Section 28, or, how to start a revolution from your bedroom

As every­one will no doubt be aware by now, espe­cially through the Independent’s front page on Tues­day, 45 schools stood accused of rein­tro­duc­ing the homo­pho­bic Sec­tion 28 through their sex and rela­tion­ship edu­ca­tion poli­cies. Whether it’s through delib­er­ate mal­ice or lazy copy-and-pasting of out­dated advice — and I’m strongly inclined to believe it’s the lat­ter in most cases — it couldn’t come at a more oppor­tune time, espe­cially when eyes are on Rus­sia for their sim­i­lar (but much more enforced) law on “homo­sex­ual pro­pa­ganda” and in the wake of a pro­tracted mar­riage equal­ity debate where sev­eral reac­tionar­ies were claim­ing, above NUT advice, that teach­ers were in dan­ger of being forced to teach about homosexuality!

Of course, as with the whole non­sense over peo­ple in dan­ger of being sacked for their oppo­si­tion to same-sex mar­riage (where the only ver­i­fied case of dis­missal that was directly due to their beliefs on mar­riage was Olly Neville, who was sacked as leader of UKIP’s youth wing for sup­port­ing it), this again has a mas­sive dis­con­nect from the real­ity; as teacher Peter Smith noted on Twit­ter, he faced instant dis­missal if he said that being homo­sex­ual was okay.

There is some prej­u­dice within cer­tain activist com­mu­ni­ties that if you aren’t involved in direct per­sonal action, your activism is some­what less impor­tant. Of course, this doesn’t fac­tor in such obsta­cles such as phys­i­cal or men­tal abil­ity, lack of dis­pos­able income, pre­car­i­ous employ­ment sta­tus, or fear of police bru­tal­ity, that could pre­clude such activism; indeed, my own men­tal ill­nesses make it hard for me to engage in tra­di­tional protest. Car­o­line Lucas can afford to get arrested at Bal­combe, and her sta­tus as an MP — as she freely admits — pre­vented her from most of the police response that the man on her left was shown to receive.

Twit­ter is really effec­tive at open­ing up activism to the wider pub­lic. As we saw over the Jane Austen ban­knotes cam­paign, it allows activism to be taken from often-ineffective lob­by­ing groups to a much more tire­less an uncom­pro­mis­ing cam­paign base. While the major­ity of good activism via social media comes from places such as the Mid­dle East and North Africa, where the pub­lic are using that voice to dis­sent from their auto­cratic lead­ers, that doesn’t mean it can’t, or doesn’t, hap­pen here.

The Sec­tion 28 issue was some­thing that came to my atten­tion through the twit­ter user Jon Brad­field – who prob­a­bly found out from Benali Ham­dache – when he high­lighted Col­ston Girls’ School in Bris­tol hav­ing such a pol­icy in mid-June. Through the use of the Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act — which is a valu­able tool in any activist’s pocket — and talk­ing to the local MP, Stephen Williams, we were able to get said pol­icy over­turned rather quickly.

Over the sev­eral weeks that fol­lowed, more schools came to my atten­tion that had these poli­cies, and sadly while LGBT activists were busy push­ing for the Lords to pass the mar­riage bill they were going to pass any­way, it didn’t get much atten­tion (although I did keep the NUS LGBT Cam­paign up-to-date, in case either Sky or Finn noticed it on the Face­book group). As I kept doing some research, I found sev­eral faith schools that also had sim­i­lar policies.

This, of course, is where the British Human­ist Asso­ci­a­tion comes in. As a sup­porter of the BHA, I thought they would be help­ful in clear­ing up what the law was regard­ing faith school cur­ric­ula. The infor­ma­tion was a mess, hint­ing that Ed Balls, as Edu­ca­tion Sec­re­tary, had tried to include an opt-out in the Chil­dren, Fam­i­lies, and Schools Act 2010, which had failed (through lack of par­lia­men­tary time) to pass into law. I had sur­mised that the pub­lic sec­tor equal­ity duty would still apply, and make these poli­cies ten­u­ous at best.

Mas­sive thanks must be given to Richy Thomp­son and the team who worked on this issue. Over the past six weeks, they’ve been work­ing hard along­side me to bring nearly all of the 45 named schools to light. This couldn’t have been the story it was with­out them.

And then, in the wee hours of Sat­ur­day morn­ing, some­thing hap­pened that I didn’t expect. I was dis­cussing the idea of “homo­sex­ual pro­pa­ganda”, and whether its use as a homo­pho­bic polit­i­cal card could have its own use on Wikipedia — between Rus­sia, Ten­nessee, and Sec­tion 28, there def­i­nitely is a pat­tern of said use. I lazily searched Google, again, for the phrase that has become so infa­mous over the past few days, “The gov­ern­ing body will not per­mit the pro­mo­tion of homo­sex­u­al­ity.” After find­ing said phrase, I sent in a FOI request, informed the NUS LGBT Face­book group and went to bed.

By the time I woke up that after­noon, the news had spread like wild­fire, as Gay Star News and Pink News started cov­er­ing it. By early Sun­day morn­ing, the esti­mate had jumped to at least eight schools, and on Sun­day after­noon, after hav­ing just fin­ished the research them­selves, the BHA raised that num­ber to 45. By Tues­day, it was on the front page of the Inde­pen­dent, and the DfE and Welsh Gov­ern­ment made it their top pri­or­ity. And no-one more than me is sur­prised at how mas­sive this story has become, even bat­tling David Miranda’s deten­tion (which, I think, is a big­ger story) for cov­er­age and dis­cus­sion. It’s a mas­sive source of pride to know that some­thing you had directly been involved in had made the front page of a national newspaper.

I don’t know what else to say but thanks to all the peo­ple who helped bring this to light over the past few weeks and espe­cially over the past few days, to Jon and Benali, to Richy and the BHA, to Alice Hoyle of the Sex Edu­ca­tion Forum, to Wes Street­ing and Stonewall (although my crit­i­cism of them as a trans activist still stands, and I’m rather con­cerned with how one of their poster “School Cham­pi­ons” is on the list) and to every­one else I’ve for­got­ten to men­tion. And I totally sup­port efforts to make SRE com­pul­sory part of the National Cur­ricu­lum, despite the dis­ap­point­ing fail­ure of the Gov­ern­ment to include it in the Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies Bill, because we des­per­ately, des­per­ately need it.


  1. Richard Thomas says:

    See­ing the like­li­hood that there is a reli­gious moti­va­tion for the revival of s 28 in these schools, there might need to be a quick sur­vey to check how these acad­e­mies teach sci­ence — is cre­ation­ism creep­ing in by the backdoor?

  2. Alex Cale says:

    Hi Sarah,

    My name is Alex and I just had a quick ques­tion about your blog. Please email me back at your ear­li­est convenience!

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