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Section 28: The Queer Education We Never Had.

Updated: Feb 29

For LGBT+ History Month we spoke to Jude Guaitamacchi about how, 20 years on from the repeal of Section 28, leaders and businesses can prevent history from repeating itself.

A blue monochrome photo of Jude Guaitamacchi, a white trans non-binary person standing against a wall. Jude has short brown hair, facial hair and wears a white t-shirt and black cardigan.

Jude Guaitamacchi is a leader in trans rights campaigning who making made history chairing the first all-trans panel briefing in UK Parliament with their organisation Trans+ Solidarity Alliance (TSA). The event, which took place on 6th February in London, was hosted by Kate Osborne MP and Caroline Nokes MP and attended by MPs and lords in the Houses of Parliament.

Can you provide a quick overview of Section 28? And what did Section 28 mean for you then and now? 

Section 28 was a law introduced in the UK by Margaret Thatcher that banned local authorities and schools ‘promoting homosexuality’ from 1988 until 2003. One unexpected outcome to Section 28 was that it served to galvanise the disparate British gay rights movement into action, including an important alliance between National Union of Mineworkers and the LGBTQ+ community that influenced businesses, individuals, and politicians to advocate for a repeal. 

It catalysed the rise of groups like Stonewall and OutRage! Lisa Power, one of the founders of Stonewall told The Guardian “I still find it interesting when people talk about section 28 as if we won because they remember the abseiling and protests. Those didn’t make a blind bit of difference to the passage through parliament: we lost the battle on section 28. After section 28 happened, some of us quietly went away and began working on what would become Stonewall. Some people in the gay movement were angry that we had started something that acted like a straight lobby group, but we were convinced it needed doing. And I think it’s the strongest example in the entire world of a successful LGBT lobbying group changing a country’s mind about some of its citizens.”

Growing up with Section 28 forced me to go without the necessary information and support I needed to understand, accept and embrace my identity.  I was bullied and struggled with ongoing difficulties with my mental health. I had to work through so much later in life to re-discover the person I should have had the opportunity to simply be as a child. 

While the anniversary of the appeal was in November and marked 20 years since, why is it still important we talk about it? How can this help facilitate allyship in the workplace? 

20 years on from the repeal of Section 28, as important as it is to celebrate the progress and victories for LGBTQ+ rights and equality, it’s vitally important we recognise the way history has been repeating itself in recent years. We can draw many parallels from the attacks on gay rights back in the 80’s and 90’s to the experiences the trans community is facing in the UK today. I am reminded of the similarities when it comes to the increasing transphobia, down to almost identical language used by political leaders, the dis-informative media coverage and attempts to introduce trans exclusionary measures into businesses, schools, and education. 

But when we make strong comparisons by looking back into our history, we might just be able to find some answers and adopt similar methods to help us make positive change for the future. For organisations seeking to make improvements for their LGBTQ+ employees, any plan should include year round education, understanding of historical barriers faced by marginalised groups, and how that affects how people show up. 

For many LGBTQ+ people who grew up during Section 28, it created a decades-long lack of visible role models in school, work, and positions of power. With many organisations offering employee resource groups now, this can be a powerful tool for helping others find those role models and/or be those role models for others. 

In your vast work in the education sector, do you have any examples of the long term effect of Section 28 despite its repeal 2 decades ago? 

The beauty of my work as an educator is that I have spoken in schools around the country, some of the same schools yearly and it’s been an opportunity to witness a growing community of LGBTQ+ young people and the emergence of a highly informed, progressive and more inclusive generation than ever before. However, as an educator that works with both schools and businesses, there is a clear disparity between generations - many parents, teaching staff and professionals lack a basic understanding of LGBTQ+ identities and issues, especially as it relates to trans topics. 

The gatekeeping of our existence and history created pathways for bias to be formed and generations later, we still see these biases show up in the workplace. Many of us are still working through the damaging effects of growing up in a society that denied us the right to access information about ourselves and still a lack of understanding from our cisgender, endosex and heterosexual peers.  People who have never received any LGBTQ+ education will be more susceptible to believing what they read in the news and opinion media that sensationalise us for clicks. It begs the question when a minority doesn’t have enough visibility, what chance do we have to see equality?  

Knowing history is often told by the people in power and/or the oppressor, how do you suggest people learn more about LGBTQ+ history? What can businesses do to support this? 

There are plenty of ways to inform ourselves, but we need to be willing to invest time and explore resources online, through literature and media. I surround myself with my community and authoritative information sources. Galop, Gendered Intelligence, Just Like Us and TransActual - are all organisations I look to for insight and guidance.

Other ways are to encourage your organisation to facilitate more LGBTQ+ related activities including talks, workshops, and training outside of Pride. I encourage people to think about where they are and where their organisation is on their journey of education. Before skipping ahead to advanced areas of inclusion work, think about creating a foundation of education on which to build from, small steps lead to large gains. A great place to begin is to celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month every February in the UK and Trans+ History Week May 06-12 by hosting an event with an external partner like We Create Space. For more opportunities to celebrate LGBTQ+ people all year, check out the WCS 2024 Cultural Calendar.

Now that information about LGBTQ+ people and history is more widely available, how can businesses and ERG’s take this into consideration? What has social media been like for you as a visible member of the community?

My own experience with social media is a challenging one. I am a very visible person online and I receive abuse often. I also have my identity questioned and undermined, which all comes from a place of ignorance despite access to information readily available.  As I’m an educator and prominent trans non-binary person, people endlessly ask me to educate them in my comments and it’s incredibly wearing. I have to be strong with boundary setting or my work will bleed into my evenings and weekends and I'll find myself unable to just be. 

For everyone, the internet has given people the ability to access information unlike ever before and the popularity of social media among younger generations has given them the opportunity to see themselves represented and learn about themselves at a much earlier age. Many LGBTQ+ hangouts are 18+ venues, such as bars and clubs and although young people do have access to projects and services, there’s not much interaction between children and adults. The trans community make up on average 0.5% of the UK population and many young trans people live in areas of the country with less support and less community and the internet can help overcome some of these challenges. 

This is why we need to face the humbling reality that our children know so much more about LGBTQ+ topics than we do because we were denied that education. Organisations will need to offer continuing education across a multitude of topics, like LGBTQ+ History 101 and Allyship Training Programmes, to keep the newest generation of workers engaged and to support all employees in their own learning & unlearning journey. ERG’s should and can work collaboratively as well to help promote intersectional education and engagement across resource groups. 

A photo of Jude Guaitamacchi, a white trans non-binary person with short brown hair and facial hair. They are wearing a dark shirt and suit jacket.

Jude Guaitamacchi (they/them)

Jude is a Trans, Non-binary Public Speaker, Consultant and Model. They use their platform to share trans joy, speaking very openly about their own journey, with the hope of inspiring the future generations of trans and non-binary youth so they may see themselves represented, empower themselves and celebrate who they are!

You can find more information about Jude here.


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