* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Parents who don’t want their children to be taught LGBT+ issues are being empowered in old and new ways
Steve Wardlaw is chairman and founder of Emerald Life, an insurance company
In the current climate, are Stonewall’s latest statistics a cause of celebration or a cause for concern?
Last week, Britain’s leading LGBT+ charity revealed that 60% of Britons support teaching children in primary schools about issues relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender matters.
We live in febrile times in the UK. It seems that discussions of Brexit are sucking all the oxygen out of any room. This is bad for many reasons, not least of which is that other, important topics are easily side-lined, particularly if they are seen as “controversial” or “challenging”.
For a long time, members of the LGBT+ community feared that the obligation of schools to teach age-appropriate material on relationships and diversity would be thrown to the wolves. The voting record of the home and education secretaries on gay, bi or trans issues did little to assuage such thoughts.
The government has nevertheless ploughed on and recently it became law that such teaching will be mandatory in schools from autumn 2020.
Stonewall was a particular leader on the parliamentary side of the process, both in terms of leading the campaign and providing background data – for example the fact that 45% of LGBT+ young people still, in the present day, face bullying because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is in spite of much teaching staff receiving much better training and generally being far more understanding of the topic.
Although admittedly a few years ago now, when I was at school, things were very different. “Difference” in whatever form (and teachers would make it very clear about what form they thought you were) was not something to be celebrated but something to be mocked.
Many of my age – I’m 50 – recount their school days with horror rather than a time for learning and growing.
But is just legislation enough? And are some of Stonewall’s stats more concerning?
The Stonewall survey reveals that the majority of the British public think it’s right for teachers at primary school to talk positively about different families, including those that are LGBT+. But with the greatest respect to Stonewall (and I have been a supporter and a Stonewall ambassador), I beg to differ about that result.
I hope I’m not overly pessimistic but I read that statistic in reverse – that 40% of the British public DO NOT think it’s right for teachers at primary school to talk positively about LGBT+ families. According to Stonewall’s stats, 17% disagreed or strongly disagreed, with 4% saying “don’t know”.
A further 19% said they neither agreed nor disagreed.
That leaves a lot to do. And I think that it’s not what Stonewall would call “widespread support”.
Yes, there have been vast improvements, but vast swathes of the British public find it problematic admitting our existence to school children. And if you look at the subset who are parents, then anecdotally the situation feels like it is getting worse.
Parents who don’t want their children to be taught LGBT+ issues are being empowered in old and new ways – by social media groups such as the Safer Schools Alliance, which in its own words “encourages parents to enquire as to the appropriateness of books being read to their children in school” (meaning about LGBT+ and trans issues), and also through anonymous flyers being posted through letterboxes.
I was at a recent event with councillors from four different London boroughs, and all had seen flyers in their borough inciting hatred and asking for parents to “keep their children safe” from gay people.
So where do we go from here?
As ever, there is no single solution. The legal requirement to include discussion of alternative families in schools’ sex and relationship education is, of course, welcomed, but we must be ready ourselves to educate and inform parents – and sit down and talk with them.
Once these lessons become compulsory, we can expect many more demonstrations outside schools by “concerned parents”. We need to be firm where that is needed, particularly with ringleaders (who are often not even parents at the school).
But we also need to be helpful and tolerant too in educating people.
Parents are right to be concerned for their children’s safety. But it is not the LGBT+ community that is the problem. Rather it is those who promote religious intolerance and preach hate.
Stonewall’s survey offers some cause for hope, but it also reveals we still have a way to go in convincing parents what is actually more harmful for their children to learn about at school.