"All young people deserve an education that reflects and celebrates the diversity of our communities."
By Hugo Greenhalgh
LONDON, July 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - England's schools could for the first time treat LGBT life the same as heterosexuality in a radical shift that campaigners say would transform the lives of children struggling with their sexuality or gender.
According to draft guidance published by Britain's Department of Education (DoE), children from five to 16 would be taught that other families, "either in school or in the wider world, sometimes look different from their family".
The existing rules governing sex education in schools, which came into force in 2000, state there should be "no direct promotion of sexual orientation", angering many activists.
"All young people deserve an education that reflects and celebrates the diversity of our communities," Ruth Hunt, chief executive of LGBT rights group Stonewall, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"Far too many lesbian, gay, bi and trans students are leaving school, having received no information or advice on how to lead healthy and safe relationships.
"[The proposed changes] will transform the experience of many thousands of LGBT young people at school."
Under the proposed guidelines, children of both primary and secondary-school age will be taught about marriage and civil partnerships of both same-sex and heterosexual couples.
"It's a big step," said Ian Bauckham, a former head teacher who advised the government. "The over-arching principle that runs across both primary and secondary schools is that all teaching about relationships must be LGBT inclusive."
Britain's other regions, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, all have devolved education authorities with differing approaches. Wales, for example, recently announced a revamp of its curriculum that will introduce "relationships and sexuality education" for all children.
Countries such as Denmark and Sweden also focus on teaching pupils about the wider aspects of sexuality – rather than simply offering advice about sexual relations.
"Sex education needs to prepare young people for adult relationships," said Katherine O'Brien, head of policy research at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS).
Society is also becoming more comfortable with LGBT matters – and at a much earlier age than the previous generation.
According to a recent BPAS survey of 1,004 16-18-year-olds, 17 percent identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual (none did as transgender). A survey by Stonewall last year estimated the number at 2 percent of the British population.
"Sex education has to be reflective of the fact that many young people do identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual – and it makes no sense to exclude them," O'Brien said.
(Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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