On 18th November England, Wales and Northern Ireland will celebrate the sixth anniversary of the repeal of Clause 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 (the clause had been repealed some three earlier in Scotland). The amendment to the Local Government act ordered that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. The passing of the legislation had led to huge angry protests, including the invasion of the BBC studious by a group of protesters during the broadcasting of the national news.
The rightwing backlash against gay and lesbian rights and the rights of local authorities to support gay and lesbian constituents and raise awareness about gay and lesbian issues took, as its focus, an innocuous book appearing in a local school library. Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin was a simple story of a girl and her relationship with her father and his male lover. The book appeared with hundreds of similar books featuring heterosexual relationships but rightwing commentators felt that local authorities were using taxpayers’ money to undermine the traditional family. Clearly, they felt that the “natural” family could be so undermined by the mere existence of one solitary book amidst a sea of heterosexist propaganda.
Certainly, well before its repeal the legislation was seen as redundant, nevertheless, the repeal of clause 28 represented a symbolic victory for progressive forces within British society. What concerns us, however, is that books of the nature of Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin are still missing from library shelves around the UK, in particular, and the world in general. Imagine the outcry, and people would be quite correct to do so, if children’s’ books did not portray children of different ethnicities or single parent families or deal with problems of divorce. The absence of such literature only adds to the stigma and prejudice experienced by children whose families don’t fit neatly in with the mythical tight uncomplicated white protestant nuclear family.
And of course, clause 28 still operates in English Language Teaching. This is not to say that celebrity gays and lesbians do not appear in TEFL books but always in a de-humanised manner. They are never (or extremely rarely) represented with their partners or children. We at Marxist TEFL say it is time to end this censorship.