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A coalition of LGBT+ organisations and campaigners has written an open letter to political leaders in the UK. In the letter, they point out the elevated prevalence of sexual and mental health concerns amongst LGBT+ people of all ages, and highlight the urgent need to not only make Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) statutory in all schools, but to make it inclusive and relevant to LGBT+ young people.
Elly Barnes, Peter Tatchell, Lord Norman Fowler, Gaydar, Stonewall, Dr Christian Jessen, The Lesbian & Gay Foundation (LGF) and members of the queer media have all signed the open letter.
The letter was drafted by the National AIDS Trust (NAT). Their policy and campaigns manager, Kat Smithson, says, ‘One in three 16-24 year olds tell us they don’t know enough to prevent HIV transmission during sex, and at the same time HIV diagnoses amongst young gay men have doubled over the past ten years. Unless we start teaching young people in school about sexual health and about same sex relationships then we will only see these numbers increasing.’
Key facts, for example, include the startling statistic that a third of gay and bisexual men diagnosed with HIV in 2012 were in their teens or early twenties. Of this age group, 85% of the men queried claimed they received no information about same-sex relationships in school.
Cliff Joannou, the editor of QX magazine, devised the campaign.
Joannou says, ‘It’s shocking that in the 21st century schools are still not required to give children and teenagers the education they need to make informed decisions about their sexual health and relationships. In addition, omitting LGBTI relationships from any SRE means that too many children and teenagers grow up feeling further alienated by society and seek out alternative answers to basic questions. The education system has a responsibility to prepare children and teenagers for life in the real world. It is currently failing in that duty.’
This month millions of young people are going back to school – but because of inadequate sex and relationships education (SRE) we as a society will fail to provide them with the essential knowledge and life skills they need to make informed and responsible decisions in regard to their sexual health. This is especially true for LGBTI young people.
To address this, pupils, health experts, and we the undersigned, are supporting the ‘SRE, it’s my right campaign’, calling on all political parties to commit to make age-appropriate SRE a statutory requirement for all schools.
Ofsted describes SRE in English schools as ‘not yet good enough’ – not surprising when teachers are not trained to deliver it and only a handful of biological facts are actually required in the curriculum. Sexual relationships, sexual health, and basic information on the sexual parts of the body can be neglected, even though in the wider world children are exposed to sexual content at an ever earlier age. The result? They get their information elsewhere, often from inappropriate, inadequate sources, or get no information at all. This leaves them ill-prepared to make safer, fulfilling choices and resist sexual pressure and bullying.
If SRE is sub-standard for most young people, LGBTI young people’s needs are often ignored completely. 85% of gay and bisexual men tell us they received no information about same-sex relationships in school. And for 14-19 year-old gay and bisexual men, pornography is the most popular source of information on how to have enjoyable sex, and the second most popular source on sexual relationships and attraction. Without trustworthy education to help them sort fantasy from reality this could mean poor understanding of safer sex and sexual relationships.
In addition, 89% of LGBTI young people report learning nothing about bisexuality issues and 94% report learning nothing about transgender issues.
The consequences are stark. LGBTI young people are at greater risk of depression and suicidal thoughts. These can last into later life and can have a serious impact on sexual health, and on drink and drug use. Young people are being exposed to sexual situations without the support and basic sexual health information that the education system should be providing. One in three gay men diagnosed with HIV in 2012 were in their teens or early twenties.
We are all working for and committed to the well-being of the LGBTI community. We call on all political parties to commit to age-appropriate SRE which includes content on same-sex relationships. This should be provided in every school, for every young person, whether LGBTI or heterosexual. Equality and respect in adult life has to begin with equality and respect in the classroom.
Dr Christian Jessen
Lord Norman Fowler
Cliff Joannou, QX magazine
Susie Parsons, National AIDS Trust
Dr Rosemary Gillespie, Terrence Higgins Trust
Tris Reid-Smith, GayStarNews
Andrew Fraser, Attitude magazine
Elly Barnes, Educate and Celebrate
Rob Cookson, The Lesbian & Gay Foundation
Jane Czyzselska, DIVA magazine & BACP registered counsellor
Darren Scott, GT magazine
Tom Doyle, Yorkshire MESMAC
Suran Dickson, Diversity Role Models
Paul Fleming, Positive East
Greg Ussher, Metro Charity
Lukasz Konieczka, Mosaic LGBT Youth Centre
Trevor Martin, Gaydar
Nik Noone, GALOP
Jay Stewart, Gendered Intelligence
Simon Topham, Millivres Prowler Group
Ruth Hunt, Stonewall
Ben Cohen, Pink News