Vice Magazine recently ran an article highlighting the challenges that UK queer youth face in finding out the facts of queer love (both physical and emotional). We recap some of the highlights of that article below.
The UK Department of Education released plans in 2019 to have inclusive sex ed (including queer sex) taught in British schools, but parental protests in Birmingham and Manchester caused at least some schools to withdraw from the program.
Interestingly, then-governing Conservative Party leaders supported the parents, effectively undermining the government’s own educational guidelines. Little examined was the feedback from adults who were formerly queer kids themselves, which Vice took the time to delve into. Some of those excerpts are below.
Vic said that he didn’t recall much of any sex ed at his schools, and whatever little he got was strictly for straights. “I think the impact of my education was to reinforce the idea that penis-in-vagina sex was sex and that nothing else existed, which definitely contributed to the amount of queer shame I have,” said Vic. He remembers the trauma of having to suppress his sexuality until he finally came out at 21.
Angad got no sex ed at all in his primary school but did receive a fair bit in middle school. Although it was liberal, it was mostly cis-conforming. Most of the sex and relationship education about LGBTQ+ individuals boiled down to “wear a condom or you could die of AIDS,” and “homophobia is bad.” As he put it, “I mostly learned about the mechanics of gay sex from Wikipedia – hardly ideal.”
Maddie did receive some basic sex ed in her school; she was taught about consent and safe sex, cautioned against sexual abuse, and the risks of Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI). Her program also at least recognized the importance of queer lives by generally referring to coming out as “if you’re gay it’s OK.”
However, she got none of the specifics about queer sex and love. Maddie’s first encounter with a girl therefore generated fear and shame (instead of joy, pleasure, and inspiration), and it took her years to come to terms with her bisexuality.
In Emily’s school, sex ed was combined with religious studies and handled by teachers who were clearly uncomfortable and untrained in the subject. Although external resources were brought in to create LGBTQ+ awareness, all it amounted to was a debate over “whether it was right or wrong to be gay,” with most kids voicing their opinion that it was wrong.
Having to deal with her bisexuality all by herself, Emily was very confused about her gender identity. She says, “I thought of myself as a slightly broken straight person” and this kind of thinking ruined her early relationships.
Despite policy changes that are meant to build awareness and acceptance of sexual diversity through more inclusive sex ed in schools, it is unfortunate that parents, educators, and even policymakers themselves fail in the execution.
It is past time that leaders and stakeholders understand that “not teaching kids about LGBTQ people will not prevent them from being LGBTQ; it will just send the message that being LGBTQ is wrong – and make it much harder for LGBTQ kids to live authentically and be happy,” warns Rosie Hewitson, the author of the Vice article.