The RSE curriculum is in the firing line, and it's concerning
Content Warning: This article mentions examples of homophobia and transphobia.
All views in this article are my own.
It takes no expert to know that children are curious. They are constantly receptive to new information, and if you leave them with blanks to fill, they will fill them with whatever means they can.
The first time I heard the word 'gay,' it was thrown around the primary school playground as an insult as often as a wet softball would hit me in the face. Both were depressingly regular occurrences.
I didn't quite know what being 'gay' was, or what it meant, but if it was an insult, I knew it must be a bad thing. Being 'gay' was something to be avoided at all costs. I know that I am definitely not unique in my experience here.
It's hard hitting to me that the first time I was exposed to queer terminology was essentially through homophobia.
Learning through hate is unkind and unproductive, and the reason it happens in the first place is because children aren't educated before the hate has a chance to manifest.
Whilst things may have slightly moved on in the past decade, it remains true that LGBTQ+ education in schools is lacking.
And not only is it lacking, it is alarmingly under threat.
It's education, not indoctrination
Conservative MP Miriam Cates secured a Parliamentary debate in July last year, discussing the materials used to teach RSE, calling for the RSE curriculum to be reviewed as a matter of urgency. If you decide to watch the full thing, I shall once again reiterate the content warning for transphobia and suggest you do not do so after a long, hard day.
In a nutshell, she outlines that children are being taught 'age inappropriate' RSE (Relationships and Sex Education) in schools. That children are being taught materials led by political agenda, rather than matter-of-fact education. Cates also appears to express that she finds herself baffled by the idea that gender is a construct removed from biological sex. To her, the separated definitions seem incomprehensible.
So, explain to me, Miriam, why the World Health Organisation itself manages to understand gender perfectly competently, despite it being so politically motivated?
She comments on a range of RSE topics that are allegedly being taught 'inappropriately,' but to me, her most notable point relates to her regard of gender diversity teaching as some sort of threat to childhood.
Cates proceeds to attack the current state of the curriculum, stating point-blank that RSE is pushing 'extreme gender ideology,' and claiming that 'gender theory has sexist and homophobic undertones.' Unfortunately, she does not elaborate on this claim. I know, I am as disappointed as you are.
'Teaching children that there are 64 different genders, that they may be a different gender to their birth sex, that they may have been born in the wrong body, is not the truth' - Miriam Cates, Parliamentary speech, July 2022.
Rather hilariously, Cates says all of this in the same breath as mentioning the importance of 'celebrating diversity' and 'promoting tolerance.' She even uses the full LGBTQIA+ acronym in relation to this, which probably hurt the poor woman, bless her.
It makes me wonder if she even knows what the 'T' represents. It's all very confusing.
Except, is it really?
We need to protect LGBTQ+ children
If we are censoring vital information about the difference between sex and gender in schools, surely, children will grow up all the more confused. Not knowing why they feel different, if they do, and feeling increasingly more alone. Because like it or not, trans and non-binary people have always existed, and always will.
It is essential to know that gender is a construct, because it is. This isn't 'new' research.
It's not about purposefully filling children with anxiety or burdening them. It's about providing young people with the necessary and correct information in a safe, regulated space. The classroom should not be any less than that. Not educating students with the appropriate content can have dire consequences, from bullying and harassment to cases as extreme as murder.
2021 became the most deadly year on record for transgender and non-binary people, and if this isn't an argument enough to educate children about gender and LGBTQ+ issues, I don't know what is. Not only so that LGBTQ+ identifying children feel more accepted, but also to protect them.
The younger that children are taught, the more likely they are to accept LGBTQ+ identities as normal. And importantly, the more likely they are to accept themselves, or their peers. Isn't that what we want? Normalising LGBTQ+ identities, including trans identities, is essential to protecting all children, not just a select few.
So, whilst Cates assumes that teaching gender diversity is a 'threat to childhood,' I'd suggest the opposite. Especially taking into consideration the fact that informative, non-discriminatory and inclusive education can aid in reducing hate crimes and a whole lot of unnecessary suffering.
So, what's happening now?
There are two petitions for the attention of the government currently active. One campaigns to remove LGBT content from the RSE curriculum, the other campaigns to keep LGBT content in the RSE curriculum. As I write this, the petition to remove LGBT content from the curriculum has over double the signatures of the latter. 109,343 more, to be precise. This, in itself, is scary and outlines a much greater problem.
Cates presented her speech to Parliament in July last year. A long time ago, as far as the political timeline goes. This isn't just about this particular case. It isn't about political standpoint, either. It's about working to create a more accepting environment for all children, and queer people in the long run. This should be done, as Cates suggests herself, away from political agenda.
Since the happenings, Rishi Sunak has called for an RSE review to be pushed forward and pledges that guidance, in particular relating to children questioning their gender identity, will be in place by the summer term, likely when you will be reading this. Unfortunately, I'm no fortune teller, but whilst everything seems a bit bleak now, I'm choosing to remain optimistic. I truly hope that queer young people's best interests are considered during this upcoming review.