LGBT+ History Month: LGBT+ and education

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and other sexual and gender identities (LGBT+) History Month takes place in February every year. The aim of the month is to “promote equality and diversity for the benefit of the public”. It was founded by the charity Schools Out in 2005 and is primarily an education initiative, providing resources to help schools increase the visibility of LGBT+ people and their history, lives and experiences in the curriculum.   

Current Law

At present, all maintained secondary schools must provide sex and relationships education. Maintained primary schools must include some sex education as part of the national curriculum for science; any further sex and relationships education is discretionary. In delivering sex and relationship education, all schools are required to have regard to the Government’s statutory guidance. The currently applicable guidance was published in 2000. On LGBT+ issues, it says that “teachers should be able to deal honestly and sensitively with sexual orientation, answer appropriate questions and offer support”. It also states that “there should be no direct promotion of sexual orientation”.

Education and Same-Sex Marriage

When the 2000 guidance was published, marriage had not been extended to include same-sex couples and civil partnerships had not been introduced. The guidance says that “pupils should be taught about the nature and importance of marriage for family life and bringing up children”. It also acknowledges that “there are strong and mutually supportive relationships outside marriage” and “therefore pupils should learn the significance of marriage and stable relationships as key building blocks of community and society”.

After the passage into law of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, some people expressed concern that teachers would be obliged to endorse same-sex marriage even if this conflicted with their religious beliefs. Guidance published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2014 states that no school, or individual teacher, is under a duty to support, promote or endorse marriage of same-sex couples and that schools with a religious character could continue to teach about marriage according to their religious doctrines or ethos. However, it also says that teachers are subject to anti-discrimination duties towards colleagues and pupils and that “teaching about marriage must be done in a sensitive, reasonable, respectful and balanced way”.

New Law Taking Effect in September 2020

In September 2020, new legislation will take effect concerning the teaching of relationship and sex education. This will make it compulsory for all schools to teach age-appropriate relationships education in primary school, and age-appropriate relationships and sex education in secondary school. In teaching these subjects, schools must have regard to new guidance, which was published in 2019. In a section entitled ‘Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT)’, the guidance states that “schools should ensure that the needs of all pupils are appropriately met, and that all pupils understand the importance of equality and respect”. It states that schools can decide at what point it is appropriate to teach their pupils about sexual orientation and gender identity, but that the Government expects “all pupils to have been taught LGBT content at a timely point”.

Protests

In 2019, some parents who disagreed with their children being taught about LGBT relationships in primary school protested outside schools. In response to the protests, the then Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, noted that the Government’s guidance does not specify when children should be taught about LGBT relationships, but said “I strongly encourage primary schools to teach about different types of family, including families with same-sex parents”. 

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