As a young, HIV-Positive, man I believe that the sex education that I was taught in school failed me – and I believe it is continuing to fail young people today.
I feel that the current and future government need to place an increased focus on the issue of sexual health. I know that the sex education that I received was poor, and whilst I can’t entirely blame my diagnosis on the education system, I do believe that it failed to educated me properly. I know now that if I had had a better awareness back when I was 17 I would have acted very differently.
So, firstly lets look at what kind of sex education I received…
The first time was in primary school when we were 10, we were made to watch a video (yes, the time before DVDs were around) of how a “normal family” lived. There was a husband, a wife and a couple of kids. I remember, graphically, that all of them walked around the house naked, and being told that was “normal”. We were taught about sexual activity between a man and women, how to make babes and how contraception helped to prevent that.
I was told about common Sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia and genital wart, but that’s about it. I also remember being given a plastic penis and a condom and showed the correct way to put it on.
I remember sitting in a classroom full of boys, all of us being too afraid or embarrassed to ask questions. By the age of 14 I knew I was gay, I knew I was attracted to guys and not girls. I sat there confused as to why I wasn’t told about relationships between two people of the same sex. I was too afraid to speak to my teachers, they never spoke about it so I guessed it was wrong to be gay.
Next, lets look at LGBT+ history here in the United Kingdom. During Margret Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister there was an amendment added to the ‘Local Government Act (1988)’, which stated:
“A local authority shall not-
(a) intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality; or
(b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.”
Yet ‘Homosexual Activity’ was decriminalised in England 21 years earlier in as part of the ‘Sexual Offences Act (1967)’. So why did Maggie’s government prevent people being educated about LGBT+ sex and relationships. How does that make sense?
Finally, lets look to the future. This week Tristam Hunt, Shadow Education Secretary, outlined that the Labour Party, if they win the election, would make LGBT+ inclusive education compulsory. So what does that mean?
There are five key points that the Labour Party have promised.
- Trained teachers who know how to deal with homophobic, transphobic and biphobic bullying
- Provide a support network for teachers.
- Make age appropriate sex and relationship education compulsory.
- Promote mental health services to help support LGBT+ young people
- Provide a best practice toolkit for schools.
This is a big step, but I cannot comprehend why this is not already the case for all state funded schools. How can our government allow this to go unaddressed? According to Stonewall there are an estimated 215,000 LGBT+ pupils in school. It is claimed that 55% of those experience bullying because of who they are. A disturbingly high 99% of LGBT+ pupils also report hearing homophobic language.
I am angry at the government for allowing these statistics to be so high. Why have we not fixed this?
I feel that any party wanting to gain seats at the upcoming election will need to address the issue of LGBT pupils in schools. We have a duty of care towards these young LGBT+ people. Schooling has a huge influence on young people’s lives, second only to their families. We need to ensure that we are making young LGBT+ people feel safe, provide an education free from bullying, and provide them with the right sex and relationship education that they need to make better choices about their health and their future.
The Labour Party hasn’t specifically mentioned that they will educate young people on HIV and AIDS, but I hope that with this reform on Sex and Relationship Education that they would be included. I hope that young people in schools are given the tools and education they need to make more informed decisions, that they feel that just because they are LGBT+ doesn’t mean they are of less worth or less “normal”.
We cannot change the sex education that we received. But what we can do is call to for change and improvements to that which the coming generations will receive. We need to push our MP’s to fight this cause. We need to make sure that the education system in this country isn’t failing young people, and specifically young LGBT+ people. I believe it is our duty to make change happen, every last one of us.
The LGBT+ community in the UK have come so far in the past ten years. We gained Civil Partnerships in 2004, and full marriage ten years later, we can adopt children and serve in the military – but the fight for equality is far from over. Let us return our focus to the sexual health of our community, and the best place to start any change is by educating our young people properly.
James (@PositiveJamesH on twitter)