Newspapers accused of pushing ‘new Section 28’ by attacking transgender issues in schools
Anti-LGBT MPs have launched an attack on schools mentioning that transgender people exist – in a row reminiscent of Section 28.
The Daily Telegraph ran a front-page story today criticising a healthcare survey given to pupils in UK schools.
The survey asked a number of questions about the pupils to gather data on health issues, including exercise, weight, mental health, drug use and smoking.
It came under fire over a question aimed at trans and genderfluid children, that asked: “Do you feel the same inside as the gender you were born with?”
The Telegraph spoke to vociferously anti-LGBT MPs Tim Loughton and Jacob Rees-Mogg, who both criticised the inclusion of the gender identity question.
Tim Loughton said: “At a time when children are growing up and having to deal with all sorts of challenges of the modern world, now they are being asked to confront their gender, which for many will be unsettling.
“Clearly we need to be sensitive about the issue of gender and sexual orientation but forcing children to question whether they are the right gender so early on can be deeply destabilising.”
Jacob Rees-Mogg added: “It is quite intrusive – these are private matters in a family.
“The problem with this approach is not just with the question but with the intrusive survey that invades people’s privacy and assumes the state has a role in a matter that actually belongs within the family.
“These questions are not likely to be helpful. The child is too young – if they have these sorts of issues, the parents are the right ones to discuss it with, not a state survey.”
Campaigners compared the demand for censorship of transgender issues to Section 28 – a law passed by Margaret Thatcher in 1988 to ban the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools.
Guardian columnist Dawn Foster tweeted: “This really feels like Section 28: the fearmongering that even the knowledge of trans existence will “confuse” and make children trans.”
In a surreal move, the Telegraph’s own women’s section ran a comment piece effectively debunking the newspaper’s splash.
The comment piece, from LGBT writer Kaite Welsh, says: “It is reminiscent of the panic in the late Nineties that being gay or bisexual was seen as ‘cool’; that teenagers would feel pressured to date people of the same sex just to ‘fit in’.
“We’re Ebeneezer Scrooge with Section 28 materialised before us as the Ghost of Queerness Past and we’re still refusing to learn the lesson that identity is not something we need to shield our children from, but something we must help them to embrace before we lose them for good.”
“Make no mistake, parents – while you tut at the news or write strongly worded letters to the school, informing them that your beloved offspring will not be partaking – some of your children will be filing your reactions away as a reminder that, despite how much you love and look after them, you are no longer safe to confide in.
“That filial schism can never be fully mended, no matter how your views may ultimately shift. It may even be something you are ashamed of, in years to come.”
Section 28 was passed after a similar ‘moral panic’ led by right-wing newspapers, evangelical campaign groups and homophobic hard-right Tory MPs, who claimed that impressionable young children were being indoctrinated into the “homosexual lifestyle”.
The much-criticised law, which banned all mention of homosexuality in schools, was repealed by the Labour government in 2004.
Unlike Tory MPs including John Bercow and George Osborne – who voted with Labour to repeal the law – Mr Loughton abstained. Mr Rees-Mogg was not an MP at the time of the vote.
A string of anti-transgender stories have appeared in the mainstream press over the past few months, leading to accusations of a manufactured ‘moral panic’.
Last month a women’s leadership scheme named in honour of murdered Labour MP Jo Cox has rebuked The Times newspaper for targeting a transgender teenager.
The Times had published a number of articles focusing on 19-year-old Labour Party activist Lily Madigan, who was named a women’s officer by her constituency Labour Party.
The newspaper targeted Madigan for taking on the local women’s officer role and for applying for the party’s Jo Cox Women in Leadership Scheme..
A Times reporter interviewed anti-trans activists who claimed her presence is a “monstrous insult” to women.
55 Labour activists involved in the Jo Cox Women in Leadership scheme defended Ms Madigan, in a letter to the editor of The Times disputing their coverage.
The letter, which the newspaper declined to publish, accused it of being “focussed on sowing divisions”.
The group added: “One of our cohort is a trans woman, our friend, and our sister.
“We wish to make it clear that the decision to include all women in this programme is one we supported then, and one which we support now.”