Should Section 28 Be Repealed?

Should Section 28 Be Repealed?

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Recently, I noticed a petition in my local church that was to be sent to Donald Dewar opposing the repeal of section 28, which bans the promotion of homosexuality in schools. Many people did not want their children and grandchildren to know anything about homosexuality. This made me think, should homosexuality be taught in Scottish schools?

The response to section 28 has been very different in different parts of the country. Section 28 has never been used in court to stop a local authority doing anything. Although some local authorities have gone ahead and produced documents in partnership with organisations such as Stonewall youth project to support young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pupils, others have taken the opposite view. Perth and Kinross council refused to give a grant to Dundee Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Switchboard, specifically citing section 28 as a reason for not giving a grant. Authorities' responses have been different because section 28 is badly worded and, legally, does not mean anything at all; its only effect is to act as a disincentive. Section 28 does not directly affect schools or teachers, just local authorities. Nevertheless, according to the "Playing it Safe" survey by the University of London, 56% of teachers surveyed said that they felt that section 28 prevented them from giving such good advice and support to young lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils as they might otherwise be able to give.

Young LGBT people do not have equal opportunities in education at the moment, neither in schools nor in college environments. The biggest single problem for young people, if you ask them, is that of bullying and harassment. It is something that affects LGBT pupils directly, but other people too. Anybody can be homophobically bullied - they do not have to be gay to be a victim of that. Bullying and harassment also affects people who have not come out as being gay. The effect on someone who has not come out in an environment where homophobic bullying is going on all the time is to make him or her terrified about telling anyone that they are gay. One of the particular LGBT equality issues most often mentioned is an understanding of the importance of coming out. Coming out is a life-changing event for a young person, and it is very important that school staff understands the implications and can give support to people who are doing it or thinking about doing it.

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Bullying and harassment has a very bad effect on those peoples self-esteem, as well as on that of people who are directly bullied. The bullying of pupils by pupils is the most common kind, but pupils are still harassed by staff and staff can also be harassed by pupils or by other staff.

Harassment also affects people's educational attainment, because they stop learning if they are being bullied at school. Often they leave school as early as possible to get out of that environment. However, bullying and harassment are not the only problems. There is a lack of awareness among staff about what it means to be gay. A lot of staff focus purely on the issue of sex and think that being gay is all about sex, whereas, of course, it is not, especially for young people. Emotional and relationship issues will be much more important. Confidentiality policies are not clear, so young people do not feel confident enough to approach staff and discuss concerns about their sexual orientation. Also homosexuality tends to be invisible, for example in curriculum and library materials. There is no recognition that not only may pupils be gay, but so may other members of their families.

On the other hand, there is a growing fear that teaching children about homosexuality is the same as teaching them how to be gay, which is impossible, but parents are panicking. There is a lot of fear about what section 28 means, and that is the real problem. Many parents are alarmed at the prospect of homosexuality being promoted in our schools. Ms Wendy Alexander, Community Minister, says " They can rest assured that it is not the intention of the Executive actively to promote homosexuality. Removing the prohibition is not the same as active promotion." It is reasonable for any parent to be concerned about exactly what their children are being told at school, of course many people are homophobic and believe that homosexuality is blasphemous. The most commonly heard argument against homosexuality is a quote from the bible: "And God proceeded to create the man in his image, male and female he created them. Further God blessed them, and God said to them, be fruitful and become many, and fill the earth and subdue it (Genesis 1:27-28)." (Often shortened to, "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.") The passage does not say that God created man and man. Teaching homosexuality in schools could go against many people's religions and beliefs. However, not everyone is Christian and there is the added conflict between religion and science.

Clearly it is not possible to agree with my local community's petition. I hope to have given a reasonable argument to why I believe that section 28 should be repealed and children, at a sensible age, should be properly informed about homosexuality, in order to raise awareness and lessen homophobic bullying in schools.
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