Beltway Briefing

The top stories from US politics today.

1. Congress races for solution as debt ceiling looms

Senators resumed talks today on the possibility of raising the federal government's debt ceiling. Congressional leaders remain divided as to what proposals should go through to allow an increase on the current $14.3 trillion ceiling. Republicans are refusing to go along with an increase unless it is coupled with deep spending cuts, while Democrats are trying to minimise the impact of cuts on public services. Officials have warned of potentially catastrophic consequences is the ceiling is not raisedby2 August, at which point the budget could default.

2. Dearth of questions for Obama's Twitter meeting

President Obama is dues to hold his first Twitter town hall meeting on Wednesday, but so far the event has suffered from a lack of pick-up on the social networking site. With just under a day to go, the hashtag #AskObama is still only attracting a trickle of tweets. Among the policy questions from Republicans and Democrats alike, there have been several tongue-in-cheeck tweets, such as this one from @whateversusan:

"#AskObama My first question is: Twitter? REALLY? You do realize this is the place where Justin Bieber trended for two years straight, right?"

3. Mitt Romney misspeaks on Congressional approval in Libya

 

The Republican presidential candidate mistakenly refers to to No Fly Zone in Libya as being Congressionally approved, which is was not. A Romney source has replied by saying that he was merely drawing attention to Obama's "muddling" of the Libyan mission:

"The Governor is pointing out that Obama is pursuing a mission in Libya that is different than the one he presented to the nation in his March 28th speech. When he announced his humanitarian mission, many members of Congress - both Democrats and Republicans - were calling for a humanitarian mission that included a no-fly zone."

4. Tim Pawlenty trumpets Minnesota's 2005 budget fight in new TV ad

In the first really bizarre campaign video of the election, Tim Pawlenty boasts about putting Minnesotans through one of the longest transit strikes in history, and bringing the Minnesotan government to a shuddering halt in order to stop Democrats increasing taxes. In some political cultures, boasting about bringing government to a halt or putting voters through months of strikes would be odd. Amid the climate of near-suicidal political and financial brinkmanship that has gripped the Republican party, however, Pawlenty's boasts make sense.

Emanuelle Degli Esposti is the editor and founder of The Arab Review, an online journal covering arts and culture in the Arab world. She also works as a freelance journalist specialising in the politics of the Middle East.

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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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