Why colleges should care about Section 28

3rd March 2000 at 00:00
DOES THE hoo-ha over the proposed abolition of Section 28 have any relevance to colleges? Perhaps not at first sight. After all that part of the Local Government Act of 1986 is clear that "a local authority shall not:

intentionally promote homosexuality.

promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship."

That's plain enough. Section 28 applies to schools. And that too is where Eric and Martin resided in their "pretend" family with that poor, confused little Jenny, whom they were inevitably going to corrupt, along with the whole of a generation given half a chance.

Oh those wicked school teachers! All those years spent promoting unspeakable activities instead of getting on with teaching the nation's children how to read and write. Thank goodness Maggie stopped them in time.

What a dotty concept. How could anyone "promote" a sexual preference? When I was 15, I fancied Jane Fonda. Was I really suddenly going to switch to Rock Hudson just because some plonker in a sports jacketsaid I should give it a go!

In fact the only belief my teachers in the 50s and 60s ever promoted was religion - relentlessly. Christianity was shoved down my throat every day of my school life.

With daily assemblies and compulsory RE, I reckon I must have been exposed to around 3,000 separate acts of religious indoctrination during my 13 years at school.

And the end result? A lifelong devotion to agnosticism. I rest my case.

But to return to colleges. Surely we who have been "free" from the clutches of local authorities for years can have little to fear from this pernicious clause?

Well maybe. Or maybe not. There are gays in colleges just as there are in every walk of lif. And ever since legalisation in the 1960s, they have been benefiting from gradual enlightenment. The homophobes may not have gone away, but the new climate of tolerance has meant that these days they tend to keep their prejudices to themselves.

Enter the renewed debate on Section 28 and suddenly they're back centre-stage again: the so-called moral majority (a misnomer on both counts) trotting out again their tired old bigotries about depravity, deviance and the corruption of young minds.

Clearly this renewed intolerance affects gay teenagers as much as anyone else, perhaps more than anyone else. Being 17 is quite confusing enough even for a fully-fledged hetero!

Liberals often like to make the connection between racial and sexual intolerance. But teenagers don't always see it like that. Given a bit of encouragement, such as has been pouring forth from the backwoodsmen of sexual orthodoxy in recent weeks, they can easily revert to an unthinking prejudice they would never consider when it came to race.

Errgh, they say. It's 'orrible. Not nice. Not natural. And if you're not careful pretty soon you're going to be into men who mess with little boys and "what I'd do with them if I had my way".

Under these circumstances gay youngsters do what they have always done. They keep their heads down. Deny - in public at least - their sexuality. Quite possibly they also deny it to themselves. In 20 years in the FE classroom I have still not encountered a gay teenager prepared to come out to their classmates.

So for me Section 28 is an issue in colleges. And for the foreseeable future I expect to on encountering, and challenging, homophobic remarks in the classroom - even if I'm unlikely to call upon Eric or Martin to help me do so!

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