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Young people are calling to protect LGBT inclusion in Relationships Education - and we must listen

18 March 2024

By Lucy Emmerson, Chief Executive, Sex Education Forum 

Two duelling petitions on whether or not LGBT content should be included in relationships, sex, and health education (RSHE) have made it to Parliament for debate today. But from where I stand, LGBT provision in RSHE isn’t up for debate: it is a fact that our young people need and demand  LGBT-inclusive lessons.

When Government made RSHE statutory in 2017, it was in an effort to ensure children and young people were given all the information they need to “lead happy, safe, and healthy lives and to foster respect for other people and for difference.” RSHE clearly cannot uphold this standard for all students if it neglects the queer community. After all, how can pupils be kind and understanding of a child with two mums if this is a subject seen as taboo? How can a gay, trans or non-binary student practice safe sex in future if they can’t relate to the scenarios and information used to teach sexual health? 

LGBT visibility and inclusion at school can help reduce isolation, mental health issues, and even suicide for queer youth, and is seen as crucial for safeguarding them from unhealthy relationships. Research has also found that LGBT-inclusive curricula are beneficial to the mental wellbeing and safety of all pupils, regardless of sexuality or gender. Fostering respect and knowing how to navigate safe, healthy relationships requires incorporating an understanding of queer identities and relationships within lessons. 


Young people demand and deserve inclusive lessons 

The Sex Education Forum’s latest poll (SEF, 2024*) of over 1,000 young people reveals that 60% of young people identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer or questioning say that they don’t learn enough or at all about LGBT-relevant information in RSHE.

The dangerous alternative to inclusive RSHE is leaving young people to forage for information online. Almost a third (30%) of young people say their main source of information about LGBT identities is social media, and only a quarter (25%) say this is true of learning from school (SEF, 2024*). 

Young people are being let down by current RSHE guidelines as they are scrambling to find their own information. While RSHE guidance is a needed start for inclusive education, it clearly isn’t going far enough. Students are demanding more from their lessons to support overall learning and queer pupils. 

Communicate, not cut, primary school provision 

As young people are asking for more inclusive lessons, many of the adults calling to remove LGBT content from RSHE are concerned about primary school curricula. This seems to be due to misunderstandings about what is really being taught to children.

RSHE is focused on keeping children safe, healthy relationships and fostering values of mutual respect. Both primary and secondary schools have a vital role in offering reliable information and a safe place for children to be themselves as they grow and develop an understanding of society and their own identity.

What’s critical is communication, both between parents and educators about classroom content, as well as teachers feeling confident and supported by schools as they work to prevent discriminatory attitudes and address questions from pupils. 

Right now, Government guidelines only suggest introducing age-and-stage-appropriate content on LGBT issues in primary schools. While the Government have confirmed to petition signatories that it has no plans to change their advice to schools, the vague nature of their guidance is not enough for parents, teachers, or students to feel supported in RSHE provision.

Politicians must heed warnings from the past 

Even giving consideration to restrictions on educators’ ability to address questions on queer identities is an alarming prospect. The long shadow of Section 28 - which prevented teachers from discussing LGBT issues in the classroom - is still felt in many schools and in the LGBT community.

Generations of young LGBT people were let down under Section 28. We cannot let the same happen again. Our children deserve to grow up in a society where they feel accepted, not fearful; where differences are celebrated and respected, not penalised. Policymakers must put the needs of young people at the centre of their decision-making on RSHE. Today, that means heeding the dangers of the past and acting to protect and further secure LGBT inclusion in RSHE.

Lucy Emmerson is Chief Executive at Sex Education Forum

* Sex Education Forum (2024) Young People's RSE Poll 2024, publication forthcoming