Striving for political consensus on inclusive SRE
In September 2014 we joined forces with QX magazine on an open letter to political leaders in the calling for: ‘All political parties to commit to age-appropriate SRE which includes content on same-sex relationships.’
The open letter, which had 28 signatories, sought responses from party leaders ahead of their manifesto launches and sparked a social media campaign (#SameSexSRE).
Same-sex relationships are often ignored entirely in SRE. This campaign has highlighted an equality issue which has huge negative impact on sexual health and well-being of LGBTI young people. So what did the politicians say?
Ed Miliband acknowledged that it is important we ‘support young gay people in schools and help ensure that all young people leave education with the right attitudes and values…’ Labour tried to amend the Children and Families Bill so that it would include content on same-sex relationships, but the amendment wasn’t passed.
Nick Clegg gave welcome support for addressing same-sex relationships in SRE, stating that ‘[curriculum content] should recognise the full range of different relationships, including those between two people of the same sex.’
David Cameron said ‘I strongly agree with the importance of high-quality PSHE education in schools….Schools should consider the needs of their pupils, which differ from school to school…’ – the last statement we would dispute in this context. The principle of LGBT inclusivity does not in fact differ at all. Neither do the rights of young people to access good SRE. There was no reference to LGBTI young people anywhere in his letter responding to the campaign.
There has been increased political discourse on the needs of LGBTI young people, primarily with an important focus on instilling tolerance in our schools. The Government pledged £2m to tackle homophobic bullying and Labour’s Tristram Hunt MP has even highlighted the role statutory SRE has to play in meeting the rights of LGBTI young people.
These rights go beyond teaching that same-sex relationships exist. We need genuinely inclusive content so that all young people are equipped to look after their sexual health and well-being. It’s not good enough if anyone walks away from the classroom thinking, ‘but what about me?’
The effects are apparent in reported sexual health outcomes. HIV diagnoses amongst men who have sex with men aged 16-24 have doubled in the last ten years. Knowledge amongst this age- group is far lower than gay or bi-sexual men at older ages, further evidencing the need for better information in school.
Cameron’s failure to address the issue in his response means that we don’t have the political consensus needed to make progress. If politicians believe in LGBTI equality they should have the courage of their convictions and show leadership on this matter. This shouldn’t be a politically divisive issue.