International Socialist Archives

International Socialist was the journal produced by our tendency until January 2001, when we left the Committee for a Workers International. We now produce the journal Frontline.

Scrap Section 28

editorial

"A local authority shall not- (a) intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality; (b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship"

Section 28, introduced by a right wing Tory government in1988, has always been widely viewed as a piece of legislation that legitimises anti-gay predujice and intolerance. This particular section of the Local Government and Finance Act was proported to be neccessary to prevent local authorities spending money on anti-discriminatory education as well as support for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. The then Thatcher government had just abolished the GLC, and was on the warpath against so-called 'loony left" councils in London who were accused of frittering away money on "special intrest groups" like gays and the black and Asian community. Ironically councils like Haringay (£127,000) and Camden (£133,000) had spend very little on these sections of the population.
Section 28 was primarily used to stigmatise minority groups, and create an atmosphere where they took the blame for the cuts. Much more important for the Tories was to try to pin the blame on cuts in spending on schools, housing and nurseries on these councils, and the gay and black and asian communities, rather than on government cuts in local authority spending. This approach largely succedded- not least due to the fact that the Labour councils in question failed to defy the government cuts- which allowed the whipping up of racist and homophobic predujices.

Although the section does not legally apply to schools, Section 28 has also resulted in teachers feeling unable to tackle the issue of homosexuality, including countering the homophobic bullying of young people, for fear of contravening the act which could leave teachers open to disciplinary action. A survey published by Stonewall in 1998, ten years after the introduction of Section 28, found that 77% of gays and lesbians who come out while still at school suffered from homophobic bullying. Reports of children as young as seven and eight being the victims of verbal name calling and violence at primary schools in Scotland have been disclosed recently.

A report from the Institute of Education in 1997 found 56% of schools felt that Section 28 led to difficulties in meeting the needs of lesbian and gay pupils.
It is against this background that the Scottish Executive of the Scottish Parliament announced their intention of abolishing Section 28 in Scotland. The unholy alliance of the Daily Record, the Catholic Church, Brian Souter-boss of Stagecoach- and the Scottish School Boards Association (SSBA) all initially declared war against Section 28's repeal.

Souter, an evangelical Christian and a devout member of the Church of the Nazarene, promised £500,000 to the SSBA for a campaign to "Keep the Clause". In a recent interview for the Scotland on Sunday newspaper, Souter pledged to; "lead poll tax style demonstrations" to ensure that Section 28 remained on the statutes. The richest man in Scotland was preared to go back to living in a council house such was his determination to " acheive statutory protection for the family"

Cardinal Winning the leader of the Roman Catholic church in Scotland went even further by saying "I deplore homosexual acts. I hesitate to use the word perversion, but let's face up to the truth". The Daily Record, Scotland's biggest selling newspaper, has run a brutal campaign of lies and mis-information that "gay sex lessons" were set to be taught in scottish schools if Section 28 was abolished. Of course all these comments were generally prefixed with "I'm not homophobic but...".

'Promoting homosexuality'

The pro-Section 28 campaign have skillfully managed to give the impression that without this legislation children would be taught to become homosexuals. The promotion of homosexuality is what the Section prevents, they claim. In truth, what Section 28 does is to inhibit any serious discussion about homosexuality in schools. The abolition of Section 28 would not lead to the encouragement of pupils to have gay relationships- there already are clear rules on how sex is taught in schools without Section 28- what it would do is to help teachers feel able to discuss the realities of life, that homosexuality is a fact, that there are such things as single sex couples who bring up children in a loving and caring way and that anti-gay predujice is wrong in principal.
Perhaps the question should be; can you promote homosexuality at all? The idea that gays have been "educated" into a homosexual lifestyle is laughable. As Ian Bell writing in the Scotsman put it: "If it is truly possible to promote sexual orientation why, given a world drenched in hetrosexual imagery, are there gays at all?"

Peter Tatchell, the outspoken gay rights campaigner, has along with OutRage, proposed a series of amendments to Section 28 which include:

Schools should not promote or encourage any form of sexuality:
All sexual orientations must be discussed in an honest, factual manner:
Teachers should be required to challenge predujiced, intolerant anti-gay attitudes:
The aim must be to encourage understanding and acceptance of other people-heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual.

OutRage's proposals give a lie to the propaganda from the pro- Section 28 lobby that homosexuality would be "promoted" in schools if it's abolition were accepted by the parliament.
The more bigoted, anti-gay message is a crude weapon which is being weilded in defence of the family and "natural law".

Defend the family

Brian Souter states this idea quite clearly when he says "The question is: Is the government committed to giving equal status to homosexual relationships in our education system?" The concept of the homosexual marriage is what we are being prepared for".
For capitalism the relationship of a man and a woman producing children within the family unit is a vital part of their economic, idealogical and social system. The deluge of propaganda against single mothers, abortion rights, divorce legislation and homosexuality is all a symptom of the lengths that the establishment will go to protect their "family".

Under capitalism, that tends to mean a set of relationships that re-inforces womens' second class citizenship, that regards children as the property of the family with as few rights as possible, that demands that the man feed, provide and care for the family even if the jobs, income or opportunity to do so has long since been crushed by mass unemployment and poverty.

There are of course many loving families who struggle to live in a different way from the vision promoted by our rotten class system. Nevertheless the heterosexual family relationship as a "natural law",as Cardinal Winning put it, reflects the need for capitalism to ensure the continuation of a stable family unit through which it can maintain it's rule and interests. Reality however challenges that concept through the numbers of lone-parent families, gay relationships, the numbers of women who are now the main income earners in a household etc.

Section 28 and the campaign to retain it reflects these priorities. The establishments campaign so far has had the added benefit of dividing the working class on this issue. Clearly however, there are many working class people with some predujices against gays, or who are just not clear what is being proposed, who can be convinced. It is vital that a clear and concise explanation of the reasons why Section 28 should be abolished is launched in an attempt to counter the propaganda from the establishment. Socialists must support calls for genuine non-discrimitory guidlines thath promote no form of sexuality.

Clearly the Scottish Executive are incapable of doing this as many Labour MSP's and SNP MSP's are, at least privately, opposed to repeal. Labour have already began to retreat on full repeal by promising statutory guidelines to replace Section 28. They claim these guidelines would be non-discriminatory but this would be impossible as the guidelines would empahsise marriage- a right denied to gay people- and the desiribility of a heterosexual relationship. Unfortunately Stonewall- the gay rights campaign- have been uncritical of this manuvere, which would be a worse situation than we currently have as Section 28 is not legally binding in schools, and these guidelines would be, leading to a reinforcement of anti-gay predujice.

As well as supporting a boycott campaign of Brian Souter's Stagecoach company, a much wider campaign that aims to defeat the homophobic and divisive propaganda that lies behind the campaign to Keep the Clause needs to be launched. The Scottish Socialist Party, the gay rights organisations and the trade unions in particular should be mobolised in a joint campaign to tackle these issues, through a serious campaign than can unite the working class on this issue.
Division on the basis of sexual orientation can only benefit the ruling class and their political representatives.

The struggle to end Section 28 is also a much wider question of the need to create a society where discrimination and bigotry are ended in favour of one based on human solidarity and mutual respect. That would require an end to the divisions and inequalities inherent in capitalism, with a new socialist alternative in it's place.

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