Propaganda and vulnerable children

The 'propaganda bill' presented to the Russian Duma this week, seeking to prohibit gay 'propaganda' targeted at minors, modelled on legislation already passed in St Petersburg, reminds me of our own, now notorious 'Section 28', passed under Mrs Thatcher in the 1980s. This prohibited local authorities 'promoting homosexuality' (and what promotion meant was left suitably vague).

The only known effect of this legislation, under which, to my knowledge no one was ever prosecuted, was to ensure that young people, in many instances, had no access to information or support as they came to terms with their sexuality. Meanwhile, many schools fought shy of tackling homophobic bullying because to do so they feared would fall foul of the legislation (though, sadly, more generally, many schools are extraordinarily bad at addressing any kind of bullying). It imposed a form of self-censorship.

The already significant tendency for young gay and lesbians to suffer mental health problems caused by the pressures of growing up in a hostile or indifferent environment were exacerbated. The purported intention of 'protecting children' had exactly the reverse effect. The most vulnerable children were made yet more vulnerable.

The Russian Church with its developing Catholic sense of wanting to pronounce on every aspect of social life will (has) undoubtedly popped up to affirm its assent for this bill.

It is remarkable how quickly the Church discards the Gospel in these matters. The Gospel is proclaimed to shelter the most vulnerable, and Christ placed children at the heart of that vulnerability. What you do to each and every one of these, you do to Him. There can be no doubt in my mind that a child confused about not 'being normal' (according to the mores of this bill) is not going to be liberated from his or her vulnerability by the promotion of this bill, fashioned as it is with a disfiguring hatred of his or her difference. It will simply compound an already abiding lack of love and acceptance.

Sadly, there is no progress in morals, certainly not simply by advancing in time. Spaces of decency and the protection of rights have be created and vigilantly maintained so there is only a portion of hope in realising that Section 28 feels like an 'age ago' in the UK (and no doubt there are many who lament its passing - the Cardinal Archbishop of Scotland for one)!

But attitudes do change, and sometimes for the better.


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