Material Promoting Homosexuality in British Schools 'Waiting in the Wings'

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

London ( - The Blair government's effort to scrap a law banning the promotion of homosexuality in schools came to an abrupt - if temporary - halt Monday night when the upper House of Lords defeated draft legislation.

On a 210-165 voter, peers passed an amendment proposed by a Conservative Party lawmaker to retain Section 28 of the Local Government Act. Introduced by a Conservative government in the 1980s, Section 28 says local authorities "shall not promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship."

Monday night's vote makes it unlikely that the ban on promoting homosexuality in schools will be lifted before the next general election.

The setback for the government came shortly after pro-family activists got a look at the kind of material that would be used in schools should Section 28 be abolished.

"It's there, it's waiting in the wings," said Valerie Riches of Family and Youth Concern, who examined some of the material this week and said it was "not the sort one would wish to have in schools."

"I think that if the clause [Section 28] is repealed the place would be flooded with this," she told Tuesday. "This is the reason why the clause was [introduced] in the first place."

Riches said the teaching aids were sending "entirely the wrong message" to pupils, especially to vulnerable early adolescents "going through this phase of wondering about their sexual orientation, and the vast majority pass through it."

One example of the type of message already being offered is a teaching pack and video directed at 14-16 year olds in at least 200 secondary schools in the west of England. Critics say it not only encourages homosexual experimentation, but also skirts around the legal age of consent.

Called Beyond a Phase: A Practical Guide to Challenging Homophobia in Schools, the video invites children to discuss whether 15-year-old "Michael" should have sex with his boyfriend without using a condom.

"College student Karl" then shares his sexual experiences, saying that "when you are growing up, you try experimenting with both boys and girls to see who you feel most comfortable with."

"Matt" tells how his mother told him at 14 his feelings were a phase. "A year later, I woke them up by bringing one of my boyfriends home. That really shook them up. It was right in their face. It isn't a phase ... you have got to live with it."

The pack encourages teachers to have pupils role-play, by imagining themselves as such characters as a married man who has sex in secret with other men, a bisexual grandmother, and a black lesbian in a wheelchair.

Pupils are invited to discuss ways in which "we have been taught to be heterosexual" by media images and other pressures.

The teaching pack was commissioned by the Avon Health Authority in the west of England. Spokesman Lee Barnes told the authority had received "some concerns and letters" but no official complaints.

He denied that the video was encouraging children to experiment sexually, saying it took the form of pupils discussing issues among themselves, with no adult participation and no script.

"We stand by the video. Teachers are pleased with it, they are using it. They don't shove it down their students' throats. It's for them to decide to show it to their students if they think their students are mature enough," Barnes said.

"We don't see it as promoting homosexuality, we see it as promoting tolerance."

The only reason Beyond a Phase is not illegal is because it was produced by health authorities, who are exempt from Section 28. If the Section 28 goes, campaigners say, this type of teaching tool will become commonplace.

Some of the material already being used is raising eyebrows.

Riches pointed to a workbook aimed at teachers of five to 11-year-olds, which recommends to teachers: "Don't talk about marriage; talk about the specialness of sexual relations."

The book contains "as much about homosexuality and lesbianism as there was about heterosexuality." Seven-year-olds could be told "mutual masturbation" was a form of safer sex.

"We're talking about primary school children," she said.

When Family and Youth Concern complained to the Education Department, officials there responded that the subject was handled "sensitively." The workbook was "not withdrawn, it was praised."

Riches said she was "pleased and surprised" at the result of the Lords' vote, and particularly gratified to hear Labor lawmakers describe the debate on Section 28 as a conscience issue.

But while she saw the vote as a victory, she and other Section 28 supporters had no doubt the struggle would continue.

"I don't think the battle is over. I don't think in this area it ever will be, because there's a powerful [advocacy lobby] involved, heavily financed."

Indeed, the government already has announced it will press ahead with removing what it calls "bad legislation," offering to replace it with new guidelines encouraging teachers to emphasize the importance of marriage and family life.

But guidelines will not work, Riches says. If ways were found to get around the law, then guidelines that carried no sanctions would be useless.

"Guidelines have no legal status; they're merely guidelines. And people can ignore them, with impunity, apparently."

Peter Tatchell, spokesman for the advocacy group OutRage, said in reaction to the Lords vote: "The retention of Section 28 will give comfort to homophobes everywhere."

Riches shrugged off the allegations of "homophobia."

"You can't even have a reasonable debate, you can't present research material showing something they don't like - like health hazards - without being called homophobic. It's disgraceful, it is a form of bullying, of silencing people."