"CHILDREN who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay”.

Those were the words of Margaret Thatcher, architect of Section 28, or Section 2A as it was also known in Scotland, the law prohibiting the “promotion of homosexuality” by local authorities across the UK.

It essentially censored any content mentioning or depicting LGBT+ individuals from libraries, schools and other public spaces from the introduction of the law in 1988 until its repeal in 2000 in Scotland, and 2003 in England and Wales.

Irreparable damage was done to the lives of not only the generation of queer people who lived under it, but to generations since. It forced LGBT+ teachers to hide their true selves at their place of work and starved queer young people of the support and guidance they needed to explore and understand their own sexuality.

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It taught children that to be gay was wrong, that it was something to be ashamed of and something that they should hide.

I started school in England in September 2004, just over a year after the law was repealed there. I wasn’t alive for the majority of the time the law was in force and I don’t pretend to know the fights and struggles of the queer people who fought against it or suffered directly under it.

But what I do know is that Section 28 deeply impacted my own education, despite it having been repealed before I started my journey through school.

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Introducing a law which essentially censors the existence of a whole group of people, a whole community, creates and embeds a culture of shame and a culture which forbids knowledge and curiosity.

And cultures take a lot more work to undo than the mere repeal of legislation. A culture of censoring and silencing queer voices being enforced for over a decade is something I don’t think our schools have quite recovered from fully even two decades on, with queer young people still struggling to find their voices in an environment which is often actively hostile towards them.

In fact, according to LGBT Youth Scotland’s Life in Scotland report from 2022, just 10% of LGBTI young people said their school experience was “good”, with almost half saying that it was “bad”. Only 21% of respondents reported seeing LGBTI issues represented in their classes apart from in sexual and mental health lessons.

The legacy of Section 28 looms large on the education experiences of queer young people today and while there are undeniably countless other factors negatively impacting the lives of these young people, I have no doubt that without the nearly 15 years of Section 28 not just stunting but actively forbidding progress on LGBT+ issues, our classrooms would be much brighter, happier and more welcoming spaces today.

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It’s imperative, therefore, that society takes active steps to address and undo the impacts of Section 28, and puts in the work to make sure our schools and public spaces are truly inclusive and positive spaces for young LGBT+ people.

Here in Scotland, that work is being led by the Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) Campaign, Scotland’s LGBT inclusive education charity, which works with teachers and educators to embed LGBT learning themes into the curriculum.

According to its 2022-23 impact report, it worked with more than 250 primary and secondary schools across Scotland, and 97% of the more than 4400 teachers it trained and worked with said they now feel more confident with LGBT-inclusive education.

This work is all the more important in the context that so many of the teachers currently working in schools across the country will themselves have been educated under Section 28, or in the dark shadow of its legacy.

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I would hope that most people today would agree Section 28 was an abhorrent, homophobic legislation which wreaked huge amounts of harm on the LGBT+ community and on society as a whole but this wasn’t the public opinion at the time.

In fact, in the early 2000s and especially in the build-up to the repeal of the legislation in Scotland, polling consistently found the public to be in support of Section 28, at times overwhelmingly so.

It’s important to remember this context in light of public opinion polls on other equality matters – an unfortunate reality is that all too often public opinion sides against progress, almost always as a result of deliberate propaganda and misinformation campaigns.

This is why our democratic systems are so important – to empower legislators to engage in quality research and scrutiny on these matters and to reach conclusions which ensure minority voices and oppressed groups are heard and empowered.

In the context of Section 28, the propaganda and misinformation campaign against its repeal had millions of pounds behind it, with Keep the Clause heavily funded by the millionaire founder of Stagecoach, Brian Souter.

The National: Patrick Harvie

Souter’s “bigoted agenda” and the campaign against it was cited last week by Scottish Greens co-leader and Scottish Government minister Patrick Harvie MSP (above) as his inspiration to get into politics.

Alongside his financing of the Keep the Clause campaign, Souter was a long-term supporter of and donor to the Scottish National Party, having given significant sums to the party during the Salmond years.

The relationship between the SNP and Souter was condemned at the time, including by Harvie, who in 2011 said that “any principled party would have told him where to stuff his money”.

Under Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP rightly put distance between themselves and Souter, but in the past week, it has emerged that Humza Yousaf has sought to rekindle that relationship.

Last week Yousaf told the media: “I absolutely reached out to Brian. […] He is a businessman much like many businesspeople across Scotland that I want to try to make sure that we reset the relationship with and reconnect with.”

What a punch to the gut to LGBT+ people across Scotland, just 10 months after Yousaf told them during the leadership contest Yousaf told: “If I’m elected you can be absolutely sure you’ll have a leader who will not just protect your rights, will not just defend your rights, but will absolutely advance them”.

Souter is not just any businessman. He is someone who actively campaigned against fundamental rights Yousaf swore to defend.

He should be nowhere near any government which calls itself progressive.