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
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
Section 2a of the Local Government Act 1998 (or Section
28 as it is popularly known) commands that local authorities shall not:
promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting
the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a
pretended family relationship
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:
of a transient experimentation typical of early adolescence.”
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:
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.”
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:
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
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
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:
is both unity and diversity in public life; communities and identities overlap
and are interdependent, and develop common features.”
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