The House of Lords has given its backing to new LGBT-inclusive guidance on compulsory relationships and sex education in English schools.
The upper chamber gave approval to new government guidance on relationships and sex education late on Wednesday (April 24), a month after the plan passed through the House of Commons by a vote of 538 to 21.
The regulations passed through the Lords without a formal division due to overwhelming support, paving the way for the guidance to come into effect in schools for September 2020.
Education minister Lord Agnew of Oulton said: “There is no reason why teaching children about the diverse society that we live in, and the different types of loving and healthy relationships, cannot be done in a way that respects everybody’s views.
“Schools should ensure that the needs of all pupils are appropriately met and that all pupils understand the importance of equality and respect, in particular respect for difference.
“The new guidance is clear on the teaching about LGBT relationships expected in secondary schools and encouraged in primary while retaining the flexibility for head teachers to respond to the needs of their own schools.”
Gay peer Lord Scriven reveals he ‘considered suicide’ as a teenager
In a moving speech during the debate, gay Liberal Democrat peer Lord Scriven revealed he contemplated suicide as a teenager due to homophobia, and said he hopes the new LGBT-inclusive guidance helps others like him.
He said: “A lot has been spoken about the theory of relationships education, and people coming to terms with who they are and understanding the modern world.
“I was one of those 15 year olds who looked over the edge and contemplated suicide. Stories about the real world are far more important than theory.”
Lord Scriven added: “School is meant to be the safe place that gives a child the right to feel safe, to explore and to understand the world and community they are part of [and] expose young people to the world they will have to negotiate.
“I looked over the edge and nearly committed suicide because I and many others did not have that safe space. It was not safe for teachers to explore the differences. There was a monoculture about what relationships were about.
“If these regulations go forward, fewer young people will look over the edge like I did.”
— Lord Scriven, Paul Scriven
“If I had grown up with the regulations that the Government will, I hope, enact, some of the issues that I and many others were dealing with would have been explored—not just sexuality, but many different issues. I would have felt normal and safe.
“I would have understood that my relationship was equal and that I was a fellow human being. Yes, there were going to be issues, but I was equal.
“That is what this is about: giving children, no matter who they are, the right to negotiate the world safely and with confidence, so that they do not go, particularly now, to the internet to be mistaught, have their differences reinforced and possibly contemplate suicide even more.
“If these regulations go forward, fewer young people will look over the edge like I did at the age of 15.”
Peers received ‘vile’ anti-gay letters before House of Lords debate
Speaking in the Lords, several peers said they received anti-gay letters in the run-up to the debate.
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Storey said that the abuse was “a reason to ensure that our young people had proper relationship and sex education in our school system.”
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He said of an abusive letter: “It was a vile piece of information, trying to compare the teaching of relationships and sex education to giving up smoking.
“That sort of warped view about relationships in 21st Century Britain shows how strong is the need for an education system that addresses the issues.”
LGBT+ rights pioneer Lord Cashman, who received an identical abusive letter ahead of the debate, told the Lords: “The letter said that lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans relationships were short and lonely.
“Perhaps my 31-year relationship with [late husband] Paul Cottingham was short compared to others—I do not know—but certainly it was never lonely and I certainly felt completely fulfilled.”
Lord Cashman added: “As soon as we put sex and education together, the bonfire starts—especially the bonfire of misinformation.
“Of course parents will and do maintain control. Whether a parent wishes to teach a child outside school according to their faith or none is entirely up to them.
“But, please, let us also remember that people of all faiths and none are also lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans. It is vital that children and LGBT children receive comprehensive and inclusive sex and relationships education.”
Paul Twocock, director of campaigns at LGBT+ charity Stonewall, said: “We’re delighted the regulations for teaching Relationships Education and Relationships and Sex Education in England’s primary and secondary schools have passed safely through the House of Lords.
“These new regulations mark a significant and welcome change to how pupils are taught about LGBT relationships and identities. It’s life-changing legislation that will give LGBT pupils the tools to make informed decisions about their relationships and their futures.”