A group of faith leaders are pressing the government to ensure that LGBT-inclusive sex and relationship education becomes a requirement in all schools.
Under the Children and Social Work Act passed earlier this year, sex and relationship education is now a statutory requirement in all schools, after pressure on the issue from sexual health and children’s campaign groups.
The law itself does not require sex ed to be LGBT-inclusive, but the government is currently developing new guidance for SRE that may include direction on LGBT issues.
This week, a group of faith leaders penned an open letter to Education Secretary Justine Greening, urging her to ensure that all schools promote acceptance of lesbian, gay, bi and transgender people.
The interfaith letter is signed by key religious leaders from across the major religions.
Signatories include the Bishop of Buckingham, Rt Revd Alan Wilson, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Chair of the British Muslims for Secular Democracy.
The letter says: “We congratulate the Government for ensuring – through the Children and Social Work Act 2017 – that relationships and sex education (RSE) will soon be taught in all schools in England.
“This is an important step in boosting the future health and safety of children and young people. We further note that the Act mandates you to publish regulations and statutory guidance regarding school’s provisions of these subjects.
“However, this is open-ended and undefined, with the danger that RSE remains at risk of being hijacked by those who wish to overlook topics such as accessing confidential sexual and reproductive health-care services and contraception, as well as those who wish to limit pupils to what they consider to be religiously acceptable notions of gender and sexual orientation.
“Schools – including faith schools – should be able to reflect upon a reasonable range of religious and cultural perspectives. But it is essential that the RSE that schools provide is accurate, balanced and promotes an acceptance of diversity.
It continues: “We therefore urge that new statutory guidance on school’s teaching of RSE should require schools to actively promote the acceptance of LGBT people and provide – for pupils of sufficient maturity – factual information about contraception and abortion.
“We believe making certain that RSE is inclusive and focuses on ensuring pupils are well-informed should be paramount, so that efforts to ensure their long term well being and to tackle prejudice are not undermined.”
Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, helped to organise the letter.
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He said : “Schools – including faith schools – should be able to cover a reasonable range of religious and cultural perspectives. But it is essential that the sex education provided is accurate, balanced and promotes an acceptance of diversity.
“Making relationships and sex education compulsory is a welcome and overdue safeguarding measure. However, there remain a range of threats to the provision of factual and inclusive sex education.
“These include from those who would wish schools to avoid topics such as birth control and accessing sexual health services, and to make others conform to hetronormative notions of gender and sexual orientation. Religious arguments are sometimes misapplied in support of such discriminatory approaches.
“Currently some schools largely avoid sex education, and these are often faith based. We must avoid especially a situation where such schools provide sex education but start doing so in ways that undermine wider efforts to tackle discrimination and equality.
“Very many religiously motivated and committed people believe children should be entitled to know how their body works, about risks they may face and where to obtain help, and that they should be able to learn in non-prejudicial environment.
“We urge the Secretary of State to help ensure these outcomes in the relationships and sex guidance that they are set to issue.”
The signatories are:
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Chair of the British Muslims for Secular Democracy
Revd Canon Steve Chalke MBE (Baptist), Founder & Leader Oasis Community Learning
Revd Canon Jane Fraser (CofE), Sex and Relationships Education specialist and Manager of the sex education charity Bodysense
Jayne Ozanne, General Synod member and LGBTI equality campaigner
The Very Revd Jeffrey John (CofE), Dean of St Albans
Derek McAuley, Chief Officer, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches
Martin Pendergast (Roman Catholic), Chair of the Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality
Revd Professor Michael J Reiss (CofE), Specialist Adviser to the House of Commons Education Committee 2014/15 Personal, Social and Health Education Inquiry
The Rt Revd Alan Wilson, Anglican Bishop of Buckingham
Revd Richard Adfield (CofE)
Ruby Almeida, Chair of Quest (Pastoral Support for LGBT Catholics)
Simon Barrow, Director of the Christian think tank Ekklesia
Revd Richard Bentley (CofE)
Revd Janet Conway (URC)
Revd Roger Cornish (URC)
Revd Marie Dove (Methodist)
Revd Joe Edwards (CofE)
Benjamin Ellis, Chair of the Jewish LGBTQI inclusivity group, KeshetUK
Dr Maria Exall (Roman Catholic), Chair of the Cutting Edge Consortium and TUC LGBT+ Committee
The Rt Revd Michael Doe, Preacher to Gray’s Inn, former Anglican Bishop of Swindon
The Rt Revd David Gillett, former Anglican Bishop of Bolton
Revd Dr Ruth Gouldbourne, Co-Minister, Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, London
Cllr Martin Stears-Handscomb (Baptist), Co-Chair of Accepting Evangelicals
Savitri Hensman (CofE), equalities adviser in the care sector and writer on Christian social ethics and theology
Ruth Hilton, Chair of the Jewish sexual health charity JAT
Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz (Leeds Synagogue)
Fr David Ingledew (CofE), All Saints, Hove
Rabbi Margaret Jacobi (Birmingham Synagogue)
Revd Robert Jennings (URC), Minister at Glenorchy Church, Exmouth
Revd Richard Jones (CofE), Associate Minister, Hereford Diocese
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner (Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism)
Revd Richard Kirker (CofE), LGBTI equality campaigner
Revd Dr Jan van der Lely (CofE), Chair of the Modern Church
Revd Stephen Lingwood (Unitarian), Minister of the Bank Street Unitarian Chapel, Bolton
Jeremy Marks, Director of Courage UK
Revd Iain McDonald (URC)
Rabbi David Mitchell (West London Synagogue)
Revd Tim Richards (URC,) Mid Somerset Group
Rabbi Danny Rich (Senior Rabbi and Chief Executive, Liberal Judaism)
Revd Professor Chris Rowland (CofE), Emeritus Dean Ireland’s Professor of Exegesis of Holy Scripture at the University of Oxford
Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah (Brighton Synagogue)
Rabbi Fabian Sborovsky (Menorah Synagogue, Manchester)
The Rt Revd Dr Peter Selby (CofE,) former Anglican Bishop of Worcester
Rabbi Sybil Sheridan (Newcastle Synagogue)
Elaine Sommers (CofE), Co-Chair of Accepting Evangelicals
Revd Tim Stead (CofE), Vicar, Holy Trinity Headington, Oxford
Revd Stephen Terry (CofE), Rector of the Parish of Aldrington, Hove
Revd Robert Thompson (CofE)
Revd Keith Ward DD FBA (CofE), Regius Professor of Divinity Emeritus, Univ. of Oxford
Revd Clare Wilson (CofE)
Revd Simon Wilson (CofE)
Revd Dick Wolff (URC), Minister in Oxford