Teaching under Section 28

Rebecca L, Deni, and Benedict reflect on the impact Section 28 had on their time as teachers.

Rebecca L


I started my career as a teacher and was at that stage very aware of Section 28, and was very, very frightened that people at school would just work it out somehow magically, because you’re walking around with a big sign on my face saying, this is me. And so what Section 28 gave was a culture of fear, and it drove people underground. Whereas actually the only thing I’d done wrong – in speech marks – was: I happened to be gay. That was it. But I was made to feel, because of Section 28, that I must not tell anybody at school. Do not let anybody know. Because, you know, there was a really good chance that I’d get sacked, there was nothing to protect me in legislation… It was my first career, it was my first job, I was so excited about it – but it was shrouded in secrecy.



I mean, returning back into kind of an educational setting where Section 28 was now in place – again, I can only speak from my own experience – was: I felt the terror. I mean, you know, we were still predominantly talking that showers were still quite the norm within, you know, a PE time, and whilst it wasn’t like when I was at school, which is everyone had to have a shower, there was still that element of the subject that I was going on to teach and all of a sudden it was… We know that bullying takes place in toilets, corridors and, you know, free space within school, so they need to be monitored, but whilst monitoring them, the terror of being found out, and would I then be accused of looking at a young person or – and you know by then, you know, I was really knowing that homophobia was rife within schools. You know, the word gay was being banded around everywhere, not just with other children, but, you know, towards any teacher that that there was a suspicion. So I guess in answer to that, I experienced first hand the additional layer of fear, hiding who you were. A lot of my friends who were in the same position, we were living our true authentic selves in one aspect, we’d had the courage to come out and some of us had lost families. But there was something about, you know, losing your profession, losing a job, having a sexual deviant nature put against you for who you were, was definitely apparent, definitely.

I mean, what Section 28 did is it completely wanted to eradicate, didn’t it? It was around eradicating any sexuality that wasn’t heterosexual. And so therefore you feel that in your interactions. If you can’t sit with someone and you can’t support someone, and also if you don’t quite know how to react and respond when that overt, verbal bullying is taking place – my goodness, that’s a horrendous feeling, because not only are you dealing with your own wounds and your own sense of fear, but there’s this element of how can I help that young person? And am I colluding? And if I’m not fighting it, then I’m part of the problem. For me it was a real moral and ethical dilemma. And I didn’t want to be part of that. And I still, if I’m honest, sit back and go, but was that me colluding with it by walking away? I don’t know. Maybe it was.



I was particularly affected by an incident where a young man at the school was beaten up by a group of other students from the school. They weren’t at school at the time, but they were all, they were all students there. The beating up left no permanent damage, but was severe enough for him to need to be hospitalised. And it was explicitly a homophobic attack.

And the boy’s parents came in to speak to the head of year, who I’d always thought was a nice chap. And the parents said, what are you going to do about it? What’s going to be done to ensure that the boys who attacked their son would not think that this was acceptable behaviour, that this was something they can get away with? And the head of the year’s response was to say, well, the thing is, your son is gay, isn’t he? The parents said, well, we don’t know, nothing has been said on the matter, but it’s irrelevant anyway: the fact is he was attacked. And the head of year said, well, the thing is, if he’s gay, he’s just going to have to get used to this kind of thing. And so nothing was done to the boys.

So at this point I heard about this incident, which I have no doubt the school was very keen should not be generally heard about, but I did hear about it. And so I at that point was editing the school magazine and I wrote an article. And the first draft of the article was fairly severe, and realising that it would not be approved for publication, I toned it down, until in the end really it was basically a kind of reasonably nicely written article about – it coincided with LGBT+ History Month, which was something that the school did not explicitly celebrate – and really the article became a statement on why we should, first of all celebrating the extraordinary cultural contributions of LGBT+ people, but also the extraordinary contributions that people within the school made who were LGBT+.

And I got a phone call at home from a senior manager who had – they had just received our proofs for the school magazine. This was one short article, it was a big magazine. It was, you know – there were all the usual things about how well the rugby teams were doing and so on. And the head of sixth form said, well, obviously you can’t publish this. And I said, why, why not? Why is that? Why is it obvious that we can’t publish it? Surely we can. And he said, we can’t have parents thinking that there are gay boys at this school. So I said, but – the Home Office statistics at the time were, I think, about, their estimate was about 7% of the population was gay, and I’d quoted this in the article – and I said, so I mean, it would be, it would be an extraordinary coincidence if nobody at the school was gay. And as it happens, at least amongst the staff, I know that there are quite a few. I’m the only one who’s out, but I know that there are quite a few. So even if this is really just for them, I think it’s worth it. But I suspect that quite a few of the boys probably are, or at least might be thinking that they are, might be kind of working through all of those questions which inevitably come up during puberty. And the head of sixth form said, we’re just not, we’re not publishing it. We’re not going to tell parents that they’re paying school fees to send their boys to a school where there are gays. And again, there was a – I kind of thought of that as a kind of legacy of that silence which Section 28 engendered.