit the bill. It had serious textual omissions, such as a lack of reference to safe sex."

The magazine said that worthwhile sex education work should help young people to "see the cultural conditioning in society, and identify the forces that are supporting, accepting and encouraging certain types of sexuality and sexual feelings, while discouraging, ignoring or condemning others".

However, Save the Children admits it was embarrassed after a right-wing pressure group, Family and Youth Concern, began a letter-writing campaign claiming the magazine encouraged under-age and gay sex. But the charity insists "external pressures" did not influence the decision to declare it unusable.

A spokesperson added: "Regrettably, senior management weren't aware of the existence of this publication until it was too late. The decision to declare the magazine inappropriate was taken at board level. Muddled internal commissioning and publishing procedures are to blame, and are being reviewed. "

The National Youth Agency, which distributed Sex and Society with its own magazine, Young People Now, says it has had "nothing but positive feedback and requests for more copies" of the issue.

Save the Children says it does not expect everyone to send the magazine back, but hopes teachers will "understand, and not use it".

Sex and Society's author, freelance writer Peter White, said: "I've been told not to talk to the press, so I can't say anything about it."

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