Lucy Gavaghan
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A teenager who beat the supermarket giants on caged hens is now taking on the Tories

Lucy Gavaghan, the 14-year-old girl who fought Tesco and won, is turning her campaign to the government in her one-woman mission to end caged egg production.

Meet Lucy Gavaghan, the award-winning animal activist on a solo mission to end caged hen farming in the UK.

Already this year, she’s successfully lobbied the big supermarkets to end the sale of caged eggs by 2025, and now the 14-year-old has her sights set firmly on Westminster.

In August, she launched her third successive petition, calling for Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom to ban caged egg farming in the UK for good – a goal Gavaghan thinks is closer to reach than ever before.

Based in Sheffield, where she lives with her family, Gavaghan herself owns six hens –Mildred, Hazel, Sylvia, Fern, Sunshine and Pumpkin – plus a springer spaniel, two rabbits, a hamster, a fish and a Shetland pony.

Her route into animal activism began with a real-life encounter of the feathered kind. “After meeting a small flock of hens on the livery yard where my sister kept her pony, I became interested by the inquisitive and clearly complex creatures they are,” she recalls. “I began to investigate how hens are treated in the commercial world, and was immediately struck by the cramped conditions and the contrast between the hens I saw ranging freely.”

Battery cages were banned in the UK in 2012, but they were replaced by “enriched cages”, a slightly tweaked set-up that Lucy says is “barely distinguishable” from battery cages: hens spend 72 weeks in a space barely bigger than a sheet of A4 paper.

The reality is that Britain still lags behind countries like Austria, where enriched cages will be banned by 2020, and controversial beak trimming practices have been eradicated.

Activism is in Gavaghan’s blood. Her great-great-grandmother was a campaigner for Votes for Women, and her grandmother was a member of the CND. Perhaps this heritage contributed to her determination to change the practices of supermarket giants – a daunting task.

“I started writing letters to supermarkets asking them to stop selling caged hens eggs,” she says. “But the responses I received suggested no movement could be expected.”

Undeterred, Gavaghan took to Change.org to launch her first petition, directly lobbying Tesco. It swiftly received the requisite number of signatures, exceeding all of her expectations. After she had a meeting with Tesco’s head of agriculture, the company called her school a few weeks later to announce that it would be phasing out caged eggs.

“This was an amazing moment that I never expected to reach so quickly,” she tells me. “The timescale for the transition is longer than many people – including myself – had hoped for. But the change must happen as efficiently and widely as possible, which will take time.”

Her second petition was successful in getting Asda and Morrisons to commit to the same pledge.

Emotive and eloquent, Gavaghan has her campaign language down pat. While she modestly puts her campaign’s success down to a public that intrinsically understands caged farming is wrong, her digital nous is the real linchpin.

“People talk about the dangers of ‘clicktivism’ or say ‘people will just sign anything’. I personally couldn’t disagree more,” she says. “It takes a convincing petition and engaging cause to reach many people – it’s easy to sign a petition, but it’s not always easy to make someone want to. The internet and social media have given the public the power to create huge change.”

Gavaghan believes taking on the government is a bigger challenge than targeting supermarkets, and says her priority is ensuring that the changes made in this policy area are real.

“With every major change that’s made, there are risks that other areas of the industry may be compromised by a shift in egg production – if measures are not taken to ensure free-range farming is regulated at an even higher level,” she warns. “I want to increase the welfare of hens, not replace current systems with identical ones with the ambition of deceiving the general public.”

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) says humane farming is high on its agenda. A spokesperson says: “The government shares the public’s high regard for animal welfare and we have some of the highest standards in the world. Every livestock farm, regardless of scale, must comply with strict legislation, including comprehensive environmental and animal welfare rules.”

While her third petition gathers pace, Gavaghan is trying to raise general awareness for the issue – there’s even a hashtag for it, #nomorecages. She has also picked up an Animal Hero Award for Young Animal Enthusiast of the Year.

But while she’s not campaigning, or at school – where she says her teachers and fellow pupils have been “really supportive” of the petitions – she likes to spend time outdoors and with her animals.

As for the future? “I’ve always wanted to work with animals, but since starting my campaign, I’m now fairly certain that I’d like to work in the animal welfare industry,” she says. “Beyond that, I’m not entirely sure, but I will definitely always be involved in campaigning to change the face of industrial farming.”

Natalie Hardwick is Features Editor of BBCgoodfood.com, and writes about food and drink for multiple publications.

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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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