Bashing the Bishop

Criticism for Rowan Williams and praise for John McCain

The best way to unify the blogosphere against you, it would seem, is to come out in favour of shariah laws in Britain, as Rowan Williams did this week.

In a thoughtful piece on the subject, Cranmer concludes: “God forbid that Britain should ever return to the days when religious leaders should determine guilt or innocence, or legislate on matters of crime and punishment. For some of us, those memories are all too acute and dreadfully painful.”

The news brought a swathe of imaginative post titles. Iain Dale comes up with “Who will rid us of this idiotic priest?” Chris Paul responds: “Archbishop: who will rid us of this ID-iotic blogger?”, while Obsolete’s contribution is titled “Opening your mind so much that your brain falls out”.

In one of the few posts that supports Williams’s position, Brian Sloan writes: “It is an issue that calls for informed debate if we are to have a genuinely pluralistic society, and I admire the Archbishop for raising it. Given the ill-informed and immature reactions of some, such a debate seems a long way off.”

Apparently there have been some elections over the pond. At Harry’s Place, Gene serves up some Super Tuesday afterthoughts, including praise of John McCain: “Although I can't help liking McCain (if it wasn't such an insult in certain circles, I'd call him a decent man), I'm quite aware that on many of the social and economic issues I care about, he's far to the right of me. I actually was moved last night when he referred, non-sarcastically, to ‘our friends’ on the Democratic side.”

Danny Finkelstein calls the caucus voting system “ludicrously undemocratic”, highlighting some of the winning margins (e.g. Mitt Romney winning 25 seats in Montana on the back of 625 votes, while Mike Huckerbee needed 120,776 votes in order to win just 26 Arkansas delegates).

While acknowledging it may appear hypocritical judging American democracy as a Brit, Finkelstein states: “Romney, Huckabee and Obama all gained delegates as a result of this system that they otherwise might not have won. Caucuses (and state conventions) clearly favour the choice and enthusiasm of activists over those of ordinary voters.”

And finally, on the 90th anniversary of women winning the right to vote, Jon Bright at Our Kingdom assesses how far we have come in terms of equality of political power between both sexes. He concludes: “I hope that in another 90 years we are able to celebrate the equal access of men and women to positions of power, whilst also celebrating the anniversary of when change first began. Sadly, even today, this is a hope rather than a certainty.”

Owen Walker is a journalist for a number of titles within Financial Times Business, primarily focussing on pensions. He recently graduated from Cardiff University’s newspaper journalism post-graduate course and is cursed by a passion for Crystal Palace FC.
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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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