Words by Hadley Stewart - @Wordsbyhadley

To my surprise, a debate about whether or not it is age appropriate to discuss LGBTQ+ people in schools is still taking place in 2019.

I started writing for FS in April 2015, but I’d been reading the magazine for years before that. I was bullied from the ages of 5 to 15; and reading FS during the later years of school provided me with an insight into LGBTQ+ culture, health, and allowed me to read about the stories of gay and bisexual men from other parts of the country. It gave me a place to go when I felt alone and misunderstood, or when I was left questioning why nobody was talking about people who were like me.

So as I write this, I’m saddened and disappointed that we’re still debating if it’s ‘age appropriate’ to be telling children about LGBTQ+ people, while many LGBTQ+ young people are crushed by poor mental health, as a consequence of bullying, discrimination and isolation at school.

Looking back, my mental health took a bashing during my time at school. Ten years of being made to feel smaller, wrong or disliked will probably do that to a person. There was a lot of love from my family and friends while I grew up, but the voices that resounded in my head were those of people who made fun of my sexuality, and that it wasn’t OK to be gay. These voices came from bullies, from teachers who didn’t challenge bullying, but also from others in society who would take to our TVs or newspapers to voice their grievances towards the LGBTQ+ community.

Alongside this, a campaign was gaining speed in the USA. The ‘It Gets Better’ project, which encouraged queer people from across the world to upload videos about how they made it through bullying at school, was set up in response to LGBTQ+ youth suicides in America. The project helped countless LGBTQ+ people, myself included. I couldn’t always find acceptance for my sexuality at school, yet I’m grateful that there were people online I could hear from, who showed me there was nothing wrong with being gay. In the face of bullying, just hearing that was sometimes all that I needed.

Section 28 had been repealed a few years prior to when the bullying started. Now, over 20 years have gone by, but we’re still questioning if it’s appropriate to be discussing LGBTQ+ people in schools. There are a group of LGBTQ+ teachers who are doing what they can at a local level, with

Ofsted, the school inspectors, highlighting the need for schools to challenge homophobia and transphobia. But at the same time, protests from parents against LGBTQ+ topics being taught in primary schools are currently making headlines.

They claim to be ‘protecting’ their children – the same arguments that were made to defend Section 28 all those years ago. Religion, culture and traditional values are also being thrown into the mix, as a means of justifying the unjustifiable. It should never be OK to debate the appropriateness of LGBTQ+ people.

Children are not born with prejudice. It’s something that is taught by the people around them. I wonder what the young children who attend the schools where parents are setting up anti-LGBTQ+ picket lines and WhatsApp groups think of LGBTQ+ people. I’d hazard a guess that it might encourage anti-LGBTQ+ views from them too. And for the LGBTQ+ students and parents in these school communities, what about them?

Their isolation and fear is being amplified by these ‘debates’, doubtlessly resulting in even more LGBTQ+ young people growing up with poor mental health, and insecurities about their sexuality or gender identity. Nobody is being protected here.

I needed somebody to tell me that it was OK to be gay in primary school, because although the message came later on in my schooling, the damage had already been done. When is it age appropriate for a young person to be made to feel wrong? Because that’s the real argument here. In 2019, no LGBTQ+ young person should feel wrong, scared or isolated. Young people don’t always have a strong enough voice to make change, so we must advocate for them. It’s clear that today’s education system has failed them.

Together, we must all challenge those in authority to act, before even more young people drown in sea of shame and loneliness.

Read all the articles from FS 171: