This row harks back to the poisonous days of Section 28. Photo: Sarah Rice/Getty
Show Hide image

On gay rights, the Conservatives are still, unsurprisingly, conservative

A much-clarified tweet from the Department for Education serves to remind us that despite the introduction of same-sex marriage, the Conservative Party has yet to catch up on some issues.

Being straightforward about your position on gay rights is quite easy. Here’s how:

“I’m for them.”

Or, if you happen to be a shitty person:

“I’m against them.”

Or, if you happen to be part of the Department for Education, something along the lines of:

I’m for them. They should be taught in schools. It’s nonsense that they should be taught in schools. No, it’s nonsense that schools should be forced to teach them. Schools aren’t allowed to be homophobic. Black is white. Curtains are centipedes. La plume de ma tante.”

The DfE had many heads a-scratching on Sunday with the following tweet (now deleted):

This came shortly after Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan (Gove Version 2.0), told the Sunday Times that faith schools “must teach gay rights”. This was confusing enough, as Morgan had only recently converted to Not Being a Homophobe. The minister, who voted against equal marriage, announced on BBC Radio 4 last week that she’s changed her mind about it (for which she has all my support, as I can only imagine how hard it is to come out, on national radio, as someone who doesn’t mind gays).

Later, they issued the following series of clarifications:

The DfE’s original tweet seemed to contradict what Morgan had said, and appropriate internet outrage proceeded. Today, the DfE further “clarified” their stance. Apparently, what they meant was that the teaching of gay rights in schools shouldn’t be compulsory. Those damn semantics, eh Nicky? But, what should be compulsory is the teaching of something called “British Values”.

Politicians are hardly new to muddying up perfectly nice water, but the DfE have taken obfuscation to a whole new, slightly surreal, level. In the least direct way possible, gay rights have been declared “not a British Value”. And yet, they’ve said this: “Ofsted are rightly ensuring that schools do not indoctrinate pupils about gay people – or any other people – being inferior.” So, while gay rights have no place on the national curriculum, according to the Tories, neither does homophobia.

What we seem to be left with is a scholastic version of America’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule on homosexuality, which existed in the military until it was repealed in 2011 for being fucking gross. When Nicky Morgan took over as Education Secretary earlier this year, I remember joking that she was probably going to bring back the Thatcher Government’s Section 28. This, for those lucky enough not to remember it, was a noisome little piece of legislation that banned the “promotion” (mentioning) of homosexuality in schools.

But if gay rights aren’t enshrined in British Values (whatever the hell they are), then a much fuzzier, but just as damaging, version of Section 28 is still in effect.

When LGBT people are still discriminated against on a regular basis, not actively teaching that they’re equal is inherently homophobic. What the DoE wants is silence. When David Cameron brought in same-sex marriage last year, he tried to invent a gay-friendly Tory for the BuzzFeed generation. “Nonsense”-gate serves as a reminder that, when it comes to LGBT issues, the Conservatives are still, unsurprisingly, conservative.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

Getty
Show Hide image

Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

0800 7318496