A response to the School LGBTQ+ Diversity Since Section 28/Clause 2a event
February is LGBT history month and in Scotland, the focus is on that Clause 2a/Section 28 was repealed 20 years ago (https://www.lgbtyouth.org.uk/news/2019/announcing-the-theme-for-lgbt-history-month-2020/ ). There were three more years for it in England and Wales and the less said about Northern Ireland the better. I grew up under Section 28 and it was a confusing time. We had no internet, and no school or medical resources about homosexuality or bisexuality so all we had was the media and that was … varied.
Most media articles were hysterical in tone. Gay men were either said to be or implied to be paedophiles, gay women were often ignored or considered frigid or man-hating and bisexuals needed to pick a side. Where there was variation in representation it was HUGE and isolated. The famous Brookside lesbian kiss (https://www.stonewall.org.uk/our-work/campaigns/1994-same-sex-kiss-between-two-women-brookside-builds-first-kiss-between-two-men ) was often reported for being “saucy” and framed through the male gaze. The gay kiss between Simon and Tony in EastEnders (https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/loud-proud-eastenders-gay-kiss-mark-homer_uk_5725ad16e4b0a1e971cb84f0) meanwhile should never have been shown before the watershed. Because sexuality was inherently sexual and not to be discussed.
For me growing up as bisexual in that world, and wanting to get married and have kids one day, “pick a side” meant picking men because there was no way I could have those things with a woman. I was still outspoken about gay rights but did not think that could apply for me. Things have changed but Section 28 cast a long shadow over the lives of so many people and has influenced the way children are taught, even today. There are more resources outside of school but they still take courage to find. It is still hard.
The Staff Pride Network held a schools event that highlighted the parallels between Section 28 and the treatment of trans rights and some attendees asked if there really was a parallel. For me, there are some obvious ones. Media representation of trans people has the same hysteria I remember from my childhood and teen years. Trans women are presented as sexually deviant, trans men are all but forgotten, non-binary identities? Pick a side. A recent Guardian Blind Dates column with a trans woman and a lesbian led to people claiming the trans woman was somehow tricking the lesbian. Thankfully she rebutted it in the strongest possible terms (https://twitter.com/aigroe/status/1199431598929784838?s=20).
I know the internet it a resource now, but not everyone has it in their homes. Imagine suspecting you are trans now in this media environment? How much courage would it take to look it up at school where people might see, particularly when everything you see is so hysterical and claims you are such a threat to the fabric of society (recalling Thatcher’s words as she introduced Section 28)?
The fact that so many of the arguments and tropes that were used against lesbian, gay and bisexual people are being used against out trans siblings is something many of us can’t ignore because we remember the impact those things had on our own lives, and our own opportunities to be who we really are.
The shadow of Section 28 is still long, and the impact on trans lives is still harder. Research from LGBTYS (https://www.lgbtyouth.org.uk/media/1354/life-in-scotland-for-lgbt-young-people.pdf ) shows that when asked if they had a mental health problem, 40% of LGBT young people and 66.7% of transgender young people said “yes”, while half (50%) of LGBT young people and 63% of transgender young people experienced suicidal thoughts or behaviours. 73% of LGBT young people, and 83% of transgender young people, who had experienced at least one mental health problem, had been bullied at school and this shows why the work of organisations like LGBTYS is so vital.
The parallels are real. We need to learn from the past, I know the 80s and 90s are back in fashion but prejudice, discrimination and bigotry never should be.