Thirty years ago this week, Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government introduced an especially vicious new policy called Section 28. Don’t be fooled by the innocuous name; it was a cruel piece of legislation banning local authorities and schools from “promoting” homosexuality. “Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay, ” the then-prime minister announced at Conservative conference in 1987. “All of those children are being cheated of a sound start in life. Yes, cheated.”
Following the introduction of Section 28 a year later, the only thing that children were being “cheated” out of was a comprehensive education that fostered acceptance. The legal clause left a whole generation of children – spanning fifteen years – without a shred of inclusive discussion around sexuality in school. For LGBT kids in particular, the policy was particularly isolating. When Thatcher claimed she was protecting “traditional moral values”, what she really implied was this – being gay is immoral. Her policy was a shaming and discriminatory one, and though Section 28 was eventually repealed in 2003, teachers today are still working to undo the immense harm it caused. Even now in schools across the country, kids are still using “gay” as a derogatory slur, while 1 in 2 LGBT students report being bullied because of their sexuality. According to the charity Stonewall, just 13% of pupils have been taught in the classroom about how to have healthy same-sex relationships. Things might be slowly improving for LGBT pupils, but it’s clear that the hard work has only just begun.
Though I started secondary school a year after Section 28 was repealed, any kind of positive or informative discourse around LGBT issues was still non-existent. Outside of a single lesson which included the cursory disclaimer “if you turn out gay, it’s ok!”, the school was more interested in teaching kids to put condoms on cucumbers, along with shutting down any same-sex relationships that did take place (it distracted other students, they said). Save for the Naomi and Emily plot-line in Skins, I don’t really remember seeing LGBT people properly represented in any media growing up, either, and when they did get airtime, coverage was either tragically stereotypical, or stereotypically tragic.
Now, the tide is turning; outside the school gates. Take a glance across the Top 40 singles chart, and you’ll peep Years & Years – fronted by Olly Alexander – in the mix, along with Rita Ora’s divisive bisexual banger ‘Girls’ prompting the kind of nuanced debate that would’ve been impossible ten years ago. Janelle Monáe’s latest album ‘Dirty Computer’ – painting a purple-drenched LGBT utopia – is easily one of the most innovative pop records of this year. Monáe recently came out as a “free-ass motherfucker” who has relationships with both men and women after the album’s release. Christine and The Queens, meanwhile, is infiltrating the mainstream pop world with gender fluidity, adapting a new Chris persona and exploring the shape of queer desire in ‘Girlfriend’. Troye Sivan just released ‘Bloom’, a cheeky pop banger housing a steamy allegory for gay sex. The list of LGBT musicians shaping the mainstream world on their own terms just goes on, and on. Hayley Kiyoko, Kehlani, Halsey, MUNA, Harry Styles and countless others are dictating the way forward. Forget about 2018; we well and truly live in the year Twenty-Gayteen.
It’s likely that an increasing number of school-goers will be listening to this mainstream music made by queer artists, and for LGBT pupils especially, seeing such a diverse range of faces paving the way may well help to provide the positive representation previous generations missed out on. With curriculums still doing a rubbish job when it comes to representing LGBT people in any wider way – 40% of pupils say they’ve never learned about issues affecting queer people at school – the presence of so much brilliant, creative, and inclusive music is more vital than ever.
Opening up discussion around a broad range of identities and issues, the champions of Twenty-Gayteen are educating young people where schools are often still failing, and they might just prove pivotal in helping the next generation to be an accepting, inclusive bunch. Hopefully in years to come, students will be studying trailblazers like Janelle Monáe in music class, and learning about the chronic failures of Section 28 in history lessons, and thirty years of damage will finally be undone.