There is more LGBT education in schools, but that doesn’t mean it’s enough

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On 24th April an important piece of legislation was passed. In the future, some will look back at it with happiness as a further step towards equality and inclusion. Others, however, will view it negatively. They will see it as incredibly overdue, incomplete and encapsulating the historical pattern of LGBT issues being left behind. 

The piece of legislation means that secondary schools are now required to teach pupils about sexual orientation and gender identity. This is massive. When I was at school there was nothing near to this kind of education. Stonewall, the leading UK charity on LGBT rights, calls this legislation “life-changing”. Since Section 28 was introduced only just over 30 years ago, which denied even the mention of LGBT existence in schools, this piece of legislation is incredibly important. 

The belief that teaching children about homosexuality will ‘turn people gay’ is endemic in our society

However, just because this policy is in place does not mean that effective LGBT education will be administered. This is in the wake of the recent scandal at Parkfield Community School in Birmingham where parents protested their children being taught LGBT rights as it infringed upon their religion. A spokesperson for the group said “at this age it’s totally wrong. Children at this age don’t even know if they are coming or going, let alone knowing what sexual orientation they will become”.

The belief that teaching children about homosexuality will ‘turn people gay’ is endemic in our society. It suggests that being LGBT is a decision, not a natural part of your life. The education secretary, Damian Hinds, has said that children should be taught LGBT issues if they are “age appropriate”. Again, LGBT education is seen as something scandalous and scary, something which parents should fear and teachers should feel apprehensive about teaching.

LGBT education is not necessarily sex education. It is about ending homophobia, inequality and enforcing positive human relationships. It is about allowing children from LGBT families to feel accepted and perhaps giving teachers more pride in their workplace. 

It is about allowing children from LGBT families to feel accepted and perhaps giving teachers more pride in their workplace

But this education is only in secondary schools, which is arguably too late. The Stonewall School Report (2017) found that nearly half of LGBT pupils are being bullied in school because of being LGBT, and the discrimination occurs earlier than 11. The term ‘gay’ is still used as an insult, and will probably continue to be. Schools have taught anti- for years but that doesn’t stop from happening. In order to make this policy effective, it will have to be systematically put in place and this piece of legislation doesn’t seem to offer that. 

However, the guidance on the bill states that “schools should make decisions about what it is appropriate to teach on this subject and when, based on the age, development and religious backgrounds of their pupils, and should involve their parents in these decisions”. The autonomy of the schools is still ever-present. It is possible that the background of children will bar them from this education, moreover their parents may refuse it all together. It is these children, with parents who have these homophobic views, who should must receive this education but are unlikely to. 

It is these children, with parents who have these homophobic views, who should must
receive this education but are unlikely to 

Perhaps the legislation should also include the educating of parents. Schools need make an effort to tell parents the purpose of this education for they are the ones who have the power to allow their child to receive it. A child may learn about gay equality in school, but if they go home to their parents making homophobic comments, they may still be homophobic themselves or feel unprotected in coming out. 

Moreover, with schools being increasingly under strain, there is little doubt that the LGBT lessons will be side-lined in the face of subjects that are examined, like maths and English. Schools are becoming increasingly performance-led. Teachers feel under immense pressure to teach children with the aim of gaining better grades, not lessons in equality or society. If the government were truly dedicated to LGBT inclusion, they would be more forceful in making these lessons mandatory and inspected and stop cutting school budgets so schools are able to implement these policies. 

This legislation is important, there is no disputing that. To know that there will be LGBT students up and down the country feeling more accepted and less ashamed makes me happy beyond measure. Yet, that is not to say that this is the perfect policy. This legislation does not provide the fully-fledged LGBT-inclusive education that is desperately needed. I see education as the most important means of increasing equality, but if this education is not effective, then this will not occur. 

Photograph: NeONBRAND via Unsplash

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