Many teachers don’t know Section 28 has been repealed’: Challenges for promoting LGBT equality in education

As part of its work in support of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), the BHA chaired an event exploring issues of religion, sexuality and education. The event was organised by the Cutting Edge Consortium, which brings together religious and non-religious groups, including the BHA, human rights campaigners and trades unions, to work for the elimination of any faith-based homophobia or transphobia and institutionalised prejudice towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. 

Naomi Phillips, BHA Head of Public Affairs and a trustee of the Consortium, kicked off the meeting with the wider context, criticising in particular the religious lobby, including the Church of England and the Catholic Church in England and Wales, which seeks even wider exceptions from law to allow them to discriminate against employees and service users, including on grounds of sexual orientation, than they already have.

Naomi then discussed how the education system is a focus of discussions on the conflict between religion and sexual orientation rights and issues. She said that the government’s commitment to tackle homophobic bullying in schools was to be welcomed but said that a failure to focus on ‘faith’ schools, the absence of any inspection of Religious Education (RE) in those schools, and not making comprehensive and balanced Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) compulsory in all schools, all contributed to ongoing problems and discrimination for LGBT pupils and teachers.

Elly Barnes of Schools Out, discussed successful programmes of promoting LGBT equality in schools. She warned, however, that ‘lots of teachers don’t know Section 28 has been repealed’. That was a sentiment echoed by Jennifer Moses from the NASUWT teachers’ trade union, who said that the legacy of Section 28 was ‘ingrained in the minds of senior school leaders especially’. 

Sharon Ferguson of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement spoke about their new online resource which aims to support Christian, Jewish and Muslim gay young people, and Martin Pendergast, chair of the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality, spoke on sexuality and theology.

Alison Ryan, who sits with the BHA on the steering group of the Accord Coalition, said that there was a higher incidence of homophobia in ‘faith’ schools and that the ‘privileging of traditional religious views over the rights of other groups’ is a contributing factor to this.