Content note: This post discusses homophobia, transphobia, and mental ill health
Section 28 turns 30 today. A little over a week ago, I turned 33, which makes me part of a generation of queers that grew up under legislation that meant that teachers in our lives–in a place we spent more than a third of our childhoods!–could not even mention the existence of homosexuality.
The law was passed by bigots, responding to pressure from more bigots. They freaked out over books for children explaining that gay people exist and that’s all right. They didn’t like that the LGBT community was campaigning for rights. And so, they banned schools from talking about it. It was a free speech issue, yes, but more than this: it was a calculated attack on the queer community, aiming to stop children from learning about the possibilities that could apply to them.
And the most heartbreaking thing is that Section 28 worked. It fulfilled its aims. It did stop young people who grew up under it from entertaining the notion that they themselves may be somewhere under the rainbow and that that was valid and all right.
I was one of them.
Throughout my school years, it never even occurred to me that I might not be a nice heterosexual girl who would go on to have nice reproductive sex with a man (which was the alpha and omega of the sex and relationships education I received). I felt weird about it, pricking anxiety and a stomach-churning “no that’s not for me”, but I didn’t really know what else I could be. I was a freak, a weirdo, somehow built wrong, and I didn’t have words to articulate what I might be, or a sense that being different was all right. I had crushes on girls that I never knew were crushes on girls, just complicated, tearful, passionate, explosive friendships.
I was robbed of a time for figuring things out at the time in a young person’s development where they are figuring things out.
It took a huge mess to get me where I am today. A lot of mental ill health, a hefty dollop of risky and questionable sex. It took years to work out that yep, I’m mostly lesbian. And in a weird sort of way I was lucky: at least I wasn’t at a level of risk of contracting HIV from a lack of even a token quantity of education about safer sex!
And I’m bitter because it didn’t have to be that way. I could have avoided a lot of that angst had I just learned vocabulary and a little bit of base validation at school.
I sometimes wonder if us millennial queers are so utterly fucked up because we grew up under Section 28, and we were left to fend for ourselves in figuring shit out.
The terrifying thing is that I see it happening again, and it terrifies me that we may see a new Section 28 rolled out to break a generation of transgender children. I see the moral panic with its “think of the children” tone. The shrieking about books for children in schools. The drive from anti-trans bigots to send out anti-transgender propaganda to teachers. The obsessive focus on transgender children’s transitions.
And it’s a very short hop from there to legislation banning “the promotion of transgender in schools”.
We are in a position to stop this, and it’s one of the reasons I fight so hard against it. While there’s breath in my lungs, I cannot allow another generation of children to suffer like so many of my generation did.
Section 28 likely killed some of my generation, and reviving its rotting corpse because you’re grossed out by the notion that maybe doctors sometimes get it wrong when assigning genders to newborn infants, that will likely kill more children. I can’t sit by and watch that.
It’s why we can’t let it happen. It’s why we need to challenge it. It’s why we need to look at what’s happening around trans children in a movement largely led by cisgender heterosexuals and utterly reject what they are saying. And make no mistake: any legislation targeting part of the LGBT community hits us all. Section 28 was bad for trans young people, lesbian young people, bi young people, and all of our rainbow, despite being driven by hatred of gay men. An injury to the trans community is an injury to all of the queer community.
Something like this happened to generations past. And it cannot happen to generations to come.
Further reading: Stop me if you’ve heard this before (Carrie Marshall)- a short history of Section 28 and analysis of the pattern repeating.