LGBT+ teaching within relationships education

Written by: Emma Fay | Published:
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This was a really interesting read with helpful tips for educators to ensure that LGBT+ education ...

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If a child is not too young to learn about heterosexual relationships, they are not too young to learn about same-sex relationships. Emma Fay from charity Just Like Us advises on how we can ensure relationships education is LGBT-inclusive


A child is never too young to learn that LGBT+ people exist, and that we should all value and respect diversity – including that of sexual orientation and gender identity.

If you are reading this article, it is likely that you agree with me on that point, and it is something I believe strongly: as a parent, a former teacher, and as director of education for the charity Just Like Us.

However, the Department for Education (DfE) has at times been less clear on this point, stating in its various training modules published to support the RSHE curriculum that: “Primary schools are enabled and encouraged to cover LGBT content if they consider it age-appropriate to do so.” (DfE, 2020).

If a child is not too young to learn about heterosexual relationships, they are not too young to learn about same-sex relationships. If a child is not too young to be referred to as a certain gender, then they are not too young to know that it is okay to have feelings about that – feelings they should be able to talk about.

Every child, including those with LGBT+ family, and including those who already know they are LGBT+, should see themselves and hear relevant content in relationships education.

At the heart of LGBT-inclusive relationships and health education in primary school are these key messages:

  • LGBT+ people exist.
  • It is okay to be LGBT+.
  • It is normal to be LGBT+.

The DfE’s statutory guidance for relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) states that schools should “ensure that this content is fully integrated into their programmes of study for this area of the curriculum rather than delivered as a standalone unit or lesson” (DfE 2019).Below, I would like to address what this looks like in the curriculum, breaking down overarching topics in the statutory curriculum into notable subtopics for LGBT+ content, and I would like to offer some ideas for incorporating this into teaching and learning.


Families and people who care for me: What should they learn?

Different types of families: LGBT+ families are just as diverse as non-LGBT+ families – it is more than just teaching about “two mums” or “two dads”. Teaching about different families should also include mention of all kinds of families, including trans and non-binary parents or carers, single parents, and parental figures or carers who happen to be LGBT+, such as family members who take on parental responsibility.

Respecting diversity: As part of learning that different families exist, send out the message loud and clear: no one family type is superior to another. Family structures are all equal; the important bit is that a child is safe, loved, and their needs are met.

Marriage: Same-sex marriage is now legal across the UK, so when teaching children about what marriage is, make sure to include this fact. You can use inclusive language by talking about two “adults” getting married (instead of a “man and woman”) and “spouse”, to be inclusive of those people who don’t want to be referred to as “husband” or “wife”.


Respectful relationships and caring friendships: What should they learn?

Respecting difference: As part of your school culture, undoubtedly you will already be making sure that your pupils respect difference, and that they have respect for themselves and others.

For younger pupils, LGBT+ inclusive content begins by addressing harmful stereotypes, in particular gender stereotypes. This can be done both by acknowledging that stereotypes exist, and by deliberating avoiding or subverting them in the resources and examples you use. For example, by using images of men in caring roles or being visibly emotional you represent a more healthy version of masculinity. Our free “thinking about gender” resource, available on our resources/lessons web-pages, allows young people to explore their assumptions, and talk about their understanding of gender more directly (see further information).

Preventing bullying: For older pupils who are familiar with the terms in the LGBT+ acronym, you can talk about homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, and what that looks like. This should include addressing the use of “gay” as a pejorative term, as well as abusive language they may have used. Again, continue to reinforce that any way in which a person wants to express their gender is absolutely fine, and that gender nonconformity is different from being LGBT+.

Acknowledging trans young people: Some children you teach are trans. Some won’t know yet, and some trans people say they were aware of their gender very early on. By teaching children that there is a name for their discomfort or dysphoria, you will help them – you can’t make a child trans by simply telling them that trans people exist. That said, be careful not to make any LGBT+ young person feel spotlighted when talking about these topics – always keep references general, and when including examples, use references unrelated to your school to focus children’s attention away from their peers.

Promoting allyship: Remind pupils that this is relevant to all of them. Each one of them can be an ally to a peer when they see something happening which is wrong. When you talk about the bystander effect, mention all types of bullying and hurtful behaviour.


Online relationships: what should they learn?

Finding information online: Make sure young people are signposted to appropriate organisations which are LGBT+ inclusive.

Reporting harmful content: Research shows that many LGBT+ young people don’t report abusive behaviour (offline or online) because they expect to be treated in that way, or they did not realise anything wrong had happened at the time (GEO, 2018). By being clear about how young people can recognise harmful content – including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic content – you empower them to be able to see it for what it is, and take appropriate action.

Explaining how people communicate on the internet: Explaining the context of the internet is important, particularly for young people questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity who may internalise encounters. One LGBT+ specific aspect of this teaching may be to explain that a vocal minority can make themselves seem more prominent than they are, particularly on platforms such as Twitter, but that they do not represent the majority of society.


Representation

Inclusion in the curriculum takes two main forms: content (outlined above) and representation. Representation can occur in the images you use, but also in your example materials and the way you describe people (e.g. gender neutral terms, rather than gendered). Representation can be a good way to begin conversations or include incidental mentions of LGBT+ identities which demonstrate that they are normal and equal to non-LGBT+ identities.

Take a look at the resources you are using, such as your presentations, worksheets and books: do they feature the “nuclear”, heteronormative family more prominently? More often? Do they feature LGBT+ people with other intersecting characteristics, such as ethnic minorities or people with disabilities? Are you able to reset the balance by using more inclusive images, changing your phrasing, or adding to your book/resource collection?


Just Like Us

To many people, this will all be common sense. I have made it all sound simple, but I know that things can get tricky. Just Like Us is experienced in supporting school staff. A great way to get to know us is by signing up for School Diversity Week. It takes place between June 21 and 25 this year, although our free resources and video masterclasses are available all year round. This year, we will be publishing a set of resources for every curriculum area from the EYFS to key stage 2, many of which will support relationships education.

  • Emma Fay is director of education at Just Like Us, a charity for LGBT+ young people.


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Comments
This was a really interesting read with helpful tips for educators to ensure that LGBT+ education is delivered well. I agree with the headline here that if children are old enough to learn about heterosexual relationships then they are old enough to learn about same-sex relationships. Thank you.
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