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

Photo: Getty
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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Liam Fox as International Trade Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for International Trade.

Only Nixon, it is said, could have gone to China. Only a politician with the impeccable Commie-bashing credentials of the 37th President had the political capital necessary to strike a deal with the People’s Republic of China.

Theresa May’s great hope is that only Liam Fox, the newly-installed Secretary of State for International Trade, has the Euro-bashing credentials to break the news to the Brexiteers that a deal between a post-Leave United Kingdom and China might be somewhat harder to negotiate than Vote Leave suggested.

The biggest item on the agenda: striking a deal that allows Britain to stay in the single market. Elsewhere, Fox should use his political capital with the Conservative right to wait longer to sign deals than a Remainer would have to, to avoid the United Kingdom being caught in a series of bad deals. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.