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LGBTQ+ sex education
Illustration Marianne Wilson

UK schools are finally offering an LGBTQ+ sex education

Following a landmark ruling last year, the government’s new relationship and sex education curriculum will be put into practice as schools start returning post-lockdown

Over the next two weeks, students across the UK will begin to trickle back into classrooms, marking the end of what should have been a restful six-week holiday. Instead, many pupils are returning to school for the first time in months, as the country begins to emerge from its coronavirus lockdown.

For these students, school may never be the same again, with social distancing measures likely to be in place for a while, and masks now a regular feature of their everyday lives. There’s another reason that education has been transformed for good, though – from this year, schools will finally incorporate an LGBTQ+ sex education into their curriculums.

Following a landmark ruling last year, inclusive relationship and sex education (RSE) is now compulsory in all schools across England, with institutions being given until summer 2021 to put it into practice.

In an op-ed for The i yesterday (September 1), Mo Wiltshire, Stonewall’s director of education and youth, wrote: “It’s hard to put into words just how monumentous and life-changing this will be. Generations of young people will be attending schools that not only accept LGBTQ+ people and same-sex relationships, but also celebrate and offer support on the issues that young LGBTQ+ people face.”

Under the new curriculum, primary school students will be taught about different family models, while secondary students will learn about sexual orientation and gender identity.

The new education guidelines come 32 years after the introduction of Section 28, and 17 years after it was repealed in the UK. Introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government in 1988, Section 28 was brought in to prevent schools from “promoting homosexuality”.

In a disturbing speech to the annual Tory conference one year before the legislation was passed, Thatcher said: “Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay. All of those children are being cheated of a sound start in life.”

Despite Section 28 being repealed in the UK in 2003, research by Stonewall in 2017 found that 40 per cent of students were still not being taught about LGBTQ+ issues at school. In a feature for Dazed last year, Dazed Beauty editor Dominic Cadogan spoke to other LGBTQ+ staff about the impact of growing up without this vital education.

“Outside of school, on TV and in movies, and later the internet, I knew that open queer identity existed, but at school I faced total silence,” said Jack Moss, the digital features editor at AnOther. “Silence fosters shame, and teachers were complicit in that – they watched on as gay kids like myself were bullied by their peers daily, and said nothing. How different it could have been if schools were a safe space, where children and teenagers felt they could speak out; or, at least, be armed with some of the information they need to survive in the world. It would have changed my own life immeasurably.”

As well as centring LGBTQ+ education, the new guidelines are set to transform England’s archaic sex education, which rarely addresses things like harassment and consent, and mostly focuses on haphazardly putting a condom on a banana – something most students awkwardly giggle through then spend the rest of their lives trying to forget. But now, sex ed lessons will include education about sexting, periods, domestic abuse, and female genital mutilation (FGM).

The rest of the UK is also transforming its sex education. Scotland made history in 2018 as the first country to pledge to embed LGBTQ+ lessons into their curriculum – a promise which will be fulfilled by September 2021 – while inclusive education is set to come to Wales by the following year.