The Government’s new guidelines on teaching sex education are being criticised by OutRage! as “weak and insufficiently inclusive”.
The guidance to teachers is set out in an amendment to the Learning and Skills Bill. It gives prominence to teaching about “marriage and permanent relationships”.
“The guidelines are not inclusive enough. They do not oblige schools to provide pupils with gay sex education and safer sex advice. To safeguard their well-being, gay students need specific, affirmative information about homosexuality and HIV prevention. The guidelines do not require schools to provide this information. That is a weakness”, said Peter Tatchell of OutRage!.
“Instead of the reference to marriage, we would prefer neutral guidance stating that teaching about sex and relationships should emphasize the importance of mutual consent, respect, fulfilment and commitment.
“This formulation would cover everyone — married and unmarried, gay and straight, and those inside and outside traditional family relationships.
“OutRage! supports the principle of legally-binding guidelines to compel schools to provide open, honest, nonjudgemental information about homosexuality and gay safer sex. Without this legal requirement, most schools will continue to evade their responsibility to safeguard the emotional and physical health of lesbian and gay students. Because gay issues are viewed as a political hot potato, teachers will err on the side of caution and neglect the needs of gay pupils.
“Some teachers are themselves homophobic, whilst many others feel uncomfortable or ill-equipped to talk about homosexuality.
“To ensure impartial, effective education on gay issues, teachers need to receive specialist training on how to discuss homosexuality and gay safer sex in the classroom”, said Mr. Tatchell.
Excerpt from the Draft Guidelines
1.30 It is up to schools to make sure that the needs of all pupils are met in their programmes. Young people, whatever their developing sexuality, need to feel that it is relevant to them and sensitive to their needs. The Secretary of State for Education and Employment is clear that teachers should be able to deal honestly and sensitively with sexual orientation, answer appropriate questions and offer support. There should be no direct promotion of sexual orientation.
1.31 Sexual orientation and what is taught in schools is an area of concern for some parents. Schools that liaise closely with parents when developing their sex and relationship education policy and programme should be able to reassure parents of the content of the programme and the context in which it will be presented.
1.32 Guidance issued by the Department (Social Inclusion: Pupil Support Circular 10/99) dealt with the unacceptability of and emotional distress and harm caused by bullying in whatever form – be it racial, as a result of a pupil’s appearance, related to sexual orientation or for any other reason.
Alan Milburn (Health Secretary) and Baroness Jay (Minister for Women and a former health minister) have formally complained to Mr. Blunkett about the requirement for teachers to promote marriage in schools; and Chris Smith (Culture Secretary) has also contacted Mr. Blunkett to raise concerns that the Government is replacing Section 28 with a clause putting a legally-binding duty on teachers to promote heterosexuality.
In Scotland Donald Gorrie MSP, Local Government Spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, has rejected calls that the Scottish Executive should follow the example of Westminster. — “It is wrong for a few bishops to be involved in drafting the actual wording of a Bill with Ministers. Who have the bishops consulted? … When it comes to Section 28 it is the views of young people that we should be listening to. They are more relevant to the issue than a small group of bishops.”
Teachers could be jailed for up to five years for consenting relationships with pupils, under the “abuse of trust” clause in the age of consent Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill.
The abuse of trust clause is being condemned as “draconian” by OutRage!, who are urging MPs to register their disapproval of the clause.
“Sex between teachers and pupils is wrong. But it should be punished as a disciplinary offence under the teacher’s professional code of conduct, not by imprisonment”, according to Peter Tatchell of OutRage!.
“Together with the main teaching unions, we oppose the criminalisation of consensual sex. There is no justification for punishing teachers with up to five years jail for a consenting relationship that may be based on sincere love and commitment.
“Not all such relationships are predatory or exploitative. In the case of a young teacher and an older pupil, there may be only a few years difference in their ages. The relationship could have developed entirely naturally and spontaneously, without any manipulation or abuse.”
GAY CONSENT OFFENDERS WILL REMAIN ON SEX REGISTER
Home Office Minister Charles Clarke MP has said that, even after the equalisation of the age of consent, men convicted of consenting gay sex with 16 and 17 year olds will remain on the Sex Offenders’ Register. His admission comes in a letter to Brian Iddon MP, dated 2nd February 2000.
“Under the Sex Offenders’ Act 1997, a man aged 20 who has a consensual gay relationship with a 17 year old is branded a pædophile and required to sign the Sex Offenders’ Register. No such penalty applies to equivalent heterosexual behaviour. Sex between men and women in the same circumstances is not even an offence.
“The age of consent Bill must be amended to remove from the Sex Offenders’ Register men convicted of consenting homosexual relationships with 16 and 17 year olds.
“Once consent is equalised at 16, the offence for which they were convicted and forced to sign the Sex Offenders’ Register will cease to exist. It is therefore inappropriate for them to remain on the Register”, said Mr. Tatchell.
Gay campaigners, MPs and London mayoral candidates are being criticised by OutRage! for making the misleading claim that Section 28 “prevents teachers from talking about gay issues and combating homophobic bullying”.
“Section 28 prohibits the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities, but not by schools,” said John Beeson of OutRage!.
“Although Section 28 affects schools in Scotland, it does not have any influence over the curriculum in England and Wales.
“There is no ban on teaching about homosexuality or educating against prejudice”, said Mr. Beeson. “Under Section 28, even the outright promotion, advocacy and encouragement of gay sexuality in schools is totally lawful.”
Mr. Beeson has also warned that the “mere repeal” of Section 28 will not be sufficient to remedy the censorship of homosexual issues in schools, and the lack of support for lesbian and gay pupils.
“Section 28 must be replaced by new legislation placing a legal obligation on all schools to provide honest, nonjudgemental information about homosexuality and gay safer sex. There must also be a statutory requirement that schools combat homophobic bullying.
“Section 28 does not apply to schools, except in Scotland. Since the reorganisation of the education system, responsibility for the content of the curriculum has been devolved to school governors acting in consultation with headteachers, staff and parents.
“Section 28 prohibits the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities. Since they no longer control what is taught in schools, Section 28 cannot be used to prevent the teaching of gay issues in the classroom”, said Mr. Beeson.
According to fellow OutRage! campaigner Peter Tatchell:
“Section 28 does not place any restrictions on the English school curriculum, and MPs and London mayoral hopefuls are wrong to claim that it makes supportive teaching on gay issues illegal.
“The big problem is that many teachers mistakenly believe that Section 28 applies to schools. This has led them to censor gay issues in the classroom.
“Homosexuality is often excluded from sex education and HIV prevention lessons. A lot of teachers are afraid to give supportive advice and counselling to lesbian and gay pupils, some of whom may be depressed or suicidal as a result of ostracism and bullying. They erroneously fear prosecution under Section 28.
“Section 28 must be repealed to clear up this confusion and misunderstanding. In its place, schools should be legally obliged to give pupils the facts about homosexuality and gay safer sex, encourage understanding and tolerance, and validate the sexual and emotional feelings of those who are homosexual.
“Unless the sympathetic teaching of gay issues is made mandatory, many schools will continue to evade their responsibility to tackle homophobic prejudice and bullying. Some teachers are themselves homophobic and many feel uncomfortable or ill-equipped to talk about homosexuality.
“To ensure impartial, effective teaching on gay issues, teachers need to receive specialist training on how to discuss homosexuality and gay safer sex in the classroom”, said Mr. Tatchell.
The new legislation to repeal Section 28 is being criticised by OutRage! as “inadequate”.
“Scrapping Section 28 is no guarantee that teachers will challenge anti-gay prejudice and give adequate support to vulnerable lesbian and gay pupils”, said John Beeson of OutRage!.
“The Bill must be amended to place a legal obligation on schools to combat homophobic bullying, provide factual information about homosexual issues, and ensure the welfare of gay students.
“Without this legal requirement, many teachers will continue to shy away from dealing with gay issues in an upfront, honest manner.
“While no school should promote either homosexuality or heterosexuality, they do have a duty to promote understanding and tolerance. That duty needs to be enshrined in law”, said Mr. Beeson.
The Rt. Hon. David Blunkett, MP,
Secretary of State for Education and Employment.
25th May, 1999.
Dear Mr. Blunkett,
Promoting Lesbian and Gay Equality of Opportunity in Schools
Following the sickening London bombings in April which targeted minority groups, OutRage! has been encouraged by some of the reported pronouncements by Tony Blair and Jack Straw on the need to promote equality, inclusivity and integration of ethnic groups, lesbians, and gay men, proactively; by your own statement ten days ago on proposals to “help young people develop a full understanding of their duties and responsibilities as citizens in a civilised and mature democracy”; and by the more recent explicit call by Sports Minister Tony Banks for gay football players to “come out”, to help combat homophobia in sport.
Although the Government has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to repealing Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act, it is recognised throughout the teaching profession and elsewhere that the continued existence of this deplorable legislation on the Statute Books promotes and maintains an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship, so that lesbian and gay pupils are all too effectively denied any form of support; whilst their heterosexual peers receive no encouragement to accept individuals whose sexuality is different from their own. — The need for this was underlined during the House of Lords debate last month on the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, where it was revealed that the NSPCC, Save the Children, Barnado’s, NCH Action for Children, the BMA, Royal College of Nursing, Family Welfare Association, and the National Union of Teachers all supported equality and integration.
You will be aware of the tragic suicide last autumn of Darren Steele, who, after enduring years of homophobic bullying, committed suicide at the age of 15. You may also be aware of the 1998 GALOP survey of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth, “Telling it like it is”, which found:
- 54% had suffered repeated verbal abuse
- 35% physical abuse in school
- 33% verbal abuse at school
- 9% repeated hate communications
- 8% repeated intimidation
- 7% sexual abuse at school
- 4% hate communications & property damage/theft
A 1992 survey by the Lesbian Youth Support Group and Information Service concluded that, of the young lesbians questioned, a staggering 70% of those who had experienced homophobic abuse had attempted suicide. — Given that many young lesbian, gay and bisexual people feel unable to be open about their sexuality, these statistics must represent just the tip of the iceberg.
On behalf of OutRage!, I am writing to urge you publicly:
- to reaffirm that Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act neither applies to schools, nor restricts the supportive teaching and counselling that schools should offer on lesbian and gay issues;
- to call on schools to take firm action to halt all forms of homophobic bullying, whether directed at pupils or at staff, and regardless of the suspected sexuality of the victims;
- to confirm that being lesbian or gay is no bar to being a teacher;
- to encourage lesbians and gay men throughout the teaching profession to “come out”, and to advise schools and local education authorities that no teacher who does come out should be dismissed or in any other way disadvantaged for being honest and open about their sexuality.
Your leadership on these matters would do much to help support gay pupils and teachers, and would be greatly appreciated.
The Government’s abuse of trust clause in the new age of consent Bill is “inadequate, misguided and oppressive”, says OutRage!.
“It fails to give young people sufficient protection against sexual abuse and unjustifiably criminalises consenting and loving relationships”, according to OutRage! spokesperson, Peter Tatchell.
OutRage! is calling on the Government and the House of Lords to amend the Bill to require all schools to provide earlier, better quality sex education which, it argues, is the key to combating sex abuse.
“The age of consent Bill does not go far enough to protect teenagers against sexual exploitation”, said Tatchell.
“We want the Bill amended to require sehools to provide improved sex education. Young people need to be empowered with the skills and confidence to resist unwanted sexual advances and to report abuse if it occurs.
“Current sex education fails to address abuse issues in an upfront, honest way. Pupils are not taught what to do if they are pestered for sex by a parent, teacher or care worker. They don’t get information about how to deal with sexual harassment.
“All the evidence shows that young people who are equipped with the ability and assuredness to say ‘no’ to unwanted sex are much more likely to rebuff and report would-be abusers.
“If the Government and the House of Lords are serious about safeguarding teenagers against sexual manipulation, they should amend the age of consent Bill to ensure that school sex education lessons promote young people’s sexual rights, which include the right to reject sex they don’t want.”
OutRage! is highly critical of the Government’s new abuse of trust law.
“The abuse of trust legislation concentrates on penalising abuse after it has happened. Our emphasis on improved sex education would help stop abuse happening in the first place”, said Tatchell.
“OutRage! opposes the way the abuse of trust clause criminalises consenting sex. Sexual relations between a young person and an adult in a position of authority over them are inappropriate, but they should be subject to discipline under professional codes of conduct, not criminalisation.
“We don’t believe that teachers and care workers should be punished by up to two years’ jail for a sincere, loving relationship”, said Tatchell.
London Oratory School stands accused of homophobia. Some teachers displayed hostile, fearful homophobic reactions when on arrival at school they were handed leaflets headlined “It’s OK to be GAY!” this morning (Wednesday, 20th May at 8:15 a.m.) by 14 members of OutRage!.
Several teachers expresssed hostility to the discussion of lesbian and gay issues, being too afraid to take a leaflet; and a small number of pupils shouted “queers” and “poofs” at the leafleters. Worryingly, one member of staff defended the right of teachers to be homophobic. Other teachers and parents, however, were supportive. — One parent requested copies of the leaflet for her younger son’s primary school.
“London Oratory School has a number of homophobic staff who are clearly too terrified even to accept information on gay issues”, said John Hunt of OutRage!. “As we have witnessed today, antigay prejudice is a problem the school needs to confront urgently.”
The OutRage! leaflet says: “Heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality are equally valid … If you are not sure about your sexuality, it’s okay to experiment. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!”.
It features photos of kissing gay couples, and lists phone numbers for lesbian and gay helplines and youth groups. The leaflet asks: “Are your teachers giving you the gay facts of life?”.
OutRage! is calling for an end to the censorship of gay issues in the classroom. “We want the repeal of Section 28, and new legislation requiring all schools to provide honest, nonjudgemental information about homosexuality. Schools should be legally obliged to combat prejudice and promote the welfare of lesbian and gay pupils”, said Huw Williams of OutRage!.
“There is massive censorship of gay issues in schools. Homosexuality is not mentioned in most sex education lessons. No information is given about how to have gay sex safely.
“Our leaflet gives students the gay facts of life. Teachers should be providing this information: but most are failing to do so”, said Mr. Williams. “Most teachers are now aware of the need to combat racism: but very few demonstrate comparable concern about homophobia.”
OutRage!’s leafleting coincides with the 10th anniversary this coming Sunday of Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act becoming law. Section 28 bans the “promotion” of homosexuality by local authorities. OutRage! says many teachers mistakenly believe that Section 28 applies to schools. (It doesn’t.) This has led teachers to censor lesbian and gay issues. OutRage! wants Section 28 repealed, to end this confusion.
The OutRage! leaflet calls on pupils to challenge antigay bullying in the school playground, and to support their lesbian and gay classmates. It advises gay students who are being bullied to contact Childline on 0800-1111.
A 1996 SURVEY OF LESBIANS & GAYS UNDER 18 FOUND THAT:
A 1998 REPORT PUBLISHED BY THE TERRENCE HIGGINS TRUST FOUND THAT:
ORGANISATIONS WHICH SUPPORT BETTER GAY SEX EDUCATION INCLUDE:
PHOTOGRAPHS: Kevin Weaver 020-126.96.36.199 or 0850-56.67.10
FURTHER INFORMATION: Peter Tatchell 020-74.03.17.90
Thank you for your letter … regarding sex education for young gay people in schools.
Well planned and effectively presented sex education is vital. Young people need to gain the skills and understanding necessary to take responsible decisions about their personal and sexual behaviour. Although the responsibility for the detailed content and organisation of sex education lies with individual schools, there is no restriction on teaching about lesbian and gay issues in the classroom. Diversity, gender issues and the challenging of stereotypes should feature as part of schools’ Personal, Social and Health Education provision. (Emphasis added.) Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 applies to the activities of the local authorities themselves, so does not apply to the activities of the governing bodies and staff of schools. Nevertheless, the Government has long made clear its opposition to Section 28 and intends to repeal it when legislative opportunity exists.
I do not believe that there is room for complacency regarding the current provision of sex education in schools, but rather development and improvement. This Department, along with the Department of Health, is considering sex education and the provision of sexual health services, in the context of the Government’s health strategy.
(Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State)