Sunday, 17 November 2013

Section 28 and why it must NEVER return

I thought that growing up in the shadow of Section 28 didn't affect me until I was all grown up. When I was at school, I didn't hear the word lesbian until I was well into my high school years, and when I did, it was almost always being thrown around as an insult.

I didn't know whether being gay was "ok" and this casual banter even infected my own lexicon. I became homophobic, without really even realising what that word meant. It seemed easier to turn a blind ear or worse still, join in, than it was to admit that I might be gay.
We didn't have any gay teachers, just suspected ones and we didn't have a single pupil in the whole school who was brave enough to come out (although between 6 and 10 from my year alone did once they left!)
Section 28 was something I had never heard of. I wasn't interested in politics or education policy and I didn't know any gay people anyway, so it just wasn't a thing that I ever needed to encounter.
Watching Ellen Degeneres come out in 1997 changed all that. I didn't come to terms with my sexuality until 2001 when I was 17 years old. But '97 was a crucial year for me. I suddenly understood what gay actually meant. I had an actual lesbian upon whom to anchor my thoughts.
I was still in the closet, even to myself, for the next four years and my sexuality expressed itself, unfortunately, as internalised homophobia. I watched Queer as Folk and thought it was incredible and exciting, but at school I said it was disgusting, because that was what all my friends said. I speculated about the sexuality of various teachers with my friends as I wrestled with my own sexual orientation.
What I feared most was somebody asking me directly, I don't think I could have lied. Four years later when I left high school, I came out and never looked back... Yeah right! I didn't have anybody telling my "It gets better" or "It's good to be gay". The backlash against Ellen had been brutal and in the UK, it was really no easier to come out as gay at 17 than it had been ten years earlier.
Once I was out, however, I never went back in. I came out to my Mum, she told my Dad, somehow my Nana found out and once I went off to university, I was a fledgling dyke waiting to spread my little gay wings.
University was a revelation. I suddenly had gay friends, got to experience gay clubs and the "gay lifestyle" (which is very much like the "straight lifestyle" but with more rainbows). It was then, at my first Pride in Manchester, that I heard about Section 28 for the first time. It was August 2003 and I was 19 and my feeling was one of abject horror. Shortly after that, Section 28 was finally repealed. But for me, that wasn't the end of the story.
Section 28 caused me harm. There I said it. Not insignificant harm - real harm. Because my teachers didn't step in when people used the word "Gay" as in insult, I never realised it was bad. Because my teachers were too afraid to come out, I never had a role model. Because there were no role models, I didn't come out.
So it was with sadness that I read Shaun Dellenty's TES article which said that gay teachers are still being told to "keep quiet" about their sexuality. This Section 28 by the back door MUST stop. Perhaps if I'd had one teacher who was out and proud, I would have had an easier ride in my teens.
Some kids and teachers are gay - get over it. - Shaun Dellenty's beautifully written article for TES.

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