How can teachers challenge bigoted world views?
Let’s get one thing straight: teaching kids that gay people exist is not going to turn any of them gay.
By not teaching children that gay people exist we are running the risk of ruining lives. It’s not just the gay kids who will suffer. Yes, they are the ones who will have to carry around significant trauma for decades to come. But what about the kids who aren’t gay? They will grow up with a blinkered view of a world they are ill-prepared for. Worse still, in situations where bigotry is not challenged at home, they could carry on being bigoted well into adulthood, perhaps for their entire lives. In turn, they then could pass it onto their children.
Please note that for concision, to avoid confusion and to reflect the vernacular, I have used ‘gay’ throughout this piece as the umbrella term as for the range of queer identities (LGBT+).
It’s NEVER too early
Straight stuff is everywhere.
I’ve become acutely aware of this when babysitting my 29-month-old niece. Thanks to the efforts of my husband and I, she is already a Disney addict. Yes, we have fully indoctrinated her into this evil ideology. We have brainwashed her with heteronormativity. She has learned that, someday, her prince may come. Except, she also knows that princes sometimes marry princes. After all, Uncle David and Uncle Antony are married. She doesn’t see any incompatibility with what she sees on all those Disney DVDs.
Who knows? One day she may marry a prince? Or a princess? Or no one at all? She’s not even three yet! But all options are open and will remain open. Yet I wonder, how many three-year-old children are already starting to be taught that it’s ‘wrong’ for boys to love boys and girls to love girls.
Sex has nothing to do with it
Anyone who thinks kids are going to be learning the ins and outs of ‘gay sex’ from reading a storybook in which two male penguins take parental responsibility for an orphaned baby penguin really needs their head examining.
Yet that’s what a worrying number of people still think. For some, talking to kids about being gay is synonymous with giving them an encyclopaedic insight into ‘gay sex’. This ridiculous misconception remains rigidly stuck at the heart of a lot of people’s bigotry.
None other than Ofsted’s Sean Harford has noted that this is why schools often fail to meet their obligations under 2010’s Equality Act. And Amanda Spielman has made it clear that LGBT should be a part of every school’s curriculum, regardless of that school’s character. I would never share anything of what goes on in my bedroom (aside from what book I’m reading before I put the light out). And no teacher in their right mind, gay or straight, would either.
Walk in someone else’s shoes
For those who say “but you can’t be gay in our religion or culture” needs to just talk to someone from their religion or culture who also happens to be gay. Just walk around in their shoes for just five minutes.
Last year, I was privileged to spend the whole day at the UK’s first South Asian LGBTQ+ conference, right on my doorstep in Birmingham. I went along to find out how to best support my queer-identifying South Asian students. It was an emotional day. The first-hand accounts from victims of homophobic attacks shook me to my core. In comparison, my own couple of decades of self-denial and self-harm didn’t seem that traumatising. We heard from the world’s first openly gay Indian prince. An incredibly resilient lesbian academic told us how she narrowly survived being murdered by her own family in Pakistan. Her story was not untypical.
The hundred or so delegates all had their own stories of growing up feeling different to everyone else with no one to tell them “it’s okay, you’re not alone”. I can’t imagine anyone being hardhearted enough to hear these stories and still use religion or culture as an excuse.
In both of the world’s biggest religions, Christianity and Islam, scriptural support is thinner on the ground than many realise. The idea of ‘loving your neighbour’ is paramount and threaded through both the Bible and Quran. Yet, homophobes ignore this, pointing to a slim number of specific passages which they think reinforce their preconceived ideas.
Section 28 returns?
32 years ago, the Prime Minister of this country stood up at her party’s conference and told them what they wanted to hear: that children were being “cheated of a sound start in life” because they were being “taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay”.
The ensuing Section 28 legislation held teachers back from telling their pupils “it’s OK to be gay”, even implicitly. This is what cheated those children of a sound start in life. Children like me. But also people who weren’t like me. What about all my classmates who grew up with bigoted views, views that weren’t challenged until perhaps later? Or never. Perhaps some of these are the sort of people who now, as parents themselves, don’t want their kids learning about gay stuff in school.
Born this way
Equality benefits everybody. Bigotry benefits nobody. No one learns to be gay. It’s not something you can catch, no matter how much it’s ‘promoted’. There’s nothing wrong with being gay. My niece knows this, and she’s not even three years old yet. You’re born this way, baby.
We must not rewind the clock to the time of Section 28. We owe it to the next generation to get this right and we can’t stand by and let ignorance ruin people’s lives. Surely that’s why we got into education in the first place?