- CLAUSE 28, the controversial law intended to ban the promotion of homosexuality by public authorities does not affect schools, government officials admitted this weekend. Teachers and governors can ignore the legislation, which came into force last Tuesday.
This surprising twist in the year-long battle over the clause, which saw lesbians abseiling into the House of Lords and disrupting BBC Television news, is certain to infuriate its supporters. They introduced the clause specifically in order to stamp out what they regard as gay propaganda in the classroom.
Under the clause, which is technically section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, a council may not "promote teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship".
But the clause will make no difference to teachers because sex education is not the responsibility of councils. Since 1986, sex education and curriculum policies have been for school governors to decide, following advice from Kenneth Baker's Education Department.
A formal acknowledgement that clause 28 does not cover schools has been issued in unpublicised new guidance from the Department of the Environment, which is responsible for overseeing town halls. It was confirmed this weekend by the Department of Education and Science.
"Section 28 does not affect the activities of school governors, nor of teachers," the environment department circular states. "It will not prevent the objective discussion of homosexuality in the classroom, nor the counselling of pupils concerned about their sexuality."
Bodies representing the town halls expressed delight over the fiasco. "Teachers can now do whatever they would have done irrespective of this act," Iain Roxburgh, assistant secretary of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, said.
Pressure for the clause came mainly from backbench Conservative MPs, who argued that some left-wing councils and teachers were indoctrinating young people with homosexual ideas. Education was the focus, with publications such as the now notorious book, Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin, produced as evidence.
Dame Jill Knight, Conservative MP for Birmingham Edgbaston and a key supporter of clause 28, was outraged by the news and pledged a new campaign. "This has got to be a mistake. The major point of it was to protect children in schools from having homosexuality thrust upon them," she said.
But Education Department officials this weekend confirmed the Environment Department ruling and expressed surprise that the respective duties of local authorities and governors were not better understood.
Education circulars based on the 1986 act stipulate merely that governors should ensure teachers do not "advocate" homosexuality or present it as the "norm".
These earlier rulings are defended by the Education Department as adequate. "The government, through the Department of Education and Science, has already attacked the problem through the 1986 act," one official said. "You are pushing at an open door as far as we are concerned."
There is now some confusion about what remains effective in the new law. Lesbian and gay organisations have protested that works of art or literature and counselling services may be hit by a phrase in the clause which says councils may not "intentionally promote homosexuality".
But the Environment Department ruling on these suggests that such fears may also be groundless. "So long as they are not setting out to promote homosexuality they may, for example, include in their public libraries books and periodicals about homosexuality, or written by homosexuals, and fund theatre and other events which may include homosexual themes."
Gay activists said this weekend that clause 28 supporters may have scored an own goal. "Putting clause 28 through parliament was one of the greatest promotions of homosexuality we have ever seen."