SDGs

Beyond the mechanics; why compulsory sex education can’t come quick enough for LGBTQ* people

By Raf Galdeano

You’re eleven. You know that queer people exist because there’s a rumour going round that your maths teacher is a lesbian and that’s why she can’t teach sports anymore. You’re thirteen and you come out as bisexual, for a while someone you know won’t let you sit next to them on the bus. A couple of years later you enter a classroom, a video is put on, and you watch a short film in which two girls kiss on a bench and a shooting star flickers across the sky. Film off, short speech about why homophobia is bad, and then back to the day-to-day of secondary school. You just received your first and only LGBTQ*-inclusive sex education lesson of your life.

 

Looking back at this moment in my life when I watched two girls kiss on that screen, it pretty much sums up the education systems’ stance on LGBTQ* young people and their needs. We are a different type of people, the Queers, but we still kiss. We still get married thanks to David Cameron. (Remember: ‘children should learn the significance of marriage and stable relationships as key building blocks of community and society’ SRE legislation 2017).  We can still have children and apparently still exist inside the gender binary, which the Department of Education can provide for. By condensing the entire queer experience into two thin white girls kissing, we become tangible and understandable to the education system and the state. There is no need for LGBTQ* inclusive sex education in the Department of Educations’ eyes, because we are exactly the same. This may come as a shock to the powers that be, but LGBTQ* people are not the same as cis/heterosexual people.  – In twenty-five pages of reports about sex education, trans and non-binary people are featured exactly zero times. Queerness encompasses a spectrum of human beings with specific sexual health and well-being needs, this blog is here to tell you why. (Yes, it is 2017 and I am writing about why LGBTQ* people deserve basic education)

 

The facts are this:

– Only one in five LGBTQ* students have been taught about safe sex in relation to same-sex relationships.

80% of trans students have self-harmed and 40% of trans students have attempted to take their own life.

60% of LGB (lesbian, gay and bisexual) students who are not trans have self-harmed, with 20% of LGB students attempting to take their own life.

-Research suggests that up to 80% of trans people have experienced violence from a partner or ex-partner.

25% of lesbian and bisexual women have experienced violence from a partner or ex-partner.  (Stonewall School Report 2017)

Sexual harassment, assault and abuse are all endemic issues within the LGBTQ* community. Bisexual people are four times more likely to experience sexual violence than heterosexual people. So why are lessons on consent still not compulsory in the UK? Teaching body autonomy to young people is imperative when their sexual orientation is hypersexualised for consumption by heteronormative media. Teaching young people it is okay to say no, that a healthy queer relationship looks like mutual respect and love instead of abuse and manipulation, that not having worked out your sexuality yet is alright, that gender expression has nothing to do with your genitals, those are all topics that matter. These are topics that save young people’s’ lives, not upholding the societal expectation of marriage.

Of course, there is the age-old argument that parents can teach young people about sex, consent, relationships and sexual expectations. For my fellow queers, how many of you taught yourself sex education through YouTube videos? How many people’s parents told them advice that was not specifically about heteronormative relationships? How many of you scoured countless books, TV shows, films and even porn for queer content only to find that most contained cis,  able bodied, white, attractive & thin bodies followed by sex (and then death for femme characters), over and over and over again.

We have a chance to change this though. We have a chance to change experiences of queerness from fifteen minute videos into open and frank discussions about trans rights, consent in queer relationships and safe sex. Our survey on SRE conducted last year revealed that LGBTQ* issues, consent, healthy relationships & sex expectations are all the most common issues that young people who filled our survey wished they could have been taught in their SRE. Only 5.2% of people received an education on LGBTQ* relationships and how they work.

12% of queer people who answered were satisfied with their SRE.

So, I’ve written WHY SRE needs a change. Now for the part where we make it happen.

-First of all, share this blog with your friends, school, teacher and MP.

-Read our report below: https://accountabilityadvocatesuk.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/sre-accountability-research-document.docx

-Get in contact with your school! Find out what legislation and education tools they use, ask them to change what you find bad/useless. Maybe even go to your parent governor.

-Create a group within your school to investigate your school’s’ SRE policy & work out what needs changing.

-If you know who your local UKYP (UK youth parliament) representative is, contact them! Let’s make sure that 2019 is the year where young people get accessible and comprehensive SRE.

-Support organisations which are campaigning for LGBT people’s rights.

Most importantly though, know that you as a queer person are not alone. You deserve an education and you deserve safety.

 

Let’s push for better citizenship education

Keya Khandaker

Citizenship education, a part of the National Curriculum in England, provides to pupils in the UK with the knowledge, awareness and understanding of democracy, government and how laws are made and upheld. According to the UK Government, citizenship education involves equipping pupils with the critical thinking skills to engage with political and social issues so that they can weigh evidence, debate and make reasoned arguments. Citizenship programmes for Key Stages 3 and 4 should ‘develop pupils’ understanding of democracy, government and the rights and responsibilities of citizens’.

 

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Citizenship education can teach young people early on about their right to hold the government to account

These are big asks for a fairly underestimated part of the school curriculum. For many people, this may be the only chance they get to learn about how the United Kingdom is governed, its political system and how citizens participate actively in its democratic systems of government. And so, we need to make sure that our pupils will get the best chance to learn about how they can be involved in the politics and laws which impacts their lives. Telling pupils at their age is key to make sure they don’t give up on engaging in their communities, the Parliamentary system, or voting in later life.

In the national curriculum, it states that pupils should be taught a variety of issues in their citizenship education, ranging from the power of government, the role of citizens and Parliament in holding those in power to account, and the different roles of the executive, legislature and judiciary and a free press. These are all vitally important, especially in teaching that citizens have a right to hold their governments accountable to their actions and decision-making. But we need to make sure that this is something that school aged pupils can relate to. We need citizenship educate to show that young people can act and engage now, not only in their adult life.

We need citizenship education to not only be about facts, but to stress that citizenship rights and activities are a lifelong entitlement for all young people regardless of their ability or background. The key to a healthy and equal democratic society is with “active, informed and responsible citizens; citizens who are willing and able to take responsibility for themselves and their communities and contribute to the political process”. This means we need the national curriculum on citizenship education to stress that young people are welcome to being active in their communities and are capable of having an influence on the world.

If we can achieve this, then the Accountability Advocates can meet our aim of getting more young people to hold our government to account. Our citizenship education could mould a new generation of active global citizens in the UK, all of whom strive for sustainable development, gender justice, and peace. British Council’s Active Citizens programme is shown to be doing just that. So let’s push for a new kind of citizenship education, where young people can understand that they have a voice and influence in their communities and wider society.

 

This election provided an opportunity for young people to use our voices; let’s ensure we do.

Raf Galdeano

This blog comes a few weeks after the election results, weeks after Theresa May failed to secure a majority parliament, and a few days after the Conservative/DUP alliance had been finalised. Many blogs, articles and tweets have been written in the past weeks, asking these questions: What went wrong for May? Why did so many young people turn out to vote? What does this mean for Jeremy Corbyn? All valid, perfectly reasonable questions. All have been debated and talked about by other more proficient commentators than I, seemingly without seeking the input of young voters or activists, so I shall leave them to it. Instead of filling the internet with more analysis of what happened or number crunching of youth voters, I want to ask you a series of questions:

  1. What sort of country and world would you like to live in?
  2. How do you think we could get there?
  3. Is it important that everyone is able to make change and speak about what they’re passionate about?
  4. What do you believe, above all else, is the difference between the general election in 2015 and the general election in 2017?


So granted, the third question is a loaded question as I wholeheartedly believe it is extremely important that every person regardless of age, race, gender, disability, sexuality or background should be able to create the world they want to live in. But take two minutes to think about these questions, then come back to this blog.

For me personally, I want to live in a world where women are not at risk of FGM, forced marriage and gender-based violence. I want a world where one in three women are not at risk of sexual or physical violence in their lifetime, where LGBTQ young people are taught inclusive and comprehensive sex education, where police violence doesn’t exist and a world where public services are fully funded and accessible for BME and LGBTQ people. To get to this world, the political establishment needs to overwhelmingly change the way it views and utilises young people. This election was markedly different from previous ones because the opportunity for real change was offered to young people, by a man called Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour Party gave the country a socialist manifesto that promised to advocate for the rights and needs of young people, recognising that the life and welfare of a person cannot be compromised in exchange for ‘efficiency savings’, or that our lives are a series of ‘difficult choices’ for the government. If you have Jeremy Corbyn on Snapchat (I highly recommend that you do, it warms my soul daily), you will have seen the packed venues, scores of young people showing up and campaigning. At a rally close to me in Beeston, Nottinghamshire, the venue was so full that they physically had to turn people away. This is more than a cult personality, or a superficial attempt to woo the country. For me, this election and Jeremy Corbyn provided an opportunity for young people. Contrary to the lack of youth voices on panel discussions in the days and weeks after the election, we are the reason the Labour Party emerged with 30 extra seats. A Tinder chat bot created by a group of young women encouraging young people to vote Labour is just one example of how the activism of young people is innovative, unique and effective. Young people’s’ desire for change and interest in politics extends far further than ‘getting out of bed at 9pm on election day to vote for a party that gives us free stuff’.

 

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Louder for the people at the back 👏🏾

18-25 year olds came out in force on election day, sending a clear message to the country. Don’t take us for granted, don’t patronise us with talk of ‘difficult choices’ and the absence of a magic money tree. Believe us, we know there is no magic money tree. Young people know the reality of difficult choices. We are denied the same ‘living wage’ that over 25s are, our housing benefits are stopped, and many of us will never get on the housing ladder because of Conservative austerity. Suicide is the leading cause of death for people aged 20-34.  The reality of being a young person in 2017 one of desperation, meaning that we need to change the political landscape that we live in. In order to do this, however, we need to keep the momentum gained during the election in the next few months. ‘How do I do this though, Raf?’ ‘I am one person who is already working a job, studying a degree, I have no time for grand missions such as saving the world’. Good news! I am going to write you a few easy suggestions on how we as young people can change this world below:

 

  1. Find an issue that is important to you. Search the news or Twitter for something that really gets your blood boiling or makes you think ‘wow, this needs to change’. Something that does this for me is the fact that there are 1,200 potential cases of child early and forced marriage (CEFM) reported every year in the UK.
  2. Who already works on this issue? If you are new to this problem or don’t know where to start, have a google of organisations or groups that work on the issue. A quick search would alert you to organisations that work on CEFM, such as Karma Nirvana,  Youth for Change, Educate2Eradicate and IKWRO. Knowing what is already out there is a great first step to understanding how you can create change. If you would like to take an active role such as volunteering, many organisations need and welcome extra hands! At Accountability Advocates UK we are always looking for passionate young people to help us in our work, and would love to hear from potential volunteers!
  3. What are your strengths? What are you good at that would help fight this cause? Are you an artist, do you have ties with your community or peer group that you could use to champion this cause? Are you good at organising events? Knowing what your specific strengths are (we all have them, I promise) means you can offer your assistance to projects, start your own, or even begin conversations. If you don’t have the time to arrange an event or create art about forced marriage, educating yourself on the issue well enough that you can start conversations with those around you is amazing. Opening a dialogue around a problem and educating others is one of the simplest and most important forms of activism.
  4. Start being a pest to your MP. Every person in the UK has a right to hold their MP accountable for the actions they take in government. What is your MPs voting record on issues that matter to you? Do they, for example, support funding specialist VAWG (violence against women and girls) services? Do they even know about forced marriage in the UK? Identify who your MP is, then start tweeting, emailing, calling and writing to them. Have you recently heard about a service in your constituency that could use some support from your MP? Make sure that your MP knows about it. Get other people you know who are interested in the topic to do the same. Find out when your constituency surgery day is (when an MP meets with their constituents to discuss their concerns), go have have a chat with them. An MP should always be accountable to you, so don’t feel daunted about this. (https://www.writetothem.com/)
  5. Lift up the voices and actions of other youth activists.  Often the easiest way of showing support is monetary support. Many action groups and nonprofits function without government funding and rely on donations, so show support in the form of money. Any donation is welcome, I promise. Support independent artists creating art for important causes. Educate2Eradicate for example has a shop where you can buy art and support their work in child safeguarding training Child & Forced Marriage, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Honour Based Abuse. You can find their shop here.
  6. Create inclusive and accessible spaces for other young people. A big problem in the world of social action is that it is not inclusive for many people in society. Make sure that if you are in a place of privilege that you are actively creating discussions and spaces where others can participate fully. For example, if you held a panel discussion on forced marriage yet everyone on the panel was male or white, then you have a problem. People of colour, LGBTQ people and disabled people all deserve to have spaces where they feel comfortable and happy to contribute. Make sure that whatever you do or organise strives for that.
  7. Most importantly, whatever you do, know that it is valued. Whether you attend a march, mobilise a society or group you belong to to take action, start a social action blog, raise money for others, start a petition or single-handedly take down the government, what you are doing is important. Every action that we as young people take to make a difference is radical, defiant and makes my soul almost as happy as viewing Jeremy Corbyn’s Snapchat.

 

Thanks for reading, if you would like to get involved in the Accountability Advocates project or have any comments, please contact us!