I first knew I was different when I was about three or four years old. The concept of sexuality or being gay obviously meant nothing to me then, but even so, I was definitely ‘other’. Gradually, as I got older, I realised I was gay. And I was terrified. Unable to speak to anyone about it, I entered a period of depression. I’d go to bed depressed and wake up depressed every single day. I was so desperate that I considered suicide. It went on like that for a few months. I felt trapped in my own head and incredibly isolated.
Of course, my story is not uncommon.
LGBTQ youth are still six times more likely to die by suicide. Two thirds suffer homophobic bullying at school. More than half of LGBTQ people have suffered depression in the past year, and 61% anxiety, according to Stonewall’s 2018 health report. Of the 5,000 surveyed, one in eight aged between 18 and 24 have attempted to take their own life in the last 12 months.
Thankfully, we’ve made huge strides as a society in terms of LGBTQ acceptance since my early years, but clearly there is still a long way to go.
Many people think being gay is about as interesting as what you ate for breakfast, but there is also a large, vocal minority who find LGBTQ people so offensive that they want to hurt us.
Recent high profile homophobic attacks show that despite many people thinking that being gay is about as interesting as what you ate for breakfast, there is also a large, vocal minority who find LGBTQ people so offensive that they want to hurt us.
The protests outside Parkfield Community School and Anderton Park Primary School in Birmingham are a stark reminder of the minority who still want to deny our very existence. Some parents (with children in tow) have taken issue with the diversity lessons being taught within their walls. Andrew Moffatt, the gay deputy head at Parkfield who is behind the No Outsiders programme and who was interviewed by HuffPost last month, has been attacked daily for simply teaching primary school kids that some people have two mums or two dads.
They are not sex education lessons, despite misinformation to the contrary. Instead, they champion diversity, equality and inclusiveness. The lessons are age appropriate and have existed at Parkfield for several years (and many other schools around the country), without issue. But now, Moffatt is getting death threats from the very people who say homosexuality is morally wrong.
This is exactly why we need these lessons to become mandatory in every school. No one is born homophobic, it is learnt. And just as you can teach a child to hate, you can also teach them to respect and understand those different to themselves. These lessons are a lifeline for young people, to let them know they belong and have a valid place in a hetero-majority world. To put it another way, they can save lives.
Despite this, protests from parents at the 95% Muslim-majority school continue, with accusations that the lessons are “changing the moral position of family values” and “converting children with a heterosexual background towards believing that homosexuality is fine”, arguing their religion does not accept homosexuality.
Guess what? Homosexuality is fine. It has existed since day dot, and will continue to exist. LGBTQ people aren’t going anywhere.
Well, guess what? Homosexuality is fine. It has existed since day dot, and will continue to exist. LGBTQ people aren’t going anywhere. These children, no matter how hard their parents try to “protect” them, will still encounter LGBTQ people throughout their lives. Some of them will grow up to identify as LGBTQ. And no amount of protests of “Our children, our choice” will ever change that.
And this is where the government needs to act.
Parents should not have the right to veto a school’s curriculum. No parent has the right to restrict their children from learning about different people and perspectives. It gives young people the ability to make their own informed decisions. Schools have a duty to reflect what is enshrined in law and what the vast majority of society believes to be right.
Last year, Scotland became the first country in the world to embed LGBT and intersex inclusive education into the curriculum. State schools will now be required to teach pupils about LGBTI history and equality, as well as exploring LGBTI identity. Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia will also be tackled, with the rest of the UK set to follow.
While many schools are already providing relationships and sex education (RSE), from September 2020 it will become a compulsory part of every school’s curriculum. Primary school children from the age of four will be taught about healthy relationships, and sex education will be compulsory in all secondary schools.
Education secretary Damian Hinds said it was right that parents were consulted and involved in developing how schools deliver relationships education, but insisted “what is taught, and how, is ultimately a decision for the school.”
But with schools and teachers under ever-increasing pressure – regardless of whether they are having to deal with protesters outside the school gates – the government should take the lead on this issue instead of leaving it in the hands of over-stretched head teachers and staff, and make these lessons a standardised, mandatory part of the national curriculum.
Only then will our future generation – whether they’re LGBTQ or not – stand a chance of living in a more accepting and understanding society.
Matt Bagwell is Head of Entertainment at HuffPost UK
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Useful websites and helplines:
- London Lesbian & Gay switchboard (LLGS) is a free confidential support & information helpline for LGBT communities throughout the UK | 0300 330 0630
- Manchester Lesbian and Gay Switchboard is a free support, information and referral service for the Manchester and North-West area | 0161 235 8000
- Stonewall for more information on other LGBT services and helplines | 08000 502020