Prior to Parliamentary appraisal of the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc (Scotland) Act 2000, Ministers undertook - before commencing repeal of Section 2a (Section 28) of the Local Government Act 1986 - to publish new materials on sex education. These publications featured: A Guide for Parents and Carers; Guidance for Schools and Local Authorities on Effective Consultation with Parents and Carers; A Summary of National Advice on Sex Education; and A Circular to Directors of Education: Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc Act 2000 – Conduct of Sex Education in Scottish Schools. Mike McCabe, who chaired the original Working Group on Sex Education, set up to review the curriculum guidelines, oversaw the revision and produced a second and final draft, which was published on 16 June, 2000. The Reference Group, included representatives from the Scottish School Boards’ Association, Scottish Parent Teacher Council, Health Education Board for Scotland, Learning Teaching Scotland and the Scottish Executive Education Department.
With the evangelical, Alan Smith installed as its new chairman, The Scottish School Boards’ Association pounced on the Executive’s consultation document: A Guide for Parents and Carers. Smith warned The Scotsman: “The promotion of homosexuality is still a fear amongst parents…” A statement from the SSBA declared: “It was considered that there was not enough reference to marriage within the leaflet”. Alan Smith was later appointed to the Religious and Moral Education Committee at the Scottish Executive. Ann Hill became chief executive of the SSBA and joined a ministerial review group looking at replacing the SSBA and SPTC and creating a single national body to represent parent’s views on their children’s education. After the report was released, Hill told the press: “This is an excellent report which draws on the strength of involving parents in the education of their children”.
Marriage was soon back on the agenda after The Scottish Daily Mail was thrown into a panic on its front page: “CHURCHS’ ANGER AS MINISTERS ‘IGNORE’ MARRIAGE”. The Executive’s refusal to give marriage special status was met with the rattling of tambourines and several days of fulminating copy delivered by Hamish Macdonell. For the Catholic Church it was “unacceptable”. For the Church of Scotland it was “inadequate”. And once again, the Scottish Executive was “at odds with public opinion…” The Mail warned them to be wary. “Public tolerance is wearing thin…” They accused the Executive of having “ratted on its commitment to religious groups” accusing them of “not going to pay any heed to such significant voices as the Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland…” Ann Allen from the Board of Social Responsibilty waved “a survey” showing 92 per cent of young people seeing marriage as their ultimate goal. Tory leader Brian Monteith demanded Jack O’Connell - widely regarded as having supported the mention of marriage in guidelines - to explain himself. Juxtaposed with a piece on why Mustique’s flamboyant Colin Tennant never married Princess Margaret, the editorial asked: “What is wrong with our devolved government that it cannot bring itself to give marriage anything approaching parity with ‘alternative’ lifestyles…? Why is marriage effectively outlawed? Do majorities no longer have any rights?” Mrs Katie Grant leapt on the subject in Scotland on Sunday: “It says something remarkable about marriage, given the invective poured on it by unhappy individuals, that it still stubbornly refuses to go down the plughole. …The real truth is that although many people cock theirs up, marriage is a very good idea”.
The Scottish Executive finally published the new guidelines for teaching sex education for education authorities, schools and parents on 23 March, 2001, as the independent Working Group on sex education advised they should have done back in the summer of 2000. They were non-statutory, therefore without the force of law. Two major concessions had been made. Firstly, children were to be taught the importance which the churches placed on marriage and a stable family life. (As if, by now, anyone could have been in any doubt)! Secondly, in Catholic schools, they could issue supplementary guidelines to their teachers, giving their position on homosexuality. With the Pope calling it ‘intrinsically disordered’, representing an ‘inclination towards an intrinsic moral evil’, and Cardinal Winning calling it a ‘perversion’, those supplementary guidelines were expected to be tougher than Section 28. Also released was a statutory guidance circular for education authorities on sex education. Now that these documents were published, section 34 of the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc (Scotland) Act 2000, could be enacted and Section 2a of the Local Government Act 1986 (Section 28), would be repealed. One section of the guidance, which did had the force of law, suggested that sex education formed a key element of personal, social and health education in schools and was an important part of children’s preparations for adult life. It stated that the purpose of sex education was to provide knowledge and understanding of the nature of sexuality and the processes of human reproduction within the context of relationships based on love and respect. The guidance stated that sex education should develop understanding and attitudes which would help pupils to form relationships in a responsible and healthy manner. The guidance stated the importance of sex education programmes being well matched to pupils’ needs and levels of maturity and that teaching materials should be selected with great care and sensitivity to the age and understanding of the pupils. The guidance also stated that programmes of sex education should present facts in an objective, balanced and sensitive manner within a framework of sound values and an awareness of the law on sexual behaviour and that pupils should be encouraged to appreciate the value of stable family life, parental responsibility and family relationships in bringing up children and offering them security, stability and happiness; that pupils should also be encouraged to appreciate the value of commitment in relationships and partnerships including the value placed on marriage by religious groups and others in Scottish society. At the same time, they stated that teachers must respect and avoid causing hurt or offence to those who come from backgrounds that do not reflect this value and that all pupils should be encouraged to understand the importance of self-restraint, dignity, respect for themselves and the views of others. The guidance stated that sex education should be encouraged to recognise the physical, emotional and moral implications and risks of certain types of behaviour and to accept that both sexes must behave responsibly. The circular also included the key principles and aims of sex education set out by the independent Working Group, including the need to develop an appreciation for respect for diversity and the need to avoid prejudice and discrimination.
It rained on Thursday, 29 March 2001; the day Section 28 was repealed in Scotland. The whole country was in the grip of a foot and mouth epidemic with the media ablaze with stories and images of burning funeral pyres of dead farm animals. Lost in the pages of The Scottish Sun was a report: “Work pals beaten for being ‘gay’.” The thugs, Mark Robertson and Vincent Demarco, both 20-year-olds, had beaten two workmates, Kenneth McLellan and Ian Crew while they walked home together after a night out in Edinburgh. One received a broken ankle; the other was kicked in the head. Robertson and Demarco simply thought the two lads were gay. It was reported Demarco had told the police: “It was a square go and I won, poofs get away with everything”. A Sheriff awarded them both with community service.
On that day, while the space station Mir was hurtling towards Earth for a crash landing, The Scottish Daily Mail otherwise turned its attention on the front page to: “MARRIAGE U-TURN IN NEW SEX GUIDE FOR SCHOOLS… The Scottish Executive says it will place far stronger emphasis on the benefits of marriage than expected in the advice to teachers… Ministers had previously decided the new guidance would not place strong emphasis on the importance of marriage. However, after talks with Cardinal Thomas Winning, leader of Scotland’s Roman Catholics, Education Minister Jack McConnell ordered a rethink”. Father Joe Chamber, of the Catholic Education Commission told them: “…There is definitely room for improvement here”. The Christian Institute claimed they had examples of material that could slip through the guidance. The Scottish Mail dutifully carried an example on the front-page the very next day: “PUPILS’ SEX GUIDE SHOCK”. This was described as a “new twist”. But it wasn’t. The Primary School Sex and Relationship Pack approved by the Executive and already widely used, taught kids the appropriate answer to words they were already familiar with in the playground. Words like “lesbian”. The answer…? “A woman who has a sexual relationship with another woman”. Hardly rocket science. The Mail’s editorial went delirious. “Children as young as nine are being taught how to use condoms; told to write stories about lesbian families; contraception ‘kits’ are to be demonstrated to them by teachers; and detailed descriptions of homosexual sex (formerly banned under Section 28) feature in the education ‘pack’.” The tabloid once again trawled through the new guidance in search of marriage. “Although it mentions marriage three times, it does not give it any preference…” With the battle cry for extra vigilance, The Mail issued a clear warning: “Parents are now in the front line as regards monitoring what their children are taught in school as sex education”.
The Scottish media was already an efficient moral vigilante. In its more conservative guise, on the day Section 28 was consigned to the dustbin of history in Scotland, The Scotsman pounced on a “pervert’s primer” that “reads like the lurid index of a pornographic magazine”. The editorial declared; “a line has been crossed” which was “all too obvious to every parent”. Healthwise’s out-of-print publication Taking Sex Seriously was not intended to be handed out to children, but to sex education teachers. That didn’t stop The Scotsman’s lurid headline: “Do you want your child to be exposed to this?” They listed sexual activities such as anal intercourse, using sexual toys, S&M, partner swapping, kissing, and fellatio. The broadsheet labelled Healthwise “controversial”, and reporter Kate Foster and Andrew Denholm lined up anyone prepared to condemn it. Valerie Riches of Family and Youth Concern said: “This is exactly why we are trying to keep the clause and why it shouldn’t have been repealed in Scotland. Some of the acts listed are clearly of a homosexual nature”. Michael Willis of Parent Truth Campaign “who fought against the repeal of the clause”, gasped: “…Modesty, commonsense and decency are being eroded away”. Danny McLoughlin promised this wouldn’t be used in Catholic schools before adding with some regret that “there are parts of the country where there is no provision for Catholic education”. The late Phil Gallie for the Tory’s said: “Sex education should be about the human body and reproduction”. An unnamed SNP spokesman called the material “inappropriate” and the Christian Institute’s Colin Hart declared he would let parents know about “the condom demonstrations, the gay sex lessons and the general lack of any sense of decency” before picking out the best bits of Taking Sex Seriously and sending them to 2,000 churches and running off a report to all the Scottish MPs and MSPs.
In a section labelled “commonsense”, The Scotsman’s education editor, Seonag Mackinnon blamed Britain’s high rate of teenage pregnancy on liberal sex education programmes. The editorial fumbled in the dark for a light switch. “Sex education was introduced in schools to guide the young in childbirth and in the basics of sexual behaviour in the context of stable and loving relationships. The latest proposals, spanning discussion of sadism, sexual toys, multiple partnering and tying up, can lay no claim to such a justification”. The editorial squealed: “It treats all activities as equal and equivalent… It raises those activities that degrade human beings and treat them as no more than sexual objects for the infliction of pain and abuse to the level of normalcy”. This debate highlighted how the educational challenge of sex education or the needs of pupils was increasingly being used as a catalyst for the anxieties of an adult society unable to cope with the realities of adolescent sexuality.
On 8 June, 2001, Cardinal Winning had a heart attack. He made a speedy recovery and was sent home, but within 48 hours, on the morning of 17 June, 2001, he was found dead by his housekeeper.
Following the death of Baroness Young in 2002, on 10 July 2003, the House of Lords in England, defeated an amendment put forward by Baroness Blatch replacing Section 28 in England and Wales with parental vetting of sex education in schools by 180 to 130. The former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was in attendance, her first appearance in the chamber since her husband Denis’s death. Ben Summerskill of Stonewall said: “Stonewall has worked long and hard to have this deeply offensive law overtuned. Today’s vote was a triumph for twenty-first century tolerance over nineteenth century prejudice”. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister issued a statement following the Lords’ decision. “The Government very much welcome the House of Lords vote to support repeal of Section 28. We have always said this is an unnecessary piece of legislation which is deeply offensive to many people and which stigmatises certain lifestyles. This is another step towards a more tolerant and fair society”.
The Conservative Party under David Cameron’s leadership would be filled with remorse for voting against legislation to repeal Section 28. Francis Maude – whose gay brother Charles had died from an AIDS related illness in 1993 - was interviewed in Gay Times and admitted its introduction did the Party a great deal of harm, confessing that MPs who voted for its introduction were simply following orders, adding: “The truth is most MPs don’t necessarily think a huge amount about a lot of the bills they’re voting on. If you’re a Minister, which a lot of us were at the time, you’ve got your huge portfolio of stuff and you’re absolutely on top of all that; and the other stuff, you’re not, sort of, spending a huge amount of time thinking about… most people are simply voting on something they’re whipped on to vote”. Amongst those who had voted for the retention of Section 28 were David Cameron, Kenneth Clarke, Mark Francois, Chris Grayling, William Hague, Patrick McLoughlin, Andrew Mitchell, George Osborne, Sir George Young and, of course, Francis Maude.
Outside Scotland, as soon as Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron’s coalition cabinet took over the reigns in 2010, Christian education secretary, Michael Gove’s flagship policy of rolling out more religious schools took off. He would breathe new life into the ghost of Section 28. New rules were introduced for headteachers to ensure children were ‘protected from inappropriate teaching materials and learn the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and for bringing up children’. It seemed almost with intention that the mention of marriage appeared under Section 28 of this new agreement. This ‘model funding agreement’ was to be a template used by all the new acadamies and ‘free’ schools set up by ‘faith’ groups, parents and charities which started off in their hundreds and were soon mushrooming into their thousands. Such an explicit endorsement of marriage in the curriculum brought a response from the National Secular Society which itself faced ever-growing obstacles and chastisement for defending the UK against religious privilege. President, Terry Sanderson said: “For children brought up by unmarried parents or single parents being told that marriage is the only valid family arrangement will be totally contradictory to everything they know about the world. It opens the door for religious schools to teach a really narrow version of what constitutes an acceptable relationship. It is telling our children that their own family structure is somehow inferior. A lot of church schools would love to do that and this gives them license to do it”. The Government was making a departure from the previous guidelines which stated that children should learn the nature and importance of marriage and of stable relationships for family life and bringing up children. The reference to ‘stable relationships’, which alluded to gay couples and those living outside marriage, was dropped. If headteachers broke the rules, or ended up being legally challenged by religious parents, funding for the school or academy could be lost.
In 2012, Michael Gove warned that the Equality Act, which prohibited discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, did not extend to the school curriculum. The door was open for homophobic teaching materials to be allowed into schools. At a Roman Catholic school in Lancashire, a US evangelist distributed leaflets, including a booklet called ‘Pure Manhood: How to become the man God wants you to be” after his talk to children. The booklet discussed a boy dealing with “homosexual attractions” which it suggested might “stem from an unhealthy relationship with his father, an inability to relate to other guys, or even sexual abuse”. The booklet claimed “scientifically speaking, safe sex is a joke” suggesting “the homosexual act is disordered, much like contraceptive sex between heterosexuals. Both acts are directed against God’s natural purpose for sex – babies and bonding”. Gove insisted: “The education provisions of the Equality Act 2010 which prohibit discrimination against individuals based on their protected characteristics (including sexual orientation) do not extend to the content of the curriculum. Any materials used in sex and relationships education lessons, therefore, will not be subject to the discrimination provisions of the act”. A review of guidelines on what was appropriate for schools to teach had been abandoned when the last electon had been called. A new coalition of faith groups and politicians, the Religious Education Council of England and Wales was quickly formed to promote the vaule of religious education in schools.
After the repeal of Section 28, The Scottish Daily Mail never tired of running homophobic campaigns. On August 10, 2006, the day British police foiled a terrorist attack threatening to blow passenger planes from the sky, the paper filled its front page with a headline over supposed “outrage over new ‘equality’ plans: SCHOOLS TOLD TO TEACH GAY SEX”, by their ‘home affairs editor’, Graham Grant. It was to be one of many stories compiled by this journalist in support of the Catholic Church’s rethink of their strategy which now appealed for sympathisers to support a campaign to ‘protect religious freedoms’ and fight a ‘politically correct orthodoxy’. Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who would later go on to describe same-sex marriage as a ‘grotesque subversion’ that would ‘shame the UK in the eyes of the world’, pledged to go one step further in an article in the same paper, four days later; when he suggested faith schools would ignore the Equality Act 2006 prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. The newspaper warned: “The Cardinal’s declaration effectively draws up battle lines that threaten a re-run of the controversy over the repeal of Section 28”. O’Brien claimed that treating gays equally would “pit the powerful against the vulnerable”, adding that “the Church must speak out, not just for its own freedoms but the freedoms of all”. It was clearly a case of everyone being equal; but some being more equal than others. His words came at a time when police figures revealed homophobic crime in Scotland, which included serious and indecent assaults, threats and extortion, vandalism and breach of the peace had risen by a staggering 150% since 2003, just two years after Section 28 had been repealed in Scotland.
Although the unpleasant statute was laid to rest in Scotland, England and Wales, it took a further three years for the Isle of Man to vote to drop its version of Section 28; Section 38. On 1 March, 2006, the island’s parliament, the House of Keys voted 12 to 9 in favour of repeal. The Isle of Man’s Education Minister, David Anderson had tried to argue that it was wrong to equate gay relationships with straight couples and Section 38 offered ‘good guidelines’ on the teaching of sexuality.
Outside the old seven-storey red-glass office block that had once housed The Daily Record at Anderston Quay, in Glasgow that wet Thursday in March when Section 28 was finally repealed in Scotland, JCB’s smashed through twisted supports and reinforced concrete, floor by floor. They ploughed effortslessly through the swing-doors that once ejected editor, Martin Clarke. They drilled through the floor where he once sat and pummelled through the glass windows he looked out. Where once editors and journalists sat taking notes hanging onto every word of moral arbiters and religionists; vertical blinds hung helplessly like broken teeth, hanging out of vacant windows; gaping mouths of broken concrete and twisted steel. Clouds of concrete dust were lifted in the wind and scurrying down the Broomielaw under Kingston Bridge and across the river Clyde. A new building would soon go up in its place; a fresh, new design that reflected a bright, new, young Scotland. The public didn’t vote for Section 28, and they weren’t having it. But what would be the legacy of its repeal?
None of the Scottish newspapers, churches or individuals who enrolled in the vitriolic campaign to prevent the repeal of Section 28 have ever apologised to the gay community in Scotland.