Scotland Moves to Include Queer Education into Curriculum

Scottish Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, John Swinney, announced that Scotland would become the first country in the world to mandate the teaching of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBT) issues into their standard curriculum. The move comes after years of campaigning by Time for Inclusive Education (TIE), a group that had been pushing for better recognition and inclusion for LGBT students in schools across Scotland.

State schools will now be required to teach their students about the history of equality movements, as well as including discussions about identity and sexuality, to promote a safe environment for all. There will be no exceptions to the policy, drawing anger from many anti-gay religious groups.

In his speech to fellow ministers, Swinney lauded the Scottish government’s record of LGBT rights, reminding his colleagues that there was still more to be done, stating “We must recognize that there is more to do. We rightly abhor homophobia, bi-phobia and trans-phobia whenever it occurs, but exclusion, isolation, under-representation and silence are more subtle forms of discrimination. They can be equally damaging to children and young people’s health and well-being and have no place in our education system.” He also commended TIE co-founders Jordan Daly and Liam Stevenson.

TIE was founded in 2015, and describe themselves as “a Scottish campaign group which has one aim: to combat homophobia, bi-phobia and trans-phobia in schools with LGBT inclusive education.” The organization also focuses on the role of education as a catalyst for change and acceptance, stating “We believe that LGBT history, role models and issues affecting LGBT young people should be taught and recognized within all schools.”

Shortly after their founding, TIE moved to petition the Scottish Parliament to take up their cause in early 2016, but lacked the support needed. Later in 2016 the Scottish National Party accepted the resolution, supporting the campaign, where it was adopted by all major parties during the Scottish Parliament elections. Soon after the government formed a working group, with TIE heading the research, to form an outline for implementation of their goals. In June of 2017 Scotland’s largest teaching union also voted in favor of the movement, and the inclusion of same-sex families as part of Scotland’s standard curriculum, effectively adopting TIE’s principles. Just a few short weeks ago, the Scottish government moved to accept the recommendations of the working group in full, a major shift in policy, and a win for gay-rights groups.

The movement sprung up after the founders, and many others, saw a need to combat the prejudices experienced by many Scottish students who identity as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans. Much of the statistics cited by TIE painted a dire picture, highlighting the high rates of discrimination faced by pupils. For example, they found that 90% of LGBT people had experienced homophobia, bi-phobia or trans-phobia at school, with 64% reporting being bullied specifically on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Even more alarmingly, they found that 27% of LGBT people had attempted suicide as a result of this bullying, with 15% trying more than once to end their lives. On the side of the teachers, 80% felt they were not adequately trained on how to tackle these issues, and 87% reporting hearing homophobia, bi-phobia or trans-phobic language in their schools.

The incorporation of LGBT education, history, and identity comes 18 years after Scotland officially repealed Section 28, an infamous law known for its notably homophobic sentiments. The law stated that a local authority “Shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “Promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.”

The law was introduced by former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government. According to Independent, Thatcher herself had a history of homophobia statements, once stating at a Conservative Party conference that “Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay,” going on to say “All of those children are being cheated out of a sound start in life. Yes, cheated.”

In 2000, when the House of Lords was debating the repeal of Section 28, the Conservative government was divided on the issue, with the Lord Strathclyde stating that

The government has done the right thing in dropping it.”, reported BBC. Then shadow Education Secretary, and current British Prime Minister, Theresa May spoke on the defeat calling it “a victory for common sense,” as she urged the British government not to bring the issue back up.

As Scotland moves to fully incorporate the guidance provided by TIE and the working group, campaigners across the country celebrated. TIE co-founder Daly stated that the incorporation of their policy sent a “a strong and clear message to LGBT young people that they are valued here in Scotland,” citing the day as “a monumental victory for our campaign, and a historic moment,” according to Reuters.

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