Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Section 28: why LGBTQI+ education is important

By Tristan Gildroy, Teacher Practitioner at the University of Bradford

I’m Tristan and I am gay. This is not something I thought I would ever be able to say.

Section 28

I was born in 1987 right in the middle of the AIDS crisis and started school in 1992. This was a few years after the UK government brought in Section 28 which stated that a local authority (e.g. a school) “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”. I only knew the term gay as a derogatory term that kids would say in the playground or something, which was like a death sentence.

Boys and girls – the whole story?

To young eyes, all that you would see is that boys like girls and girls like boys. It was a confusing time to be growing up as a young homosexual as I never understood this. I recall just choosing a girl to fancy so I would fit in and I’d panic if she ever said she liked me! Meanwhile, I would be sat there staring at a boy in class thinking he had the most amazing bleached blonde hair (it was the early 00s!), wanting to spark up a conversation with him but being way too shy. If he did speak to me I would just go red and speak gibberish!

Obviously, looking back, we can all see this was a teenage crush! But in the school days of Section 28, how was a young gay lad supposed to know what these feelings were, as boys always liked girls, end of. Needless to say, I was very confused by these feelings. In 2003 Section 28 was lifted and things started to change.

Coming out

Coming out can still be a scary thought. Will my family still love me? Will my friends still want to be my friends? Will I be alone?

I came out about 13 years ago whilst in my 3rd year studying at the University of Bradford. It was a bumpy road. A large majority of people stayed the same, whilst other struggled with me being gay. Some I lost contact with, others have over time accepted who I am and have become proud allies of the community. The struggle some people went through after I came out stems back to the limited information they had on what being gay meant. I had to go on a journey to understand being gay, some others had to as well, and I will never hold that against them. All we can ask people is to learn and grow.

Education is vital – you can help

It’s so important for me that we continue educating everyone, young and old, about the LGBTQI+ community. It’s great to see there is a BBC Bitesize piece on the history of Canal Street in Manchester and that kids today are being taught that family units can have two Dads or two Mums. Hopefully, a younger version of myself growing up today would see these things, start to make links to their feelings and understand they are normal.

I would really encourage those who work in academia or pharmacy education, when you are next designing a case study to occasionally give the patients a same sex partner. It doesn’t need to be a key part of the study, just that the male patient has a husband for example. It is just a little way of normalising that we are out there.

It would be even better to get students to consider the different lifestyle advice they would give to patients from the LGBTQ+ community. For example, what sexual health advise should they give to a bisexual or transgender patient? How might they deliver the advice in a sensitive and inclusive way? Are students aware that those who identify as LGBTQI+ are more likely to experience mental health problems, often as a direct result of the stigma and discrimination they face?

Something you can’t teach

I would like to end by dispelling the myth that if you teach children about the LGBTQI+ community it will make them lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. I promise, from years of heteronormative teaching from Section 28, I am still gay and always have been. In fact, all Section 28 did was negatively impact my mental health. But embracing my identity and being free to express myself positively impacts my wellbeing every day.