By Danny Briggs, Housing Services Processing Officer and Communications Officer for Riverside’s LGBT staff group Spectrum
Having looked back over 2019 so far, one thing seems to stand out over others in relation to LGBT issues – teaching about LGBT relationships in schools.
This has been a controversial topic to say the least. Since January it has been an ongoing issue at Anderton Park School in Birmingham. Headteacher Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson has said that ‘LGBT relationships must be taught as equal’ while protesters argue that children are too young to learn about diverse families through storybooks.
Damian Hinds, the then-Educations Secretary said that he ‘strongly encouraged’ primary schools to teach pupils about LGBT relationships, as set out in new Government guidance.
Mrs Hewitt-Clarkson responded saying ‘Strongly encourages’ isn’t the same as ‘must’.
Let’s jump back to my own time in primary school back in 1994 to 2001. I remember maybe a five or 10 minute conversation regarding a sex education lesson that never came while we were in Year Six. That was it.
We knew what the word ‘gay’ meant, only because it had been used as an insult to describe something that wasn’t good, or someone that wasn’t good – ‘that’s gay’.
This then carried on throughout high school, the only difference being that it became more hateful, I think mainly because it was considered to be abnormal to be L, G, B or T back then (never mind any of the others which have since been recognised). In high school the majority want to be at least normal to avoid bullying, being singled out or to be considered weird/different.
I can’t help but think that if even if we had only one lesson back in primary school to discuss sexuality, to stop making it such a hush hush/hilarious/taboo subject, things may have been different.
I remember being aware of the feelings that I was having at the time may not be considered ‘normal’, and I also remember thinking that it was bad to be gay. It wasn’t until mid-high school that I remember feeling somewhat OK with it – this is me, I am who I am and I don’t really care what you have to say on the matter because they’re my feelings not yours.
What helped with that? Education. Funnily enough, it was my High School RE teacher who helped teach me that lesson, one I have not forgotten to this day. I feel as though that lesson could have been learned a lot earlier, say in primary school, which would have made my journey through the beginning of high school a lot easier!
My experience with religion is limited, being christened was about as religious as my Mum went. We didn’t attend church nor did we pray. So I can’t really give a balanced opinion as to the pros and cons from that point of view. What I do believe is that you can choose your religion or convert, but you can’t choose who you are attracted too. Believe me, I’ve tried, which lead to some unfortunate past relationships.
Kids nowadays pick up on so much so soon. They have already mastered tablets and smart phones by the age of 10, already throwing pamper parties with make-up and manicures, dressing in more grown up style clothing than I ever did as a kid. Is it really such a big deal that we teach them about people they will encounter in the real world one day? Or teach them that the feelings they are currently feeling or could one day feel are completely normal and that so many other people out there in the big wide world will feel similarly? If anything will that child no longer feel as alone?
I think a majority of those within the LGBT+ community have felt alone at one point or another because of who they are and how they feel. Wouldn’t it be an amazing achievement to try and stamp that out? To be a part of an all-inclusive culture where children can grow up knowing they can truly be themselves without fear of repercussion or judgement?
I’d like to think we are closer to achieving this in 2019, however we still have a long way to go. I guess the benefits from such demonstrations is that it puts the topic out there for debate, in the public eye and eventually Parliament where meaningful change can occasionally happen. But only time will tell.
On a bit of a lighter note…
Housing Services Processing was not the only office transformation for Pride this year. As part of Stonewall’s Some people are gay, get over it campaign, London Zoo celebrated their own gay penguin couples. Seriously, they have three couples – Ronnie & Reggie, Nadja & Zimmer and Dev & Martin. Banners reading ‘some penguins are gay, get over it’ have been propped up at their beach home in Regent’s Park. You can read the full story here.