The Importance of an LGBT+ Education
Recently, it was announced that Scotland had become the first country to deliver an LGBT+ education from 2021. When I heard the news, I was really ecstatic. I believe that an LGBT+ education will really help LBGT+ rights and acceptance in the country and beyond. Teaching the children of tomorrow about the different types of families is essential, and that it is important to accept people regardless of their preferences or gender identity.
But having an LGBT+ education is also important in another way – it is also exposure to people that are “different” from the traditional figure of a cisgender, heterosexual person. Growing up between England and Italy, I did not know anything about homosexuality or being part of the LGBTQIA+ community. I remember once – when I was about 7 or so – I saw two men kiss each other on the TV, and I remember being very confused – why was a man kissing another man? Wasn’t it only women and men that loved eachother?
It wasn’t until mid-year 6 – my final year of primary school – when I started learning more about the LGBT+ community – but not in the best way. I was an easy target for teasing and bullying, and I often got told by other kids that I was gay and had had a sex change. I did not understand what they meant, and had to ask my mother, who explained. Maybe these kids were homophobic and transphobic, or maybe they were just thinking that their jokes were funny and acceptable – either way, I really hope that their views have changed. But whether their intention was bad or not, it left an awful impact on me, which only got worse in year 7, where practically the whole school mocked and bullied me – and not in a friendly way – because they thought I was gay. Once I was on the coach and this girl, who had been bullying me the most, shouted out that I was gay – completely unprovoked.
To some, this may seem like the norm – “Kids are mean”, “Bullying is common in school”, “They’re just words” – but it was much deeper than that. From this, I began thinking that being gay is something that gets you bullied, and something unusual and not good. I never thought that LGBT+ people were strange or bad people – I thought that the world was strange and bad instead, as people were so horrible and homophobic to those different from them. But for the next three or so years, whenever I thought that I could be gay or bisexual, or even just not entirely straight, I pushed those thoughts out of my head. I was so scared of being bullied and being seen as even more of an outcast, and I never wanted to face it.
Things started to change in later years though, especially when I started watching Pretty Little Liars. This may seem random to put in, but the show had a main character who was gay – Emily Fields. While I, and many other people, found her coming to terms with her sexuality, and her coming out in general, particularly touching, it was her relationships with other women that had an impact on me. The show portrayed her relationships so normally, and they focussed on the characters and storylines, not on the fact that they were gay. They weren’t completely different from the heterosexual relationships on the show, and the character was strong and independent, and her main personality traits were not based on who she loved or dated. I realised I wanted what she had, but the opposite – relationship with men. Slowly but surely, the feelings that I had been feeling for other guys were not stressing me out as much. I started to realise that it was normal and nothing to be ashamed about.
This was also strengthened by the fact that several other people in my year had come out as being part of the LGBT+ community by this point. My feelings of confidence and comfort were then strengthened even further by watching soap operas, which had not only one gay character , but a range of LGBTQIA+ ones. Eventually this gave me the courage to come out as gay, and although at first I was very scared and worried, I later started to embrace my sexuality and be proud of it.
Although I am well aware of my privilege of living in a country where homosexuality is legal, and having accepting family and friends, I do wish I had heard more about being a member of the LGBT+ community when I was younger. I remember seeing a lesbian couple in Friends when I was in year 7. Although many fans praised the sitcom for depicting a lesbian couple on the shows in the 1990s, it did not help me feel comfortable with my own sexuality, as again I could not help feeling that they were only using gay characters for comedy. Many of the male characters all portrayed discomfort with homosexuality, and whilst the show did feature a lesbian wedding, this was only a plot to emphasise how uncomfortable Ross felt about his former wife remarrying – the couple did not even kiss, as the show did not want to upset any viewers. I cannot pretend that soap operas are perfect though – this also happened in Coronation Street in the early 2000s, where two male friends pretended to be gay.
In 1998, Coronation Street had done worse – they were seen as ground breaking for introducing the show’s first ever transgender character, Hayley Cropper. Forever, years later after departing the show in 2014, the actress revealed that the character had initially been introduced to the show as a politically incorrect joke. Additionally, the role was played by a cisgender actress, rather than letting a transgender women represent the community.
Representation is also important in other areas of life too, such as books. Earlier this year, I was thinking about my favourite childhood author – Jacqueline Wilson – and how I wished that she had included more LGBT+ characters in her book.
To my surprise, she came out as having been in a lesbian relationship for the past two decades, and revealed that the reason that she had not included many gay character was due to her books focussing on children with problems – and that she did not see any problem at all with being gay. That warmed my heart, especially also due to the fact that she is releasing a new book – Love Frankie, due in Autumn 2020 – that revolves around a young teenager who starts to develop a crush on another girl. I really think that this book will help other teenagers who are feeling like this, and hopefully seeing gay characters in books and media will make them realise that there is nothing to be ashamed of.
Today, life is very different than what it was five years ago. There is much more LGBT+ representation in film, TV, books and other media – and that has brought comfort and acceptance to many people struggling with their sexuality or gender identity – or both. However, more needs to be done. More laws need to be put in place to protect people from being attacked or discriminated against because of their sexuality orientation or gender identity.
And one way that that can be achieved is if people educate the children of tomorrow well – that we show that it is okay to be gay, or bisexual, or pansexual, or to identify as another gender, and that it is essential that we treat everyone with respect. Seeing schools teach and discuss LGBT+ education and issues will normalise it, and hopefully create a more tolerant environment that many people have not had in the past. I applaud Scotland, and pray that the rest of the UK – and the rest of the world – follows.
Authored By: Danilo