LGBT pupils and the long fight for acceptance

Hate speech: 52% of LGBT pupils hear homophobic language “frequently” or “often” at school.

Are LGBT relationships truly accepted in 2018? Almost half of LGBT pupils are bullied at school, but campaigners say inclusive sex education could be the key to ending discrimination.

“I was so ashamed of my sexuality that I thought about taking my life.” Those are the words of Amber, describing the devastating impact of the homophobic bullying she endured at school.

Sadly Amber’s experience was far from unique. Sidonie Bertrand-Shelton from Stonewall told The Day that nearly half of LGBT pupils in the UK are bullied for their sexuality or gender identity. In more than 40% of cases, bullying takes the form of verbal abuse, but 7% of LGBT pupils also experience physical violence.

These statistics may seem shocking when set against recent advances in LGBT rights. Section 28 was repealed in 2003 and, in a landmark victory for equal rights, gay marriage was legalised in 2014. In 2016, 64% of the British public said same-sex relationships are “not at all wrong”, compared with just 11% in 1987.

But discrimination is still a reality for many, and the trauma of bullying can influence the path of a young person’s life. “I lost confidence and the power to succeed,” says 16-year-old George. He eventually dropped out of school after bullies made him feel unsafe there.

According to Bertrand-Shelton, LGBT-inclusive RSE helps all pupils “understand the importance of acceptance of others”. Just one in six LGBT young people are taught about same-sex relationships at school, which can make them less likely to report abuse. Under new government guidance, however, sex education should contribute to “a reduction in gender-based and homophobic prejudice”.

In schools where pupils are taught about LGBT issues, LGBT students are less likely to be bullied and more likely to report feeling safe, welcome and happy at school. This was the case for Sadie, who says she was able to achieve “confidence and acceptance” because her teachers celebrated gay figures, such as Audre Lorde.

In 2018, are LGBT relationships accepted?

Same love

There’s a long way to go, say some. Statistics show that LGBT people across society are more likely to suffer from poor mental health and related problems such as substance abuse, due to discrimination and social isolation. While crucial advances have been made in legal rights, too little is being done to address this lingering, insidious bigotry. That’s not to mention the level of hate frequently faced by transgender people.

We should be proud of how far we’ve come, respond others. Just five decades ago, homosexuality was illegal and people lived with shame and secrecy. In 2018, there’s never been a better time to live freely and happily as an LGBT person. While homophobia still exists, it’s completely unacceptable in society and homophobic actions are rightly recognised as hate crimes.

You Decide

  1. How important is teaching LGBT-inclusive sex and relationships education in schools?
  2. In 2018, are LGBT people and relationships finally accepted in society?

Activities

  1. List three LGBT characters from films, books or TV. Share your list with your classmates and discuss whether these depictions are realistic or stereotypical.
  2. Thirty years ago, a huge march was held in Manchester to protest the introduction of Section 28. Research the events of the march and write a 500-word news report about it.

Some People Say...

“Freedom is too enormous to be slipped under a closet door.”

Harvey Milk

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The UK government has committed to RSE inclusive of LGBT issues when the lessons become compulsory in 2020. Bertrand-Shelton hailed the move as “a promising step” and says the charity will work with the government to guide teaching and to provide schools with the resources for “an education that reflects and celebrates diversity”.
What do we not know?
Exactly what LGBT content the government’s new RSE curriculum will include and whether it will go far enough. “It’s vital that students learn about LGBT people and their experiences across every subject, not just in RSE or as a one-off in PSHE. When young people see themselves reflected in what they learn, they are more likely to grow up feeling welcome,” said Bertrand-Shelton. It should teach “the importance of acceptance”.

Word Watch

Stonewall
A UK LGBT rights charity. It was named after the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York, when the gay community clashed with police who raided the Stonewall Inn, a central hub of the local LGBT community. This was a major turning point for LGBT activism. Bertrand-Shelton is Stonewall’s head of educational programmes.
LGBT
Stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. It is commonly used as an umbrella term for people who are not heterosexual and cisgender (a person whose gender identity is the same as their sex when they were born).
Section 28
In 1988, former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher introduced Section 28, which made it illegal for teachers to discuss homosexuality in schools. It was only removed in 2003. Bertrand-Shelton says this was an “extremely dark era” for LGBT students as it prevented teachers from offering support.
RSE
Relationships and sex education.
Guidance
From 2020, the teaching of sex and relationships education will become compulsory in all UK schools.
Audre Lorde
A 20th-century American writer whose work explored feminism and black female identity.

Subjects

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