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Teachers ‘scarred’ by legacy of 1988’s Section 28

Legislation repealed in 2003 continues to affect the professional life of LGBT+ teachers

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LGBT+ teachers who taught in schools during the late 1980s and 1990s remain scarred by the effects of Section 28 of the Local Government Act in England – a piece of legislation introduced in 1988 banning the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools – according to new research published in the journal Sex Education.

The legislation was introduced partly as a reaction to a 1986 children’s book called Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin, which depicted the life of a child with two gay fathers. Controversy about the availability of the book in some schools in London led to the passing of Section 28.

It was repealed in 2003, but during the time of its enforcement, many LGBT+ teachers felt it prohibited them from being open about their own sexual identity in the workplace.

Researchers found that 88% of post-2003 teachers were public about their sexuality to all school colleagues, compared to 20% of those from the Section 28 era.

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Research by Anglia Ruskin University compared the current attitudes of teachers who taught during this era, and those who entered the profession after its repeal. Researchers found that 88% of post-2003 teachers were public about their sexuality to all school colleagues, compared to 20% of those from the Section 28 era. While 45% of post-2003 teachers were “out” to their pupils, the same was true of only a fifth of Section 28 teachers.

The study, compiled using questionnaires, also revealed just 20% of Section 28 teachers lived in their school’s catchment area compared to 43% of post-2003 colleagues. Comments by respondents spoke of guarding their privacy aggressively, and fiercely separating out home and workplace identities, with privacy closely associated with safety among LGBT+ individuals.

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The Conservative government under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were responsible for enacting Section 28. (C) BIGSTOCK

There were also notable differences between the two groups in how they socialised with their school communities. 60% of Section 28 teachers never took their partner to school social events. However, only 12% of post-2003 teachers never took their partner along.

A total of 48% of Section 28 teachers had suffered from anxiety and depression linked to their sexuality and role as a teacher, while the figure for post-2003 teachers was 24%.

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Dr Catherine Lee of Anglia Ruskin University, author of the study, said, “There has been significant progress in England in protecting LGBT+ teachers in the workplace since the repeal of Section 28. However, it is clear that a lot of teachers remain scarred by their experiences during this period.

“While this legislation was not the only difficult aspect of being an LGBT+ individual in the 1980s and 1990s, it has helped leave a legacy of caution, self-censorship and complex identity management that harmfully lingers some 15 years after the repeal.

“School leaders must reflect on the inclusiveness of their own institutions, and decide whether equality policies are actually lived on a day-to-day basis. LGBT+ teachers and pupils should be able to participate fully and without fear in their school communities.”


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