It’s 2003 in the north east of England.
I’m thirteen years old and despite the fact that I know I’m not entirely straight and All The Things She Said by t.A.T.u. has been lingering in the charts since February, at school there’s barely been a whisper about LGBTQ+ people or relationships, even in the playground.
Of course, it was in 2003 that Section 28, the 1988 amendment which stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” was lifted, leaving teachers with zero resources or guidance on how to teach anything even remotely LGBTQ+ friendly.
Instead, sex education for me involved feebly attempting to pull condoms on bananas with my friends while half of the boys blew them up and pulled them over their heads, and our teacher sat (possibly with a mild hungover) watching despairingly as the chaos ensued. I’m pretty sure the only thing I learnt was that condoms are incredibly versatile.
Things were bleak across the board when it came to sex and relationships education, but it was particularly bleak for queer kids.
And since I was a kid, things have barely changed — except our chance to make a change.
Right now in England, the government are seeking views on their draft reforms of Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) in schools across the country.
After an initial “call for evidence”, the Secretary of State concluded that a proportionate and effective response is to introduce compulsory Health Education — great news, right? You’d think, but even with compulsory HE, that doesn’t mean all topics, including LGBTQ+ relationships, will be compulsory.
At primary school level many wanted SRE to “raise awareness of different types of family”. Yet according to the same responses, opinions were split regarding when children should be taught about LGBT relationships — but why?
If it’s perfectly legal for people of the same-sex to be in relationships and to get married, then why aren’t children being taught about them as they are heterosexual relationships, hmmm?
After all, in 2016 the ONS found that, “people aged 16 to 24 are more likely to identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual than any other age group.” Reflecting, arguably, that the more widely tolerance and acceptability of different sexual identities are taught — as it has been in the last decade — the more people are able to express themselves comfortably and live authentically.
Another key statistic being that LGBTQ+ young people are more likely than their straight counterparts to suffer with mental health issues. Imagine how that would improve if their stories were reflected in the classroom?
Out of all of the call for evidence results so far however, the finding we need to pay the most attention to is what adults think young people should be taught versus what young people themselves want to be taught.
When asked what they believed the most important subject areas to be taught in RSE at secondary school were, the most frequently mentioned by adult respondents was commitment (39%) with an emphasis on “traditional marriage”.
Disregarding the potential reasons behind this somewhat surprising emphasis on “traditional marriage” (NB: a number of religious organisations responded to the call for evidence) very few young people singled out commitment and marriage as a helpful topic to cover now (3%) or prioritise in the future (4%).
Instead, there was a much stronger feeling among young people (31%, in fact) that teaching about gender and sexual identity in SRE would “contribute to raising awareness and acceptance of LGBT young people.”
I’m with the kids on this one, folks.
The department seem to be in agreement, at least in wider terms, when they write that, “schools should consider how teaching can help support the development of important attributes in pupils, such as … tolerance” Yet, so far in governments drafts, LGBTQ+ specific SRE is not being prioritised — despite young people asking for it.
Are you listening, gov?
The government must stop and listen to the UK’s young people to make the future so much brighter for our LGBTQ+ youth – instead of just bananas and condoms, let’s hear it for peaches and dental dams!