Yesterday (3rd February), the Labour Party announced plans to tackle homophobia in schools by ensuring that all teachers receive training and make age appropriate sex and relationship education compulsory in all schools. Sounds like a sensible plan to me – but this morning (Wednesday) that bastion of homophobia, the Daily Mail, turned this into a political issue with the headline “Sex lessons for pupils aged five under Labour”
The problem at present is that sex and relationship education is largely optional. It only applies to secondary schools, parents can opt their children out and Academies and independent schools are exempt because they do not have to teach the national curriculum. Any plans to change that and properly tackle homophobia and transphobia gets my vote – but there is the real issue with this proposals for me.
However I think these proposals don’t go far enough. The focus of the proposals is on Homophobia – with no mention of Transphobia. And even that is not enough because research clearly shows that much of the homophobic and transphobic bullying is based upon Perception. Children are bullied because they are perceived to be gay or trans, not because they are. The issue is actually about gender not sex. So what is needed is “Zero Tolerance” on all forms of bullying and much more education on Gender Diversity.
If a girl wants to wear masculine clothes or a boy wants to wear feminine clothes, any bullying or intimidation of that child has to be wrong. Lets stop making this all about sex – when its really about gender. Because a boy wants to play with a doll or a girl wants to play football, that does not make them lesbian, gay or trans.
That said there does need to be a much greater awareness and acceptance of alternative relationships. I had to stay well away from the schools my children and step children attended because of a fear they they would be bullied by association. My partner attended a college where homophobic and transphobic language was tolerated, so I had to avoid being seen with her in case she was then bullied.
A couple of months ago, Jazz Jennings, a 14 year old trans girl in the USA, published a book called I am Jazz. The goal of this book, aimed at young children, is to help them understand gender diversity better. This month is LGBT history Month and that project has a wealth of education resources to help to teach about LGBT issues in an age appropriate way. This is not about “Sex lessons for pupils aged five”, it is about education in gender diversity and allowing children to safely be themselves and grow up without fear.
I have a growing body of content on my GenderSpeaker web site to help promote a better understanding of transgender issues especially as they affect children, who from the age of 2 or 3 are already aware of gender difference and stereotypes.
An excellent web site in the US is Welcoming Schools packed with ideas and resources to help teachers to combat bullying. GIRES has produced a brilliant guide for teachers to tackle transphobic bullying and Stonewall have all manner of resources to help teachers to tackle homophobic bullying.
Sadly, despite the fact that the according to Stonewall, an estimated 52,000 pupils will miss school and 37,000 will have to change schools as a result of homophobic bullying, this mornings article by the Daily Mail has stirred up more homophobia and anger by misrepresenting what is being proposed. This will make it more difficult to tackle the problem and encourage bigots and religious fundamentalists to continue to pursue their anti gay agenda’s.
In response to the Labour announcement by Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt, the coalition Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said
The Daily Mail has followed up saying
Clearly they do not get the issue at all. It is the Daily Mail that is obsessed with sex and sexual minorities, and in my view is guilty of bullying in this instance by continuing to turn this into an issue about sex rather then the Gender issue it really is.