Scotland has become the first country to approve Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) education as part of its curriculum. This means teaching LGBTI history, as well as directly confronting homophobia and transphobia, and will become mandatory teaching across Scottish state secondary schools.
UK LGBT rights have come a long way in the last decade. Part of that is to do with legislative milestones: the Civil Partnership Act 2004, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 in England and Wales, and its Scottish equivalent in 2014. The provision of equality before the law is a reflection of changing social attitudes, but also in itself a force for progress. LGBT+ representation and visibility, both on screen but amongst celebrities too, is more mainstream than ever. It is easy to glibly dismiss this as superficial but role models in the media can undoubtedly have a positive effect on teenagers struggling with their identity.
The effect of this more open society on children and young adults is heartening. High school students are visibly more accepting of their LGBT+ classmates. In 2007, only three years after the repeal of Section 28 which banned the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ by local authorities, including schools, Stonewall published a report on homophobic bullying across UK schools. In 2017, its School Report displayed impressive progress: the number of LGB students bullied due to their sexuality had fallen by almost a third.
Despite strides made, the bullying of LGBT+ students remains worryingly common, with 45% reporting bullying, with the figure rising to 75% when trans students alone are examined. The effect of this is isolation, low self-esteem, self-harm, and even death.
Consider the statistic that 27% of trans teenagers have attempted suicide. This affects young people’s educational aspirations, with over half (52%) of students who have experienced homophobic bullying say it has affected their plans for future education. At present, most teachers are ill-equipped to deal with the issue. Concerningly, 80% have received no training on how to tackle homophobic bullying.
It is clear there is still much room for improvement, especially where trans students are concerned. In most schools, LGBT+ issues are hugely sidelined. 40% are never taught 'anything' about LGBT issues, whilst, even more troublingly, 80% reported their school’s sex education class failed to discuss gay safe sex.
Scotland’s integration of a specifically LGBTI program into state education is historic. The UK has made great strides toward equality for LGBT+ people, but so much of this country’s legalised discrimination is recent history. Section 28 was only repealed UK-wide in 2003, a year before civil partnerships were legalised for same-sex couples. Revealingly, Scotland repealed it in 2000, and it was one of the first pieces of legislation passed by the new Scottish Parliament. Whilst this illustrates how quickly the tide can turn within social politics, we should be careful of becoming complacent about progress.
Scotland’s historic move is a powerful answer to the historical scars of Section 28. Students spend most of their week in school, and it is paramount in shaping worldviews, as well as teaching children and young people how to treat one another. LGBTI education has the potential to massively decrease bullying, and drive integration at an early age. Vitally, it can tackle practical issues around LGBT+ safe sex that are overwhelmingly neglected within mainstream RSE (Relationship and Sex Education).
Finally, the importance of teaching LGBTI history cannot be understated. It is crucial to teach students about the violence and injustice that LGBT+ people have faced, including the devastation wreaked by the AIDS crisis. Alongside this, it is vital to celebrate the strength of activists and ordinary people who fought against discrimination and got us where we are today. We owe it to them to teach this history, but also to young people. Seeing the strength with which people fought for equality and recognition can be important in instilling a sense of pride in a culture and identity.
With this step, Scotland shows that it is leading the way. It’s time for the rest of the UK to follow.