A coalition of LGBTI (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans Intersex) organisations and campaigners have written an open letter to political leaders in the UK, highlighting the urgent need to make Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) statutory in all schools – as well as appropriate for LGBTI young people.
The group, including Peter Tatchell, Conservative Peer Lord Fowler, Dr Christian Jessen, the gay media, and LGBTI and sexual health charities and NGOs, outline the elevated rates of poor sexual and mental health amongst LGBT people in the letter.
Cliff Joannou, editor of QX magazine, who devised the campaign, says: “It’s shocking that in the 21st century schools are still not required to give children and teenagers the education they need to make informed decisions about their sexual health and relationships. In addition, omitting LGBTI relationships from any SRE means that too many children and teenagers grow up feeling further alienated by society and seek out alternative answers to basic questions. The education system has a responsibility to prepare children and teenagers for life in the real world. It is currently failing in that duty.”
Kat Smithson, policy and campaigns manager at NAT (National AIDS Trust), the HIV charity who drafted the letter, said: ”One in three 16-24 year olds tell us they don’t know enough to prevent HIV transmission during sex, and at the same time HIV diagnoses amongst young gay men have doubled over the past ten years. Unless we start teaching young people in school about sexual health and about same sex relationships then we will only see these numbers increasing.”
THE LETTER IN FULL:
This month millions of young people are going back to school – but because of inadequate sex and relationships education (SRE) we as a society will fail to provide them with the essential knowledge and life skills they need to make informed and responsible decisions in regard to their sexual health. This is especially true for LGBTI young people.
To address this, pupils, health experts, and we the undersigned, are supporting the 'SRE, it's my right campaign', calling on all political parties to commit to make age-appropriate SRE a statutory requirement for all schools.
Ofsted describes SRE in English schools as ‘not yet good enough’ – not surprising when teachers are not trained to deliver it and only a handful of biological facts are actually required in the curriculum. Sexual relationships, sexual health, and basic information on the sexual parts of the body can be neglected, even though in the wider world children are exposed to sexual content at an ever earlier age. The result? They get their information elsewhere, often from inappropriate, inadequate sources, or get no information at all. This leaves them ill-prepared to make safer, fulfilling choices and resist sexual pressure and bullying.
If SRE is sub-standard for most young people, LGBTI young people's needs are often ignored completely. 85% of gay and bisexual men tell us they received no information about same-sex relationships in school. And for 14-19 year-old gay and bisexual men, pornography is the most popular source of information on how to have enjoyable sex, and the second most popular source on sexual relationships and attraction. Without trustworthy education to help them sort fantasy from reality this could mean poor understanding of safer sex and sexual relationships.
In addition, 89% of LGBTI young people report learning nothing about bisexuality issues and 94% report learning nothing about transgender issues.
The consequences are stark. LGBTI young people are at greater risk of depression and suicidal thoughts. These can last into later life and can have a serious impact on sexual health, and on drink and drug use. Young people are being exposed to sexual situations without the support and basic sexual health information that the education system should be providing.
We are all working for and committed to the well-being of the LGBTI community. We call on all political parties to commit to age-appropriate SRE which includes content on same-sex relationships. This should be provided in every school, for every young person, whether LGBTI or heterosexual. Equality and respect in adult life has to begin with equality and respect in the classroom.
Dr Christian Jessen
Cliff Joannou, QX magazine
Susie Parsons, National AIDS Trust
Lord Norman Fowler
Dr Rosemary Gillespie, Terrence Higgins Trust
Tris Reid-Smith, GayStarNews
Andrew Fraser, Attitude magazine
Elly Barnes, Educate and Celebrate
Rob Cookson, The Lesbian & Gay Foundation
Jane Czyzselska, DIVA magazine & BACP registered counsellor
Darren Scott, GT magazine
Tom Doyle, Yorkshire MESMAC
Suran Dickson, Diversity Role Models
Paul Fleming, Positive East
Greg Ussher, Metro Charity
Lukasz Konieczka, Mosaic LGBT Youth Centre
Trevor Martin, Gaydar
Nik Noone, GALOP
Jay Stewart, Gendered Intelligence
Simon Topham, Millivres Prowler Group
Simon Blake OBE, Brook
Ruth Hunt, Stonewall
Notes to the editor:
The hashtag #SameSexSRE is being used in conjunction with the campaign.
The above open letter was written in accordance with the Sex Education Forum’s core principles. The Sex Education Forum ‘It’s My Right’ project campaigns to guarantee every pupil, in every school, high quality sex and relationships education, as part of personal, social, health and economic (PSHE). If you want to campaign on this issue please visit the SEF’s website, www.sexeducationforum.org.uk/its-my-right
For further information and interview requests with any of the above signatories or young LGBTI people for case studies, please contact:
020 7814 6733
NAT (National AIDS Trust) is the UK’s leading charity dedicated to transforming society’s response to HIV. We provide fresh thinking, expertise and practical resources. We champion the rights of people living with HIV and campaign for change.
Shaping attitudes. Challenging injustice. Changing lives.
QX is the UK’s most popular free gay magazine, reaching more readers in print and online than any other gay publication.