The political elite should represent different lifestyles

This blogger thinks that Ed Miliband should have stood proud in his decision to live out of wedlock.

This blogger thinks that Ed Miliband should have stood proud in his decision to live out of wedlock. Do you agree?

Today Ed Miliband became a husband. What a waste, I mourn, and for reasons other than his geek bachelor charm. I toyed with the idea it was my duty to stop it, the ceremony being only a bus ride from my house.

One last-ditch race to the hotel (not a church, at least . . . thank God) and things could have been so different, as the registrar asked if anyone "knew a reason" why they shouldn't wed. "Yes me!" I should have cried. "Because you don't need to, because you said you didn't want to, and because there are many of your electorate who feel the same."

When the newly elected Ed became the first British party leader to live with his family outside of marriage, he suddenly became a rather more attractive catch. In a refreshing demonstration of progression and free thought, Ed and Justine were swapping matrimony for happy cohabitation and ignoring the multiple media outlets that criticised them for the act.

Ed turned down Christine Bleakley's kind offer of proposing to his partner live on air, and to the traditionalists it was tacitly explained that commitment didn't come with a piece of paper and all women weren't pining for a diamond ring. It was all going so well – until they got engaged.

Faced with enough public scrutiny, two adults who had been sharing their lives with a home and children were now making the "real" commitment of institutionalism and legal documentation. For me, a love affair that had started so promisingly was quickly turning sour. Under the spotlight of the right-wing press, before Ed knew it, the personal had become the political. Far from being the time to rush to the altar, this was the time to stand proud.

Marriage is a valid option in life, but there are several fine alternatives, as Miliband had the chance to show. A woman doesn't need to have her man's baby to prove she loves him, and he doesn't need to get down on one knee.

There are different models of relationships in modern Britain, a range of choices to be had, and these are not things to be ashamed of, not values to brush quietly to one side. They are, rather, lifestyles that vast portions of the citizenry choose daily, and choices the political elite should have the strength to represent. In saying "I do" to his partner today, Ed looked at the electorate and said: "I don't."

Frances Ryan is a freelance writer and political researcher at the University of Nottingham.

Frances Ryan is a journalist and political researcher. She writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman, and others on disability, feminism, and most areas of equality you throw at her. She has a doctorate in inequality in education. Her website is here.

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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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