* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.LGBT History Month means more than just teaching children about gay and trans figures from the past. It offers them the chance to learn about how today's society works
Shaun Dellenty is an award-winning educator and advocate for LGBT+ inclusion in education
LGBT History Month is a fantastic opportunity to adorn schools with rainbow flags and bunting and to source lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender speakers to tick the “equalities” box.
Except that’s not how it works. Schools must undertake holistic, sustainable, compassionate, organisational change to facilitate meaningful LGBT+ inclusion. History Month raises awareness of gay and trans lives often erased from the prevailing narrative, but it’s only one month.
Stonewall’s 2017 research found that almost half of all LGBT pupils face bullying in school for being gay or trans, and more than two in five trans kids have tried to take their own life. LGBT+ bullying may be targeted at any child not adhering to societal “norms”, which means it is a global concern.
Prejudice related bullying leads to poor mental health, anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide; in fact it nearly killed me.
For 10 years, I’ve traversed the globe facilitating LGBT+ inclusion in schools. I continue to call for statutory gay and trans inclusion training for all teachers and for compulsory curricula on LGBT+ history and identities.
LGBT identities are “protected characteristics” under Britain’s Equality Act. Schools have a legal duty to protect gay and trans people from discrimination and to further equality of opportunity. From experience some educators refer to the teaching of LGBT+ history and identities as “sensitive” as a get out clause for their own prejudices or those of parents or guardians.
What is sensitive, is informing parents that their child has hurt or killed themselves due to LGBT+ bullying and prejudice. I’ve trained thousands of educators; I’m appalled by the sheer number who tell me stories of lost sons, daughters, brothers, mothers, father, friends and colleagues who felt that they had no choice but to take their own lives.
Some parents of faith are currently putting pressure on U.K. schools to abstain from teaching about gay and trans issues. “They are too young to know/schools shouldn’t promote LGBT+ lifestyles” comes the cry.
They threaten to sue and withdraw their children, missing the reality that gay and trans content in school is purely about the dissemination of facts and information about human diversity, not the oft touted and wholly mythical “promotion” of one way or another.
Schools teach about non-LGBT+ lives and history and that is OK.
They teach about non-heterosexual identities and history, but that is perceived as “promotion”.
Schools have books featuring age-appropriate stories about non-LGBT+ lives – and that is OK.
They have books featuring age-appropriate stories about gay and trans lives but that is “confusing”, “sexualising” them or promoting a “lifestyle” to them.
Schools hold an end-of-term prom where children wear adult clothes and make-up – and that is OK.
They talk about non-straight people in an assembly but that is “sexualising them”.
That’s prejudice, that’s inequality – right there.
I was once a Christian, definitely a “lifestyle choice” yet being born gay was most certainly not. But even if being LGBT+ was a choice, so what? Schools have a duty of care to all, not just some students, including those who are gay or trans.
Not teaching children that LGBT+ people exist won’t stop them being born gay or trans. LGBT+ youth still emerge within faith groups, whether their parents approve or not.
Scotland and France have recently set benchmarks, introducing national school schemes on gay and trans awareness and prevention of LGBT+ bullying.
Westminster has invested money into this, but increasingly its commitment to LGBT+ inclusive education in the primary and independent sectors is wavering.
It must not.
Prejudice exists on a spectrum; at one end LGBT+ children are teased in a school playground, at the other gay people are thrown off buildings by Isis, gay teenagers are arrested in Russia, lesbians are “correctively” raped in Uganda, trans people are shot dead in Brazil and gay men are tortured in internment camps in Chechnya.
It’s never about the mythical “promotion of LGBT+ lifestyles” (fake news) it’s about preventing the suffering of our diverse young people.
Celebrate LGBT+ History Month, but please change the prevailing narrative, before more brilliant young people suffer.
School leaders, education ministers over to you.
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