Parents are now overwhelmingly in favour of LGBT-inclusive education in schools, but many people across the country were educated under the shadow of Section 28, a notorious anti-gay law that banned the 'promotion' of homosexuality. On the final day of LGBT History Month, The Herald has spoken to two teachers about the ways in which Section 28 affected them.

Jim Whannel – retired teacher, headteacher and local education adviser

The Herald:

“Section 28 was very effective in degrading and demeaning people.”

I started teaching in 87 and then went on to various posts - I was a primary head teacher, and then an education advisor. Section 28 came in in 1988.

I was aware of it. I think most gay and lesbian teachers were very much aware of it because it was part the backdrop in which we were working, and affected everybody. The effect of Section 28 was to make teachers feel that they could never mention anything to do with gay and lesbian people within the curriculum. It was to degrade and demean people, and Section 28 was very effective in degrading and demeaning people.

So most teachers, what they did was they avoided any issues which related to gay or lesbian people as far as the possibly could, and we see the vibrations of that in Florida just now with their 'Don't Say Gay' Bill. It was all to pretend, in a sense, that gay and lesbian people don't exist and that was the point really.

I think the main thing that happened was that teachers felt isolated - individual gay and lesbian teachers, and also heterosexual teachers.

READ MORE: Survey reveals overwhelming parental support for LGBT-inclusive education

There was this absurd notion that the world was entirely heterosexual and if there were gay or lesbian people they were second class and in pretended family relationships. Most people nowadays, in fact the vast majority, an overwhelming majority of people, will think that's ridiculous, but at that time in the mid-to-late 80s the context was such that it was a very reactionary time, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, there was no Scottish Parliament, HIV and AIDS was an appalling issue, which was impacting primarily on gay men but also in Scotland there other communities impacted. And that lead to a general feeling of fear and isolation.

It impacted on teachers on a personal level but you've got to also remember that at that point there was no Equality Act. It was perfectly legal to dismiss a person on grounds of homosexuality and all cases been lost in the 80s at employment tribunals. And it is not the case that the labour movement and the trade union movement were completely on message around protecting gay and lesbian people in the workforce either. We should remember that initially Section 28 was supported by the Labour Party. It quite quickly they changed the position - but it was a changed position. It wasn't that the Labour Party leadership looked at the Local Government Act and Section 28 and thought immediately it was outrageous. It was pressure that caused the change.

But that's something about the 1980s as well: the miners' strike had been lost, the Conservative Party had a very strong hold over over the country, and this amendment was placed into the Local Government Act by two Conservative MPs to oppress gay and lesbian people. That was the mission and in that sense it was effective because it created a climate that this was something that we teachers must avoid, it was something which was not to be included in the curriculum, and therefore we had to present to young people this ludicrous view of what human beings are like. That was the point.

Bullying is connected to a culture and a climate, and Section 28 was part of that culture and climate. It said: 'these people are different from us, separate from us, not as good as us and you aren't to engage with them across society.’

After Section 28, I think there was a period where there maybe was emerging awareness and knowledge but not enough action. I think we've now moved into a zone where there is awareness and knowledge and action.

There are school Pride groups. You drive past schools and see rainbow flags. There are great pieces of work going on in schools challenging homophobia.

READ MORE: In charts: parental support for LGBT-inclusive schooling

As evidence of society and education moving on, local authorities and school inspectors now cite good practice around equality. That was unthinkable - that a school would be publicly praised by the national inspection agency, or by the local authority, for the excellent work they're doing in terms of equality.

For somebody like me, a teacher who started in the 1980s, I could not have envisaged that that could happen, that something so monumental and radical would change. In Scotland, the fact that the national agency for inspection, and local authorities which control and run the education system, would publicly seek to acknowledge good practice in terms of combatting homophobia - I mean it's quite amazing really.

Everything is incomplete, and every human being doesn't do what they should be doing, but it's not what it was when I was young.


David Dick – nursery teacher and co-chair of the EIS LGBT+ subcommittee

The Herald:

“Section 28 haunted the landscape of Scottish education for a long time.”

I was born in 1979 and I went to primary school in 1984. Section 28 obviously came in 1988 and I left secondary school in 1997 when I was just about to turn 18. So Section 28 was in place for all of my primary and all of my secondary. I came out as gay in 2000 when I was 20.

Obviously at the time I did not realise that Section 28 was in place, but when I look back at how it was growing up for me and for other lesbian and gay children across Scotland, and across the UK, we were kind of robbed of the positive reinforcement that we could have done with to give us positive messages about our future identities.

So there were no role models, there was no discussion about it, there was absolutely no support in place for it, no understanding. And it's all contextualised into the political climate of the 80s. You know Thatcher brought that in on the back of the miners' strike - she was very emboldened. There was the Greater London Council that was doing progressive things. Gay rights, if you like, were moving in a progressive path in the early-to-middle 80s. When Section 28 came in it was hot on the hells of the AIDS crisis and it all kind of coalesced with a homophobic media and Margaret Thatcher using it to divide and conquer.

READ MORE: ‘We need more support’ – trans students on their experience of Scottish schools

It was just a spiteful piece of bigotry really, but it came into law. So when we were at school the only discussion about being lesbian or gay was obviously in very negative terms. I knew that to be gay was bad. I knew I was going to be scapegoated and I was going to be bullied.

I think from my own point of view I repressed my sexuality: I was sociable, I had friends, I was going through puberty, but I certainly wasn't sexually active in any way.

It was repealed in the year 2000. I had left school by that point and was at university, and then I went into teaching in 2007. When I was going back in to schools as a teacher I remember, in my probation year, going back into the closet because I had no perception that schools were a safe place for gay people. It was that kind of chilling effect where school had always been an unsafe place to be gay or lesbian. It was unsafe to be out. There were no teachers that were out - there were certainly rumours about teachers, but it was always negative.

So growing up under Section 28 was ultimately very, very isolating because you had that kind of perception that you were the only one. This was pre-internet, pre-social media, before being able to reach out beyond your own social group.

The point about the repeal of Section 28 in 2000 was you would have thought that if a piece of legislation was blocking resources and training around LGBT+ issues, that once it was removed there would have been a rushing in of the training and of the resources... and that just did not happen.

Section 28 haunted the landscape of Scottish education for a long time. People didn't want to go near it with a barge pole. They didn't know what to do. The wealth of experience and knowledge had not been built up properly because of Section 28. It's only really changed in the past sort of five years, I think, when the TIE campaign really galvanised it.

I think under Section 28 no one was actually prosecuted, so it was always this kind of spectre anyway, and people were scared of it, so once it was removed that feeling of being unsure about it just remained.

And think about that time in history, in the year 2000, and think about the repeal with Brian Souter's private referendum and all that. I was coming out to my family and my friends and seeing the billboards and the rhetoric in the Daily Record and more. So you can imagine that even though Section 28 was gone, and the repeal had worked, we hadn't moved on long enough for education to take things forward.

Things are better now and one of the things that changed a lot in the past 15 years in Scotland is that there were a lot of legal changes: so we got equal marriage, but we only get that in 2014, and we got joint adoption for gay couples, we got IVF for lesbians, we got the Equality Act in 2010. All that kind going through has really changed the types of parents that are bringing children to our settings.

READ MORE: How LGBT-inclusive education changed Scotland’s schools for the better

We need to have settings that are inclusive and give visibility to LGBT+ parents and carers because they are actually coming through the doors of the nurseries and the schools all the time.

So things are definitely much, much better, but there is a lesson from Section 28 that we do need to remember.

Trans people at the moment are under the spotlight. They're being scrutinised and scapegoated, for example through all this stuff with the Gender Recognition Act. And there's also all the social media stuff that's going on just now.

The repeal of Section 28 in 2000 didn't have social media as a factor but can you imagine what that would have been like? Would it have been repealed in those in those circumstances?

You can understand why trans children and young people in particular might be feeling that things haven't got better for them because the finger is getting pointed at them, and all the nasty stuff people used to about lesbian and gay folk is now being said about trans people.