Why primary school children deserve to be taught about LGBT+ issues

The kids are alright

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Before I begin, a disclaimer: I am gay. As a consequence of this, I am biased about this subject insofar as I would quite like my existence to be acknowledged by our education system. Unfortunately, it seems opposition to this controversial notion has grown in recent days. The backlash against this proposal has exposed the dark underside of British society which rears its head whenever it feels it has legitimacy to do so. Those opposed to LGBT+ education position themselves as the voices of reason, the final bastions of virtue in a society on the brink of descending into… what? Tolerance? Understanding?

The fundamental issue seems to be that there is significant misunderstanding as to what would actually be going on in these lessons. Provocateurs give the impression that primary school teachers are going to be tying six-year-olds to their chairs and forcing them to watch two men having anal sex while chanting at them that the gender they were assigned at birth isn’t real. I only exaggerate slightly.

Photo Source – credit to David Hawgood

In reality there would simply be discussion about the existence of these things in PSHE. That in itself is a monumental step forward, and would be significantly more useful and interesting than most of what currently gets taught in these lessons. If I had been brought up in an educational environment that treated LGBT+ issues with the validity they deserve then my coming out process would have happened much faster and with considerably less self-loathing.

The sexual education would obviously come later – and is a topic for another article, because we all know that sex ed in its current state basically goes as far as telling us not to do it, ever, because we will all get STIs and pregnant. The end. I was taught nothing about gay sex, and there is still much I do not know, and that is dangerous. What I do know has come from my own research, some of it primary (wahey), but there are still holes in my knowledge.

Not one child is going to be turned gay by these lessons because – newsflash – that doesn’t work, in the same way that I failed to get turned straight. We still aren’t totally sure what, if anything, causes people to be LGBT+, and I am certainly not qualified to hazard a guess. Quite frankly, I don’t think it matters, but either way, I know it is certainly not due to being taught about it at school.

The fact this conception has not fully died out by now is disappointing, but it underlies much of the argument against having these lessons. Perhaps even more pertinently, so what if it did? What do the protective parents say to that? “I’m not homophobic/ transphobic but yes, I want my child to be straight and cisgender?”

When a parent says they don’t want their children to be "confused", what they really mean is that they don’t want their child to consider the possibility that they aren’t straight. Education in this area would provide clarity, not confusion. Sometimes they also talk of schools "promoting" homosexuality. How does one go about "promoting" homosexuality? Do they think teachers will be there going “ah yes Sally, boobs really are the way to go?” And the number of people opposing this who defend themselves as "not homophobic but" exceeds parody. For our generation this phrase is largely a joke; others fail to see the laughable contradiction which inevitably follows.

No one, sadly, could suggest this would eradicate homophobia in schools. Perceived weaknesses will always be picked upon in playgrounds. But by challenging what constitutes such a weakness we start to break down the insults which can be thrown around, eroding their perceived legitimacy. We shouldn’t pretend primary school students are stupid. They are far smarter than we give them credit for, and ought to be treated accordingly. Allowing them to openly discuss these issues will help to normalise something which really ought to be normal by now.

The media coverage has been divisive as ever, in the worst instances appearing to pit Islam against the Gays while "proper British society" watches on, encouraged to support one of the minorities purely to criticise the other. Bigotry doesn’t have a religion, race, gender and focusing the conversation on these characteristics distracts from the broader issue at hand. Alternatively, you could just pull a Katie Hopkins and take aim at both target groups in a single tweet:

It is well-documented now that much of the media thrives on faux outrage and sensationalism (often while criticising young people for being overly sensitive?) and such examples serve as a sad reminder that such proliferation of prejudice remains prevalent today. This serves only to facilitate the creation of a fertile breeding ground for intolerance.

As with any discussion on such matters, the language used is telling. Andrea Leadsom said in an interview with LBC that parents should decide "when children are exposed to that information". "Exposure", like we are some kind of deadly virus, "that information" rendering our very existence something dirty to keep from young ears. As Hannah Jane Parkinson wrote in her powerful article on this topic, "this is the language of shame". Being LGBT+ should not be taboo and refusing to discuss it in primary schools maintains the idea that it ought to be.

People roll their eyes at seeing Premier League footballers wearing rainbow armbands, or at the idea of LGBT+ history month, at a fuss being made when cisgender actors get transgender roles. The people rolling their eyes do not realise how much that representation matters, how validating it is to see when you have grown up feeling like an outsider. This is why we keep saying that it matters. I won’t belittle you by saying "you wouldn’t understand" if you are reading this as a white cisgender heterosexual, because I hope you can empathise. Having role models matters. So does learning from a young age that it's okay if your sexual or gender identity differs from the norm.

The backlash and debate around this is firmly rooted in misunderstanding and homophobia and should be called out as such. We can all be better than this by tackling prejudice with patience and speaking up to defend not just ourselves but all those who are unfairly painted as outsiders. The little things do matter, and at the heart of change is education.

(Cover Photo Source)