Lesbian, gay, bi and trans people at school continue to face bullying, discrimination and isolation, argues Stonewall’s Sidonie Bertrand-Sheldon
Homophobic language is a huge issue. A shocking 96 per cent of gay pupils hear homophobic remarks such as ‘poof’ or ‘lezza’, and 99 per cent hear the words “that’s so gay” used to describe something negative.
We also know that over half of young LGBT people face bullying at school, with a third admitting the bullying affects their plans for future education.
This kind of behaviour is often not tackled adequately; in fact, more than eight in 10 primary school teachers have had no specific training on tackling homophobic bullying.
Forty per cent of primary school teachers aren’t even sure whether they’re allowed to teach LGBT issues.
Compulsory RSE must include content that is age-appropriate and LGBT-inclusive
Every aspect of education should be inclusive of LGBT young people, and school in particular should be a place that makes them feel welcome and safe, so it’s important to ensure that the content being taught to young people is diverse and inclusive of all students.
Relationships and sex education plays a huge part, and compulsory RSE must include content that is age-appropriate and LGBT-inclusive.
This is important as it demonstrates to all students that same-sex relationships are natural, valid and should be respected. It also ensures that pupils are able to learn about different families and what those might look like.
Thanks to government and cross-party support, a law was passed earlier this year that will make age-appropriate relationships and sex education compulsory in all schools.
This is fantastic news, and certainly marks progress, but there are further steps that must be taken to ensure that the content of the RSE taught in schools is fully inclusive.
Inclusive RSE enables LGBT students to make well-informed decisions about the relationships they choose to have, and those who are not taught about same-sex relationships could well be more at risk than other students.
Schools can help by:
• Letting students know that you’re there and listening – feeling as though your teachers accept you and can provide a support system is so reassuring for young people
• Calling out anti-LGBT language and behaviour at school – students might think it’s just banter, but it can be hurtful for young people questioning their sexuality
• Celebrating diverse role models – teach your class that celebrities, scientists, athletes and politicians come in all shapes and sizes, including LGBT. This will help include your LGBT students but might also dispel myths around LGBT stereotypes for others
• Demonstrating the importance of LGBT history – as well as celebrating LGBT role models, you should teach your students about the struggle for rights that has been fought over the years
• Ensuring your school is practicing inclusive RSE, which includes same-sex relationships in whichever way is age-appropriate
To make sure that not just your school, but every school, is providing a safe and inclusive learning environment for all students, it is also vital that we have the support of the UK government.
That’s why we want government to commit to ensuring new guidance for relationships and sex education is LGBT-inclusive and supported by high-quality resources and training for teachers – and for practical statutory guidance on supporting young trans people at school to be developed.
Ultimately, this will ensure that all young people feel happier, safer, included and informed about issues that affect all people, not just some.
As well as raising awareness among the education community and lobbying your local MP to ensure that they have committed to tackling issues that affect LGBT people at school, it’s important to ensure the place where you work is doing all it can.
You can learn more about this on our website, where research and guides are free to download, as are posters and resources. These are also free to be delivered straight to your school.
You can also find out if your school is part of our School Champions programme, which equips you with the tools to benchmark your current policies and practice with legal requirements and national best practice.
Sidonie Bertrand-Shelton is programmes manager at Stonewall