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Knowledge Base » Safeguarding » All about the Promotion of LGBTQ+ in Schools

All about the Promotion of LGBTQ+ in Schools

LGBTQ+ is an inclusive term for people of all genders and sexualities. While each letter in LGBTQ+ stands for a specific group of people, the term is inclusive of the entire spectrum of gender fluidity and sexual identities that exist.

The first four letters of the acronym have been used since the 1990s, but in recent years there has been an increased awareness of the need to be inclusive of other sexual identities in order to offer better representation.

LGB stands for lesbian, gay and bisexual. The T in LGBTQ+ refers to someone’s gender identity. It stands for transgender, which is a term for someone who identifies as a different gender than what was assigned on their birth certificate. The Q stands for questioning or queer. Questioning is when a person is exploring their sexuality, gender identity or gender expression. Queer is used as an inclusive term or as a unique celebration of not moulding to social norms.

More recently, LGBTQIA+ has been used, with an additional two letters at the end of the acronym. The I stands for intersex and is used for individuals who don’t fit into specific gender norms of women or men. It can also be used for those with reproductive anatomy that isn’t biologically typical.

The A stands for asexual which is inclusive of those who do not feel a sexual attraction to either sex. The plus sign at the end of LGBTQ+ can include members of other communities, including people who support and rally the LGBTQ+ cause even though they don’t identify within the community itself.

Other identities which are included in the LGBTQIA+ are:

  • Agender which refers to those who do not identify with any gender.
  • Gender fluid which describes a person’s gender identity as self-expression and not static.
  • Pansexual/omnisexual which is a term used for individuals with a desire for all genders and sexes.
  • Demisexual which describes someone who requires an emotional bond to form a sexual attraction with someone else.
  • Non-binary which is a term used for those who do not conform to binary gender identities.
  • Polyamorous is a term for those who are open to multiple consensual romantic or sexual relationships at one time.
  • Sapiosexual describes a person who is attracted to intelligence, regardless of a person’s gender identity.

Information gathered from the annual population survey shows that an estimated 3.1% of the UK population aged 16 years and over identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual in 2020. This is an increase from 2.7% in 2019 and almost double the percentage from 2014.

Group of friends part of the LGBTQIA+ community

What is LGBTQ+ promotion in schools?

An inclusive education is one that is respectful and sensitive to all identities, where children and adolescents are not at risk of misinformation, a minimisation of their experience, or dismissal of their feelings. This includes using the correct pronouns and having open conversations about the issues facing the LGBTQ+ community.

Young people have the right to feel safe, happy and content with their identities, and they should feel that they are included and represented within the education system. When young people feel that they are represented and understood, they are more likely to develop a positive sense of self-worth and confidence in themselves and their own abilities.

Children and young people need to see themselves and their families represented positively. This includes within the school curriculum and within the general school culture. All schools are required to be inclusive of LGBTQ+, both within the curriculum and within the culture of the school.

Current issues related to LGBTQ+ in schools

Research carried out by the government shows that the experience of people in the LGBTQ+ community continues to be disproportionately difficult within society, and this is no different within our school system.

In July 2017 the government launched a survey to gather information about the experiences of LGBTQ+ people in the UK. Over 108,000 people participated, making it the largest national survey of LGBT people in the world to date.

The survey showed that at least two in five respondents had experienced a distressing incident because they were LGBT; this included verbal harassment or physical violence in the 12 months prior to the survey being carried out. More than nine in ten of the most serious incidents went unreported.

The report highlighted that homophobic and transphobic bullying persists in schools, and existing research has suggested that LGBT students do not feel that their needs are addressed, particularly when it comes to sex and relationships education. A significant number of respondents had experienced negative incidents during their time in education. The survey found many people had been ‘outed’ without their consent, or had been victims of verbal harassment in education. Only a minority of respondents felt that their education had prepared them for life as an LGBT person.

The full report can be found here.

As a result of this, the government action plan stated that “all LGBT people should feel welcome and safe at school, college and university so that they can reach their full potential.”

While it appears that some schools are providing LGBTQ+ young people with a supportive and inclusive environment, where they feel safe and respected, this is not everyone’s experience and this can vary greatly between different educational settings. The research found that an unacceptably high number of LGBTQ+ students were having a negative experience in education, which impacts on their mental health and self-esteem.

Research found that:

  • Only 58% of LGBTQ+ pupils felt safe at school on a daily basis in the past 12 months, compared to 73% of non-LGBTQ+ students.
  • Only a third of LGBTQ+ students said that they are aware of a clear process for reporting anti-LGBTQ+ bullying in their school and would feel confident to do so.
  • LGBTQ+ young people are three times more likely to self-harm and twice as likely to have depression, anxiety and panic attacks, as well as to feel lonely and have worries about their mental health on a daily basis.
  • 48% reported not seeing any positive messaging about being LGBTQ+ from their school in the last 12 months.
  • Seven out of ten primary school teachers reported hearing pupils use homophobic language towards their peers.
  • Almost half of primary school teachers reported that their pupils were experiencing homophobic bullying.
LGBTQ+ student victim of bulling

What is inclusion of LGBTQ+?

LGBTQ+ inclusive education is a term referring to an approach of including themes related to LGBTQ+ people across the curriculum, embedded in ordinary teaching and learning. The approach is to include LGBTQ+ related learning themes in lessons as standard, in a natural and meaningful way, in order to be inclusive and prevent stereotypes and stigma from arising.

Positive, inclusive education can help young people in how they feel about themselves and how they view other people. Seeing diversity and inclusivity as part of their everyday lives and educational experience is important for children to develop a sense of understanding of themselves, and teach them about tolerance, respect and empathy towards other people. By doing this, schools can help to tackle the homophobic and transphobic discrimination that is still present in society.

How to promote LGBTQ+ in schools

LGBTQ+ children and young people are twice as likely to be a victim of bullying compared to their non-LGBTQ+ peers.

Achieving LGBTQ+ inclusive education involves:

  • Ensuring LGBTQ+ inclusion within the curriculum. When assigning topics for science, history, and art, for example, include LGBTQ people like Harvey Milk (politician) or Alan Turing (computer scientist).
  • Promoting positive ideas and language.
  • Being proud of LGBTQ+ visibility. This could include giving teachers a choice to wear LGBTQ+ badges or lanyards, or displaying the Pride flag inside and outside your school.
  • Addressing discrimination in the school culture.
  • Training and professional development with experts can help to ensure that your school is inclusive and safe for LGBTQ pupils. Effective professional development can help to educate staff on how to handle harassment and bullying.
  • Creating lesson plans on bullying, bias and diversity that teachers can use to help educate their students.

What does an LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum look like?

The Relationships Education programme in primary schools and the Sex and Relationships Education in secondary schools now include learning outcomes in their statutory guidelines throughout the key stages. These reflect the experiences of those who identify as LGBTQ+ and/or those growing up within LGBTQ+ families.

There is also a statutory requirement that the needs of LGBTQ+ children and young people are appropriately met and that all pupils are given the opportunity to learn about the importance of equality, inclusivity and respect.

Every school is required to teach children about relationships and families. The guidance for primary schools sets out that this can include LGBTQ+ families. This means teaching children that all families are different. For some children this may include having two mums, two dads or another family structure, for example being cared for by extended family members, single parent families, or adoptive or foster parents. Our knowledge base provides further reading about what fostering and adoption are.

Supporting LGBTQ+ students in schools

It is vital that LGBTQ+ students feel accepted and included in school. In order to do this, schools will need to prioritise tackling discrimination and bullying, ensuring that LGBTQ+ students feel accepted and free to be themselves.

This can be achieved by:

  • Having the right support and training in place for staff members. Effective professional development can also help to educate staff on how to handle harassment and bullying.
  • Having the relevant, up-to-date policies in place and for these to be understood by staff, pupils and parents.
  • Knowing where to access support for LGBTQ+ students. As part of the government’s LGBT action plan, schools should make sure they signpost support for LGBTQ+ young people, who may be experiencing a range of issues, including bullying or well-being/mental health issues. It should include information about support that young people can access both in school and outside of school and they should be supported in accessing this.
  • Having a zero tolerance policy to homophobia of any kind within the school. This includes having clear anti-bullying procedures in place and that pupils know who they can report such incidents to and that these will always be taken seriously.
  • Normalising the conversations around LGBTQ+ issues within school on a day-to-day basis will ensure that when conversations do happen, these are not seen as being out of the ordinary or forced.
  • Addressing issues of peer-on-peer abuse which includes emotional abuse, sexual abuse and consent. More information about this issue can be found on our knowledge base.
  • Starting an LGBTQ+ student support group/organisation at your school. This can help in reducing discrimination against LGBTQ+ students, promoting their well-being, and ensuring a safe and inclusive school environment. These groups can provide support for LGBTQ+ students, and they can help to create an awareness in schools about issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community and help to stop discrimination and bullying.

The Be You Project offers helpful resources for young people about gender identity, gender dysphoria, coming out, sex and sexual health and staying safe, and advice and support for parents, carers, friends and teachers.

For further reading about gender dysphoria, please see our knowledge base.

Normalising conversation about LGBTQ+ in schools

Requirements of LGBTQ+ in schools

In April 2019, LGBTQ+ inclusive Relationships and Sex Education was introduced in England’s schools after years of campaigning. The government announced new regulations for teaching about relationships and sex education in schools. This means a significant change in the way children and young people are taught about LGBTQ+ relationships and identities.

The new guidelines on relationships and sex education mean that all students who attend school in England will be taught about what safe and healthy relationships look like. The new guidelines cover other issues like consent and online safety as well as LGBTQ+ identities and relationships.

Before the new guidance was introduced, many schools were already teaching LGBTQ+ inclusive lessons. Now, all secondary schools that weren’t doing so will now have to do this, and primary schools will also be encouraged to do so. Providing an inclusive educational experience for LGBTQ+ children and young people, or those with LGBTQ+ family members, is a legal responsibility which schools need to fulfil.

The guidance applies to all schools and states that:

  • Sexual orientation and gender identity must be explored.
  • Same-sex relationships should be included within lessons discussing healthy relationships.
  • Primary schools should teach about different families which can include LGBTQ+ parents, among other family structures.
  • It is recommended that primary schools teach sex education as well, although this is not compulsory.
  • Schools should ensure that they comply with the relevant provisions of the Equality Act 2010. Sexual orientation and gender reassignment are named as protected characteristics within the Act.
  • The needs of all pupils must be met.
  • Pupils should be taught about equality and respect.

Gender reassignment and sexual identity are among the nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.

Schools should be aiming to:

  • Eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation.
  • Promote equality of opportunity.

Many educational settings have already made great progress towards ensuring that their policies, culture and curriculum are achieving this; however, this needs to continue and the standard of delivering on this should remain high.

A list of LGBTQ+ inclusive books and resources for children can be found here.

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About the author

Claire Vain

Claire Vain

Claire graduated with a degree in Social Work in 2010. She is currently enjoying her career moving in a different direction, working as a professional writer and editor. Outside of work Claire loves to travel, spend time with her family and two dogs and she practices yoga at every opportunity!

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