Gay Marriage Legalised in the UK, Yet Stigma Remains as Schools Fail to Address Same Sex Relationships in Class.
When the clock struck midnight on the 29th March 2014, history was made, as a number of gay couples raced for the title of the first to be married in Britain. Not a minute was to be wasted, as their perfectly timed vows were spoken proudly just seconds after twelve. For the first time ever, gay marriage has been legalised in the UK, marking significant social progress and long-awaited legal equality for gay and straight relationships alike.
Yet despite this momentous development providing us with growing hope for altering social attitudes surrounding sexuality in Britain, many schools still fail to address LGBT relationships in class, maintaining a level of stigma surrounding the topic. School can be a difficult time for a young person coming to terms with uncertainties about their sexuality, or even growing up in a home with same-sex parents and to provide a predominantly heterosexual oriented education could potentially fuel confusion or insecurities. Another concern is that by refraining to discuss LGBT issues, it may insinuate that they are taboo or unnatural, potentially encouraging bullying or homophobic attitudes.
Matthew Wells, 23, studied at an all-boys school from the age of 11 and found it was a difficult environment for staff to address the topic of homosexuality, saying “Teachers should have worked to combat mockery and prejudice, but would instead shy away from such concerns.” Adding that, “It was often clear that teachers were uncomfortable covering the topic. This, in turn, psyched up the class, who would mock and jeer the issue with little or no repercussions for doing so.”
He spoke of how he never properly came to terms with his sexuality until he moved away from home at the age of 18, due to growing up in a rather conservative-minded area. Despite the difficulties faced at school, he suggested that attitudes need to be reinforced in the home when growing up. “Opinions take a long time to mature, so teachers can obviously affect these attitudes long-term” says Matthew, “but they can’t be held solely responsible for homophobia in schools.”
Schools have a legal requirement to eliminate discrimination of any kind and measures are taken to tackle race, gender or disability, yet sexuality is often overlooked. School’s OUT is one of a number of organisations that aim to make schools and educational institutions safe places for LGBT communities, by recognising the need to be inclusive and make LGBT individuals visible in schools and the wider community. In 2010, School’s OUT’s School Rep, Elly Barnes, launched the Educate and Celebrate initiative which offers teachers the training and resources to prevent and handle homophobic bullying. A positive impact has since been observed in schools that have received this training and the pastoral manager at Cotteridge Junior and Infants in Birmingham said “The training gave us the confidence to challenge stereotypes and discuss LGBT issues in our school, the books and imagery highlight and celebrate the diversity of family life.”
Sex education is not currently compulsory in schools, allowing parents the option to remove their child from such classes. Though in a modern climate, where underage sex is so rife, ensuring that young people are educated on issues surrounding sex and relationships seems crucial to their health and wellbeing. The current sex and relationship education guidance was last updated in 2000, placing all focus on heterosexual relationships; though attitudes have advanced since then and in a day and age where a same sex couple can now be wed, it only seems appropriate for children to be educated equally on relationships of any sexuality.
Rachel Hunter, 22 is a trainee teacher from Hertfordshire and integration of different sexualities in school is something she feels particularly passionate about. After teaching basic sex education to a year 6 class as part of her training, shewas surprised to find what a minimal effort is put into incorporating LGBT issues into the school curriculum.
“To be gay is something to be respected, understood and accepted, and a school environment is the safest place for children to really understand what it all means,” said Rachel. “As gay marriage has been legalised in this country, it is the most critical time to address these changes to the children of the future, as it is directly relatable to their culture and their society, and the world they live in.”
In January this year, the Labour Party called for a vote in the House of Lords, considering an amendment to the Children and Families Bill that would introduce mandatory sex education in schools, covering issues about heterosexual and homosexual relationships, domestic violence and sexual consent. It was rejected, however, being voted down 209 to 142. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper stressed the importance for educating young people on these issues, stating that it would help to combat homophobic bullying and bad sexual health among the homosexual community.
Speaking about the legalisation of gay marriage in an article in Pink News, Prime Minister David Cameron stressed the importance of building an environment where people are no longer bullied because of their sexuality. The reform in the UK, should send a powerful message that everyone are equal, regardless of their sexuality and failing to address this in schools suggests otherwise.
The legalisation of gay marriage in the UK and campaigning for the education of school students on LGBT issues signifies an optimistic shift in social attitudes towards sexuality. Equality in schools is crucial for the wellbeing of the students, whether it in the way of ethnicity, religion, gender or sexuality and an increased openness about different lifestyles and diversities within education may help to build acceptance and combat discrimination in the future.