How do you help primary schools talk about same-sex relationships in a way that the Conservatives will support? That was the question Ruth Hunt, now Stonewall chief executive, posed when she hired me in 2010. Lukee Tryl, Stonewall’s senior education officer writes in The Guardian.
The answer is surprisingly simple: relate it to what children already know. They know some of their classmates have a mum and a dad, or just a mum, or foster parents, and that some children (some 20,000 in fact) are raised by two mums or two dads. We designed a series of posters depicting different cartoon families that were then sent to every primary school in the country. The result? Children in schools that used the posters didn’t bat an eyelid. Parents, including Muslim parents, from schools using the posters in Tower Hamlets, told us that, whatever their personal beliefs, they knew their kids needed to learn about the reality of modern Britain. As for the newly elected Conservative government? The posters received the personal backing of Michael Gove.
This was a far cry from my experience growing up. I started to realise I was attracted to men towards the end of primary school and was terrified. When I started secondary school, section 28 was still law. I vividly remember a teacher saying to us that she wanted to talk about gay people, but that it was against the law for her to do so. As a result, my early introductions to gay life came from surreptitiously watching Queer as Folk in bed.
My experience wasn’t unique. Which is why it’s so important that young people do now learn about same-sex families in primary school. To reassure those who may be coming to terms with their sexuality that there is nothing wrong with them. And to head off homophobic bullying before it starts, by making sure all children know same-sex relationships are just another of the many variations of family life. What that doesn’t mean is talking to young children about sex. It’s high time we disabused the notion that being gay is just about sex. It’s about telling children that some families have two mummies or daddies and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Nor does it mean telling children their religious beliefs are wrong. Many faith schools show that it is perfectly possible to teach about same-sex relationships and remain true to the tenets of your faith. For instance, teaching that in Catholicism marriage is between a man and a woman, but in Britain same-sex marriage is the law of the land. Nor does it remove the need for dialogue between schools and parents. It’s obviously better to bring parents with you and in the vast majority of cases once parents see quite how tame the materials are, their concerns are quickly assuaged.
The sad thing is that I had assumed all of this was a given. But the campaigners protesting against the No Outsiders programme in Birmingham have accused Parkfield schoolof “planting the seed that homosexuality is morally fine”, a worrying echo of the words of Jill Knight, lead parliamentary sponsor of section 28, who justified the legislation saying: “I was contacted by parents who strongly objected to their children at school being encouraged into homosexuality.”
Read the full article Don’t let homophobes reverse 20 years of progress
Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter – Tamsin
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