‘NSW must learn from Britain’s disastrous Section 28’: Peter Tatchell

International queer rights hero Peter Tatchell. Photo: supplied.

In an exclusive piece for the Sentinel, queer rights hero Peter Tatchell weighs in on the ‘Trans Erasure Bill’ put forward by One Nation MP Mark Latham.

For 15 years, from 1988 to 2003, any positive, affirmative teaching on LGBT+ issues in schools was, in effect, banned in the UK by Section 28.

It forbade the “promotion” of homosexuality by local authorities, including local education authorities and the schools they administered.
Section 28 was the first new anti-gay law in Britain for over 100 years. It led to a huge crackdown by schools and local councils. Because promotion was not defined, they erred on the side of caution and self-censored, fearing prosecution.
Councils cut funding and denied meeting places to LGBT+ organisations, including youth groups and counselling services. Books with LGBT+ characters were removed from school and municipal libraries, and gay-related plays that had been scheduled in council-owned theatres and community halls were cancelled.
In schools, teachers were worried that suggesting same-sex relationships were normal or valid could be construed as promotion. They therefore avoided giving supportive advice and counselling to LGBT+ pupils and, in some cases, failed to act against bullying. 

This left a whole generation of LGBT+ youth unsupported and resulted in many suffering anxiety, depression and thoughts of self harm. It contributed to truancy and lower academic performance, adversely impacting the subsequent life chances of these young LGBT+ people.

As these damaging effects became apparent, eventually even the Conservatives renounced Section 28, with Prime Ministers David Cameron and Theresa May publicly apologising for the legislation. 

There is now a consensus across all political parties in the UK that Section 28 was a huge mistake; that it caused young LGBT+ people great harm and allowed anti-LGBT+ prejudice, discrimination and bullying to flourish.

I urge Australia’s political parties to unite around the same consensus and reject any legislation, including from Mark Latham, that leaves LGBT+ pupils unsupported and gives a green light to homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. 

One Nation MP Mark Latham’s Education Amendment Bill would see teachers who support trans students sacked. Photo: The Hon. Mark Latham MLC/Facebook.

The last thing any of us want to see is for Australia’s LGBT+ young people to suffer as their UK counterparts suffered in the 1990s. 

Australia has traditionally been a global leader on social justice, including for LGBT+ people.

Australia’s continued leadership is important for LGBT+ people everywhere.  

I particularly urge LGBT+ Australians and their many allies to take a strong stand against legislation like Latham’s, which leaves LGBT+ students out in the cold.

Marriage equality was a great victory for Australia, as it was the UK. But we know that prejudice is not yet defeated. An attack on any of us is an attack on all of us.

None of us are free and equal until we are all free and equal. 

Peter Tatchell is a human rights campaigner, the Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation and was a co-founder of the OutRage! direct action group. His official website is located at www.petertatchell.net.

The Gender Centre and the just.equal group have launched an initiative urging NSW political leaders to reject the Education Amendment Bill (AKA ‘the Trans Erasure Bill’). For more information, visit www.equal.org.au/affirm_trans_kids

An online petition to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, calling on her to defend trans and gender diverse children against the legislation, is located at https://action.allout.org/en/m/d916e828.

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