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Labour’s Nic Dakin: I taught in schools under Section 28 – now we must ensure education is LGBT-inclusive

Nic Dakin June 24, 2016
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Labour’s Shadow Schools Minister Nic Dakin writes for PinkNews to mark Diversity Week.

For many LGBT people school can be a challenge. Often scared to come out, worried about the response from friends, peers and teachers, many LGBT young people feel isolated.

I was a teacher and College Principal for 35 years before becoming an MP.

In that time, young people coming out to classmates was virtually unheard of. The barriers facing LGBT people in society were high and the actions of the then-government put LGBT rights in schools particularly in deep freeze with the bigoted Section 28.

Fast forward 30 years and the outlook for many LGBT young people is much better.

Changes to the law and important changes in attitude mean that more and more LGBT people have a better experience of coming out and living their lives as they choose. Yet challenges remain, for trans people particularly and for young LGBT people navigating their teenage years.

That’s why, as we come to the end of the inaugural Diversity Week, I want to celebrate and congratulate organisation Just Like Us. I had the privilege of attending a Parliamentary Reception for the launch of Diversity Week.

Just Like Us is raising awareness of the challenges facing LGBT people in schools with UK Diversity Week. Diversity Week is a great opportunity for young people in schools, not only to see acceptance encouraged but also to see diversity celebrated.

LGBT young people I speak to are pretty clear: there is not enough support in schools for LGBT pupils. Whilst there is a big willingness to better support these young people at school, there is a lack of support, resources and confidence about how to tackle prejudice and build an accepting school culture which is LGBT inclusive to pupils as well as staff.

The narrowing of the curriculum and the failure of government to properly champion up to date PSHE and inclusive Sex and Relationships Education means that there is a lack of guidance and time to explore these issues at school.

I’m clear that Labour would act to update the PSHE and SRE curriculum and make them statutory subjects so they receive the importance in the school timetable that they deserve.

UK Diversity Week created by Just Like Us and championed in Parliament on a cross-party basis is another important way to promote an atmosphere where young people feel that they can be themselves.

It’s a pro-active way of helping students to become comfortable with themselves and of helping others to become accustomed to diversity. Just Like Us suggests that it can take up to 3 and a half years from self-realisation before an LGBT person may come out.

Creating an environment with positive role models, an ethos of acceptance and one that celebrates diversity is such an important step in the right direction, so that any young person facing these issues can feel supported.

It’s fair to say that it’s been a terrible week with the politics of hate attempting to drown out hope in a nightclub in Orlando and on the streets of Birstall.

Yet organisations like Just Like Us with their message of tolerance and acceptance of others are working day in day out to overcome fear and division and spread tolerance one step at a time.

I’ve been lifted this week by the hope I’ve seen on the Just Like Us Twitter feed.

With Pride in London on Sunday kicking off the summer Pride season, it’s right we take a moment and thank organisations like Just Like Us doing great work to challenge homophobia and transphobia in our schools whilst remembering that there is still more to do.

Starting at home and supported in our schools, we can build a more tolerant system which gives every child the support they need to find themselves and succeed at school and out in the world.

Nic Dakin MP is the Member of Parliament for Scunthorpe and Labour’s Shadow Schools Minister

More: Education, Gay, LGBT, school, schools, Sexuality

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