The TUC has called on the government to issue clearer guidance on anti-gay texts in schools, saying there are some materials which it may not be possible to teach without disadvantaging gay students.
The government has said it is the way anti-gay material is used which determines whether it is legal under the Equality Act, not its content, and agreed that banning anti-gay materials from entering schools when they could feasibly be taught to pupils without prompting discrimination would be “illiberal”.
As a result of widespread confusion, the TUC has said it is “almost impossible” to imagine how some texts could be taught and not result in anti-gay discrimination and asked the government to issue guidance clarifying the law.
Debate has centred on the booklet “Pure Manhood: How to become the man God wants you to be”, which was shown to Roman Catholic school pupils in Lancashire and suggested a young boy’s gay feelings may “stem from an unhealthy relationship with his father, an inability to relate to other guys, or even sexual abuse”.
Education Secretary Michael Gove responded to the TUC’s enquiry about the leaflet saying a publication would not necessarily be forbidden from entering a school under the Act, but that it could not be used to “harangue, harass or berate” a pupil.
In a new letter to Gove seen by PinkNews.co.uk, the TUC’s General Secretary Brendan Barber says “the TUC’s point is that it is almost impossible to imagine a situation in which a publication such as the booklet “Pure Manhood” could be used and not result in less favourable treatment or harassment of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils.”
Barber adds: “In the course of this discussion, I have been alerted to the fact that many faith schools have adopted entirely positive ways of teaching SRE and other parts of the curriculum that encourage mutual respect and acceptance: in other words, they follow both the letter, and the spirit, of the Equality Act.
“Nonetheless the example about which I wrote originally confirms that not all establishments have taken this approach. In our view schools should therefore be given further guidance that makes explicit how the Equality Act applies to what they teach and what materials they use, including advising them that using materials such as the booklet “Pure Manhood” is unacceptable.”
A Department for Education spokeswoman told PinkNews.co.uk: “Any school engaging in the promotion of homophobic material would be acting unlawfully.”
At Westminster last week, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools Lord Hill said: “If the material [...] were being used to make the point that this kind of view is a minority view, that would seem to be a perfectly proper use to which it could be put.”
The Lords query was prompted by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Rennard who asked what actions the government would take over “clearly homophobic” materials which could “incite further homophobic bullying”.
Lord Hill, having said it was “extremely clear” that using material to incite homophobic bullying would be “completely improper”, added: “My understanding is that there is a clear distinction between what is able to be taught in schools and teaching that encouraged homophobic bullying or inappropriate behaviour of any sort, which would clearly fall foul of a range of different pieces of legislation.
“That is clearly wrong and we would deplore it. However, the ban on that kind of behaviour and what is done in lessons does not extend to particular source material.
“For example, there may be people who think that the “Merchant of Venice” as a script, a text or a document encouraged anti-Jewish sentiment. Should that be outlawed? No, it clearly should not. That is the distinction I am seeking to draw between the use to which materials are put and the materials themselves.”