Friday, 18 September 2009

Gintare lives with Herkus and Marijus, OR The Lithuanian Section 28

Last year around this time I was handing in my Masters dissertation in European Politics. I'm still not sure how one settles on a dissertation project, but I wound up writing about EU anti-discrimination law with particular reference to LGBT discrimination. It was very interesting - the topic, possibly even the dissertation.

After spending a whole year immersed in the minutiae of this topic, however, I abandoned my involvement as soon as I could! But I still get email updates from various organisations on it, and see that the Lithuanian parliament has passed a law very like the UK's now, thankfully, repealed Section 28.

Do you remember Section 28? It was the Tories' homophobic injunction 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". It was enacted in 1988. The Labour government got around to repealing it in 2000 in Scotland and 2003 in the rest of the UK.

Section 28 was an attempt to prevent school libraries stocking books such as Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin which, shock-horror, portrayed homosexuals as normal people leading normal family lives. It didn't occur to the Tories then that books like this only reflected what has gone on, when not suppressed, for the whole of human history: there have been and always will be gay parents.

Hasn't a lot changed in 20 years? I remember, as an undergraduate student, demonstrating outside town halls with administrations that were going down the Section 28 route - Haringey, Rugby - while all around the country, other local authorities were pioneering positive images of gay people.

Not enough has changed though. Homophobia is still rampant today, even in the UK. School children now use 'gay' in a pejorative sense to mean 'not much cop/wimpy'.

In Lithuania, the "Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information" (!) "classifies public information about homosexuality and bisexuality with other prohibited material that portrays physical or psychological violence and the display of dead bodies", according to Amnesty International.

We still have a very long way to go before human sexuality is free.

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