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Pride in the classroom: what children want to learn about LGBT+ issues

Published on
20 June 2019

It’s LGBT Pride Month and that means celebrations

Throughout the month, people will line the streets in cities up and down the country, celebrating who they are with pride.

Pencils in rainbow flag colours on dried grass

But Pride wasn’t always this way. The first official UK Gay Pride Rally was held in London in 1972 against a backdrop of political and social oppression for LGBT people – and in the wake of the Stonewall riots over police treatment of members of the community in New York.

Pride wasn’t predominantly a celebration with an opportunity to champion LGBT+ people’s rights. It was predominantly a demonstration – because things needed to change. 

Organised by the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), the rally set out to fight for the rights of LGBT people, to stand up to, and ultimately change, unfair legislation and policies that oppressed minority groups.

Needless to say, the fight wasn’t over after one rally. Fast forward to 1988 and Margaret Thatcher introduced Section 28, which prevented teachers from “promoting” gay relationships in schools. Just like the formation of the GLF, an organisation was set up to represent LGBT rights when no one else would, and Stonewall was formed.

What we teach kids in schools

Section 28 explicitly prevented schools from discussing LGBT+ issues, which stopped pupils from getting the support they needed. Despite the clause being repealed in 2003 (and David Cameron apologising for it in 2009), what we teach kids in schools about relationships hasn’t changed much since then.

At Barnardo’s we not only support the inclusion of LGBT+ issues in the school curriculum, we actively campaigned for it. Because, just like the GLF and Stonewall, we believe in standing up for and campaigning for what’s right. And in this case – as in all cases – we campaign for the rights of children.

What kids think about relationship and sex education

The Government is soon expected to announce that from September 2020, all primary schools in England must deliver age-appropriate education about what healthy and inclusive relationships look like, and that secondary schools in England must deliver sex and relationship education.

We understand that this may be difficult for some parents, but it’s important that no child feels excluded or marginalised, and that all young people learn about equality, diversity and inclusion. These are values that we take seriously at Barnardo’s. 

Promoting equality and respect needs to be at the heart of the school curriculum and young people must feel both comfortable and interested in what they’re being taught. So who better to inform these new lessons than young people themselves? 

We asked a range of young people who use our services what they thought Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) in secondary schools should look like and how it should be delivered. Here’s what they told us.

To me good quality RSE should be taught by a professional and explained in detail. [...] They should also teach that it is OK to like the same sex and it’s OK to like both male and female because in my opinion, young people will struggle to open up because they are not being taught that it is OK to be in a relationship with the same sex.

Anonymous

Young person

We learnt that overwhelmingly, children want a wide-ranging RSE curriculum that doesn’t leave anybody out and doesn’t shy away from any topics. 

We learnt that teachers should not assume that certain topics – ranging from LGBT+ relationships and gender identities, through to consent, pregnancy, abuse and grooming – don’t need to be discussed just because they’re not known to be relevant to anyone in that classroom at that time.

Most of the young people we spoke to felt that RSE lessons they’d had in the past weren’t valuable. Most felt that they didn’t reflect their own personal experiences or identities, while others even felt marginalised and offended.

If RSE doesn’t include [teaching about LGBT relationships and identities], you go through school and you think 'oh well everyone’s straight.'

Sami

Young person

The fact they don’t teach [that LGBT sex and relationships are normal] – it’s disrespectful to us.

Lukas

Young person

It’s important that we listen to children about the issues that affect them, and we make this central to everything we do. By giving young people a voice and championing their rights, we’re doing what everybody on the right side of history has done before us. And we’ll continue to do so.

Happy Pride.

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Read the feedback report that informed the research we submitted to the Department for Education here: Involve us, respect us: Engaging young people in relationships and sex education.