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Title Promoting Homophobia?
Author Jason Wood
Key Concepts Oppression, Anti-oppressive Practice, Homophobia, Social Policy, Ideology, Values




“We cannot say that 16 is the time (when males should be permitted to have sex with each other). We cannot say that 14 is the time. We should be trying to save young men and young boys from going down the homosexual road. We should be bringing them to the joys of true marriage and raising a family.”  Rev Ian Paisley MP


“Keeping the law in a discriminatory state automatically means that young gay men will be set apart from society. If we remove that discrimination from the statute book, it may go some way towards giving young gay men the self-respect and self-dignity to which they are entitled and should have.”  Chris Smith MP

The quotations above encapsulate two ideological paths of thinking. The beliefs expressed can be referred to as a justification for either retaining or repealing a piece of legislation. In this case, it is specific to the age of consensual sex and the differences between homosexual and heterosexual males. Whilst sometimes justification can seem vague or simple rhetoric, this is the beginning of a process that leads to legislation and, in effect, social policy (Bamforth 1997).

It is justification in the case of law, and principles in the case of social policy (Spicker 1995) that lead us to forming a consciousness of how ideology classifies and regulates human behaviour through legislation and policy. Moreover, in understanding ideology, practitioners can develop the most appropriate response in line with their professional values of fostering democracy and striving for equality (Jeffs and Smith 1996). This presents us with a dilemma, our values of freedom and liberation versus oppressive legislation (Section 28) and contradictory policy (Sex Education Guidelines 2000).

Section 2a of the Local Government Act 1998 (or Section 28 as it is popularly known) commands that local authorities shall not:

a.         intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality;

b.         promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship

(Stonewall 2000)

Immediately, this piece of legislation presents ideological assumptions. One, that homosexuality can be promoted to young people – in similar fashion as consumable products are.  Two, that homosexuality is not acceptable and by definition, a lower form of relationship compared to heterosexual ones.

At first sight, it would be hard to read anything in this piece of legislation that suggests economical analysis is appropriate. However, considering that it was set by a capitalist government, in support of free market economics, individualism and inequality (Giddens 1998), it is hard to ignore economical factors. Green’s (1992) attack on gay rights and liberation marks a mirror of Conservative thought. Simplified, the arguments of AIDS, mental illness and natural inadequacy that he uses to defend legislation all appear to support his ideology of the family being the stable function of society. It is safe to argue that capitalists believe that “freedom of the individual, or perhaps the family, (is) our ultimate goal in judging social arrangements” (Friedman in George & Wilding 1985:19). In definition, the family is the basis for the continuation of capital and all that falls outside of this is deviant and not for the good of the free market.

Further to the economical side of Green’s arguments – there are elements of fear and disgust. In very graphic terms, he describes what he perceives to be an “unlearning process” of adults who return to childlike fixations. This, he resolves, is unnatural, returning us full circle to Paisley’s argument. His critique of homosexuality is not only purely physiological – based on the crude acts – but sadly ill informed.

In presenting a piece of legislation such as Section 28, the Conservatives are making a further claim; principally they must disagree that sexuality is determined in early childhood. Rather, they hold the opinion that youthful homosexual behaviour can be regarded as:

“Part of a transient experimentation typical of early adolescence.”

(Goggin 1993:103)

By abolishing “promotion” they assume that young people’s experimentation will lead to nothing more.

The elements of ideology that underpin this legislation have an impact upon everyday practice, together with any current design of social policy that affects us. According to new sex-education guidelines released by the Secretary of State for Education in 2000, educational establishments have a responsibility to make sure that “the needs of all pupils are met in their programmes…whatever their developing sexuality” and that schools need to “deal with homophobic bullying.” (Stonewall 2000). This, in my opinion, is a positive step forward but is also clearly contradicted by the legislation outlined before. We find a situation whereby:

“If teachers talk about homosexuality they are in fear that a counsellor or parent will complain. It is difficult enough for children to tell a teacher that they have been bullied. It is much more difficult to talk about sexual bullying.”

(Quoted in Stonewall 2000)

It is this fundamental problem, resulting from the existing legislation together with the fear of challenge that presents us with the problem of homophobia and heterosexism in school based settings. To bring some reality to this discussion, research shows that 42% of teachers interviewed had been approached by young people asking personal advice about sexuality, whereas only 6% laid claim to policies that mentioned homophobic bullying (Douglas et al 1997).

The principles that have underpinned previous legislation are those of an anti-collectivist ideology. Essentially capitalists see “welfare state policies as threatening or damaging to central social values and institutions” (George & Wilding 1985:35). Included within these social values is the role of the family. Whilst the recent Parekh Report (2000) deals with racism in particular, an ideology they present of the state can be useful to transpose when discussing all oppressions. They summarise five forms of belief in cohesion, equality and Britain would seem to fit with the Nationalist perspective, whereby:

“The state promotes a single national culture and expects all to assimilate to it. People who do not, and cannot, are second-class citizens.”


 It is this assimilation process that defines the heterosexism in our country. The dominant culture can signify the institutional marriage and heterosexual relationship, whilst the homosexuals who cannot assimilate are second-class. In order for the national culture to go unchallenged, legislation is introduced to maintain this.

Conversely, recent attempts to rectify this by repealing Section 28, and with the introduction of reference to gay, lesbian and bisexual young people in sex education guidelines holds a Fabian Socialist principle to it. The central values of this political ideology are equality, freedom and fellowship (George & Wilding 1985).

The belief that inequality leads to discord in society is founded on the collectivist theory of social norms. If there are further attempts to create different norms, less deviance will occur. Whilst it is fair to say that socialism now holds little ground in political thinking, Giddens (1998) describes the centre-left as an opportunity for the renewal of social democracy rather than compromise with the right. His case for equality as a component of this new centre-left position, or Third Way, is based on the Fabian principles. The idea that oppressing groups generates an economical waste together with the fragmentation of people is explored in his definitions. Further to this point, the distribution of welfare and services, equality and freedom can affix itself to the capitalist society that we live in (Sullivan 1998) by introducing the process known as equality of opportunity. This summarises that people are given equal access to various services, welfare included, in order for them to play an active part in the economy. As Giddens notes, however, equality of opportunity does not always suggest “equality of outcome” (Giddens 1998:101). This is an acceptable statement. If we consider the Nationalist model once more, we can see that gay, lesbian and bisexual young people have equal opportunity to participate in educational processes. The bullying that takes place and the inability of teachers to tackle such problems, however, hinders the equality of outcome.

A goal of Social Democratic thinking and certainly Tony Blair’s Third Way is the enhancement of something called Citizenship. This concept comprises a balance of rights and responsibilities, brought about by many different factors. One of these factors can be noted as the “struggles of social movements” including “sexual minorities” (Faulks 2000:26). By furthering the rights of individuals, in a liberal context, they are more active in their roles within society. This belief, it would seem, fits well with a new Social Democratic way of thinking.

Youth and community workers have a responsibility to promote citizenship through the understanding of rights and testing of morals (Young 1999) in order to lay claim to responsibilities. We also have a duty to challenge oppression and inequality. It is these professional responsibilities, together with a Social Democratic ideology that I must develop in my practice.

I am currently working in a school-based setting as a youth worker and have recently encountered the problems of homophobia that runs a strong chord through the youth club. The response generally by staff is to challenge through assertive action – remove those responsible from the club, or shut the provision all together.  This, as I have presented in discussions around racism, has little effect in terms of following our professional values and is problematic. By placing a blame upon the young person responsible for the homophobia, we are indeed condemning it but in turn condoning it. Without education, “the prejudice remains to manifest as discrimination elsewhere“ (Wood 2000).

Further to the point above, this generates a scapegoat culture. Those who are the oppressed, or treated with hostility at their differences are already scapegoats (Douglas 1995). In turn, those who we fail to challenge or educate are “transferred blame”. The issue of whether Section 28 is questionably wrong, whether the age of consent for sex between same-sex partners should not remain, becomes lost, and we inadvertently reciprocate oppression (Thompson 1997).

However, whilst this piece of legislation exists, the dilemma for all local authority professionals appears to remain. If we accept that oppression is composed of three significant levels of power as examined in the PCS model proposed by Thompson (1997:21) then abolishing Section 28 is the first stage of change in a structural context. As individual practitioners, this is both unrealistic and unachievable. However, we do have a role to undertake.

Young people have enormous pressures from childhood to adopt heterosexual norms.  Typically, it begins with the family environment where it’s “structure, as well as its purpose typifies heterosexism par excellence” (Kent-Baguley 1990:103). Further on, the school intervenes at a critical time when young people will develop further their defined masculinity (Mac An Chaill 1994).

It is hard for a young person to come out and be true to their sexual orientation in a world that berates them for their “unacceptable behaviour in regard of group norms” (Douglas 1995:148). Psychologically, this process of conditional integration is unacceptable for the well being of gay, lesbian and bisexual young people. In Humanistic terms, whilst people do not have unconditional self-regard and regard for others, they cannot fully accept themselves as people nor reach a sense of satisfying all of their basic needs (Gross 1996). It is also claimed that young men’s participation in sex education is denied due to the “complexity of conditions” within a Nationalist framework (Mac An Chaill 1994:98).

It is within our remit to present young people that alternatives – informed choices that will lead to a more equal fostering of democracy. Essentially, this part of the discussion will focus on what kind of ideologies and values we need to promote as workers and how my practice will adopt these principles in the future.

A great emphasis in youth work is placed upon empowerment and I perceive youth work to underestimate the true, structural influence of power that we hold. Strawbridge (1993) explores the paradox between our roles and the relationships that we have with “clients” in practice. She summarises how those with the power supported by structure, for which we are undeniably a part of, can define and label people. If we are to challenge oppression, then this element of power must be understood. In our work, we will probably continue the “pervasiveness of heterosexism” (Kent-Baguley 1990:112), but we can start to examine how we can work towards a more holistic agenda. The first point of call, as Kent-Baguley suggests, is to make the links between sexism and heterosexism. Whilst they are two different oppressions, there are many fundamental similarities between them. Masculinity, for example, often reinforces the belief of women as the object of sexual desire. Youth Workers can support this, through explicit and implicit ways.

During my time in Gloucestershire, we developed single-gender work with young men to challenge their homophobic views. One of our key pieces of work was to refer to Nazi Germany and the treatment of homosexuals there. Kaufmann (1991) critiques this type of work, reducing the sexuality education to confirming identities. She suggests that by seeking to provide ‘evidence’ to support our discourse, we are returning to the scapegoat theories that I presented above. Instead of celebrating and allowing equality for difference, we are in fact silencing a backlash.

In our context, we can further young people’s understanding of how discrimination and oppression can affect the lives of others. This is turn can, hopefully, challenge the wider heterosexist-centred ideology making the process of coming out less difficult for members of our youth projects.

I wish to address ideology once again in preparing my agenda for work. I do not subscribe to a Nationalist ideology; rather I hold a belief in a pluralistic train of thought that:

“There is both unity and diversity in public life; communities and identities overlap and are interdependent, and develop common features.”

(Parekh Report 2000:42)

I wish to frame my future work around this to both create a climate of appreciating difference whilst challenging oppression, taking into account the limitations of current social policy in tackling homophobia.

Whilst the promotion of homosexuality appears impossible, promotion of unity and equality certainly does not and must take centre-stage in my work.


Throughout this essay, I have examined how ideology has shaped and informed legislation and social policy with regards to gay, lesbian and bisexual young people.

I examined how capitalist ideologies oppose equality and lay demands upon people to assimilate or become second-class citizens, whilst socialist thought embraces difference.

So, in conclusion, with a duty and obligation to foster equality and challenge oppression, the understanding of ideology is essential when determining legislation and social policy.

We cannot enhance the quality of all young people’s lives if we replicate a nationalist ideology. Furthermore, the growth of young people is hindered if we do not create an environment whereby self-worth and unconditional regard for others is fostered. 

A pluralist ideology must rest beside our interventions in order to make this process possible.

© Jason Wood & Student Youth Work Online 2001

References & Recommended Reading

Bamforth, N. (1997) Sexuality, Morals & Justice, London: Cassell

Douglas, T. (1995) Scapegoats – Transferring Blame, London: Routledge

Erskine, A. (1998) The Approaches and Methods of Social Policy, in Alcock, Erskine & May (Eds.) The Student’s Companion to Social Policy, Oxford: Blackwell

George, V. & Wilding, P. (1985) Ideology and Social Welfare, London: Routledge

Giddens, A. (1998) The Third Way – The Renewal of Social Democracy, Cambridge: Polity Press

Goggin, M. (1993) Gay and Lesbian Adolescence, in Moore & Rosenthal (Eds.) Sexuality in Adolescence, London: Routledge

Green, S. (1992) The Sexual Dead End, London: Broadview Books

Gross, R. (1986) Psychology – The Science of Mind & Behaviour (3rd Ed), London: Hodder & Stoughton

Jeffs, T., & Smith, M.K. (1996) Informal Education – Conversation, Democracy and Learning – (2nd Edition), London: Education Now

Kaufmann, T. (1991) Nuremberg Revisited?, in Kaufmann & Lincoln (Eds.) High Risk Lives – Lesbian and Gay Politics after THE CLAUSE, Dorset: Prism Press

Kent-Baguley, P. (1990) Sexuality and Youth Work Practice, in Jeffs & Smith (Eds.) Young People, Inequality & Youth Work, Basingstoke: MacMillan

Mac An Ghaill, M. (1994) The Making of Men – Masculinities, Sexualities and Schooling, Milton Keynes: Open University Press

Parekh Report (2000) The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, London: Profile Books

Spicker, P. (1995) Social Policy – Themes and Approaches, London: Prentice Hall

Stonewall (2000) Section 28 at

Strawbridge, S. (1993) Rules, Roles and Relationships, in Walmsley et al (Eds.) Health, Welfare and Practice, London: Sage

Thompson, N. (1997) Anti-discriminatory Practice, Basingstoke: MacMillan

Young, K. (1999) The Youth Worker as Guide, Philosopher & Friend: The Realities of Participation and Empowerment, in Banks (Ed.) Ethical Issues in Youth Work, London: Routledge

Wood, J.J. (2000) Oppression: Understanding the Media, Unpublished lecture - De Montfort University 2000

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