Morning Call: pick of the comment

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers.

1. The worst thing about Ashcroft is that his behaviour is legal (Independent)

Johann Hari asks whether we are missing the bigger picture when it comes to Michael Ashcroft. His behaviour may be "revolting", but under Labour and Conservative governments alike his actions are perfectly legal.

2. The root of the Tories' dire Ashcroft gaffe is our medieval party funding (Guardian)

Warming to the same theme, Simon Jenkins notes that the Tory leadership was warned 1,000 times not to embrace the "Belize-based slot-machine millionaire" too close.

3. The special relationship is now starting to seem very one-sided (Telegraph)

Tony Blair may have promised to fight "shoulder to shoulder" with America post-9/11, writes Con Coughlin, but when it comes to the Falklands, Hillary Clinton's intervention shows the US will side with Argentina.

4. What would Foot have made of it now? (Independent)

Michael Foot, writes Matthew Norman, was the last great bridgehead to an age of political belief and principle. The politics of today -- as described by Andrew Rawnsley's latest book -- would have left him astounded by the "monumental tininess of the characters and their arguments".

5. The painful truth is that taxes must rise (Telegraph)

Andrew Haldenby, director of the think tank Reform, plays spoilsport; he shatters the dreams of Telegraph readers hoping for lower taxes and bigger monthly pay packets under Chancellor Osborne.

6. The base rate has never been so low for so long . . . (Daily Mail)

Alex Brummer asks why, despite another decision to hold the base rate at 0.5 per cent, the banks are allowed to charge borrowers such exorbitant rates.

7. Bob Geldof's a pain: but Live Aid changed everything (Times)

He may be a "smug, hairy git", writes Hugo Rifkind, but everybody must concede that what Bob Geldof did at Live Aid was "a good thing".

8. More than porn and housewives need debating (Guardian)

While it is well worth having an angry debate about the pornification of contemporary culture, it is notable that the male contribution is either limited or unrepresentative, writes Libby Brooks.

9. Unseen technology is shaping the UK poll (Financial Times)

Forget Twitter, urges James Crabtree. The coming election will be swung by far less glamorous technology: search engines, databases, email and, yes, the telephone.

10. Persecute me -- I'm after the Brownie points (Times)

Christians have always worked best as an unpopular minority. The comedian Frank Skinner, Roman Catholic and regular churchgoer, votes against the motion "England should be a Catholic country again".

Sign up now to CommentPlus for the pick of the day's opinion, comment and analysis in your inbox at 8am.

Show Hide image

"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. 

0800 7318496