Continuing homophobia in schools is the legacy of Section 28

It’s long been apparent that despite Section 28 finally being repealed 10 years ago, its impact is still being felt by thousands of gay young people in Britain’s schools. YouGov polling for Stonewall has found that although nine in 10 teachers say they want to tackle homophobic bullying, 94% have never had any training on how to do so, a chilling legacy of the cloud cast by Section 28 over teacher training colleges.

The harm that this has caused to children was uncovered by Cambridge University research last year, which found that 55% of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people have experienced homophobic bullying. Three in five said teachers never intervene when this bullying takes place. A quarter of gay young people told the same researchers that they had attempted suicide and more than half said they had self-harmed.

That’s why it’s so disturbing that scores of schools continue to enshrine the offensive language of Section 28 in their policies, signalling to gay young people that their lives and experiences are somehow second class and it’s possible to somehow “promote” the way they were born. Yet it’s hard to blame individual schools, many of whom are still using official guidance on sex and relationship education issued at the turn of the century and predating the repeal of Section 28 by three years. To be sure, governing bodies in these schools have been careless to allow policies which aren’t lawful to escape through their scrutiny, but the Department for Education has to take responsibility now.

To its credit, the Conservative party has taken great strides in recent years to liberate itself from its anti-gay legacy and win back the trust of gay voters, from David Cameron’s heartfelt apology for Section 28 in 2009 to Michael Gove’s recent outspoken advocacy of the need to tackle homophobic bullying. Yet this good work is being threatened by the intransigence of officials within the Department for Education who, despite repeated warnings from Stonewall, have refused to issue new sex and relationships guidance ever since the repeal of Section 28.

We know that this education secretary, Michael Gove, isn’t afraid of shaking up his department. He now has a golden opportunity to insist that new guidance, which makes plain to schools their responsibility to support their gay pupils, is issued and to ensure that the new national curriculum is reflective of the lives of gay people too. From Stonewall’s engagement with over 10,000 schools across Britain through our Education for All campaign, we know that this leadership from the top is exactly what most of them are crying out for.

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