The British public clearly backs primary-school teachers telling students about LGBT+ families, according to new research from Stonewall.
Three days after a BBC audience said that a book about a gay penguin couple raising a chick was “disturbing”, “corrupting”, “unnatural” and had “an underlying agenda”, Stonewall’s research shows 60 percent of the British public supports primary schools teaching LGBT+ inclusive sex and relationships education.
Support is even higher among young people, with more than two-thirds (68 percent) of 16- to 24-year-olds backing it.
Stonewall’s figures follow YouGov polling for PinkNews in July, which found 59 percent of the UK population – including 47 percent of Conservative voters – backed teaching LGBT-inclusive relationships education in schools.
Widespread protests against LGBT+ inclusive lessons were seen this year outside primary schools in Birmingham.
The clear public support for teaching children about families with two mums or two dads shown in the research comes as children start to go back to school after the summer holidays.
Caprice Fox, a primary-school teacher, told PinkNews that children need to be taught about all kinds of families – “single mums, single dads, people who live with their grandparents, people who are adopted” – and that this includes making children who have two dads or two mums feel “validated” and like their families are “legitimate”.
“The earlier we have these conversation, the earlier we get the chance to educate them and teach them about being inclusive,” she said.
“Let them have questions. Be honest and open with them. By opening up these conversations, this dialogue, we’re moulding them into well rounded and kind young adults.”
Responding to those – like the parents in the audience of the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme on 2 September – who think that teaching children about LGBT+ people will make those children LGBT+, Caprice said: “It’s actually really worrying that these parents think these books, age-appropriate books, are propaganda.
“These are children’s storybooks, which are used as a teaching tool. These books aren’t being used to teach children how to be gay – any more than they are teaching children how to be a penguin.”
Ellen Jones, a university student, told PinkNews that she finds it “baffling” some parents think “if you don’t teach your kids about LGBT+ people they won’t learn about them”.
“LGBT+ people exist, we don’t exist in a vacuum and you are going to interact with us. Graham Norton hosts everything on Saturday night television… The idea you can shield your child from knowing LGBT+ people exist is absolutely baffling,” she said.
Ellen came out as gay at school aged 14, the day before the only lesson she can remember from school that mentioned LGBT+ people.
It was “a lesson about butch and camp stereotypes”, she said. “Not all lesbians are butch. That was the one [LGBT-inclusive] lesson, in Year 9.”
“I was quite lucky in that [LGBT+ issues] were never negatively discussed, but they weren’t positively discussed, either,” Ellen said. “I think discussions of LGBT+ people should be across the curriculum. I didn’t have any LGBT+ role models growing up.”
From September 2020, all secondary schools will be required to teach about sexual orientation and gender identity, and all primary schools will teach about different families, which can include LGBT+ families.
Two in five LGBT+ pupils are never taught anything about LGBT+ issues at school, and almost half are bullied because of their sexuality or gender identity, according to 2017 Stonewall research.
Commenting on the new research, Olly Alexander of Years & Years said: “When I was at school there was hardly any mention of LGBT people or our history. It was like we didn’t exist.
“I had an inkling I was gay from a young age and felt extremely afraid of what that would mean for me.
“LGBT+ inclusive education would have made a huge difference in my life. All schools need LGBT-inclusive education, it can and will save lives.
“Every young person deserves an education that shows them it’s OK to just be themselves and that, no matter someone’s sexuality or gender identity, they deserve respect.”