BOY OR GIRL? WE NEED MORE EDUCATION TO CHANGE PERCEPTIONS OF GENDER
What with same-sex marriage, ‘Call me Caitlyn’ and ‘The Danish Girl’, the past year seems a worldwide success for the LGBT community. Yet, in spite of the sexual revolution taking the Internet by storm, I haven’t noticed a change in real life. Whilst I’m sure that pupils and teachers alike welcome people of all orientations and pronouns, it’s time that sexuality was actively acknowledged within schools.
Same-sex marriage was already legal in the UK when I had my last sex-ed lesson, but even then there was little coverage of homosexuality, and certainly no exploration of transgenderism because these matters had not yet come to light with the force they have now. Around this time, a friend of mine came out as transgender. Whilst the school was kind and open-minded in its approach, and accommodating to a certain extent, there was a lack of understanding of his feelings. He was immediately allowed to start wearing boys’ uniform, he moved into a mixed house and did a mixed sport. But his teachers weren’t allowed to refer to him by his male name or ‘he’ because he needed both parents’ permission to be able to change his name on the school registry system. His father did not accept his transgender feelings, so he wasn’t able to change his name during his time at the school. Here there seems to be a fundamental ignorance of the problems involved with coming out as transgender. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for at least one parent not to be accepting of their child’s feelings, so the request for both parents’ permission seems too much to ask when the emotional comfort of the child is at stake. He says it was as if his school ‘acknowledged that I didn’t want to be seen, wrongly, as a girl, but wouldn’t accept that I was male’. At my friend’s next school he was called by his male name, as well as being allowed to use boys’ bathrooms and changing rooms. Essentially, he was treated like any other boy, and this is how transgender people should be treated across the country.
Steps are clearly being taken to bring schools into the present day. Brighton College has been praised for leading the way with its new gender-free uniform policy, and Ofsted now includes attitudes towards homophobia in its inspections. In 2015 the National Union of Teachers agreed that ‘a future government must tackle the embedded homophobia, biphobia and transphobia that exists in schools and create a positive climate of understanding about sexuality and gender fit for the 21st Century.’ My worry is that staff teaching pupils about LGBT matters may not be sufficiently equipped to do so. At my school we are lucky that the PSHE teachers are hand-picked for being the most open-minded and progressive in the school. But this is no government policy. Even if schools are legally required to preach acceptance and understanding, there is still no guarantee that teachers across the country agree with this change in culture or have sufficient knowledge of the wide spectrum of genders and sexualities. It is crucial that teachers have a thorough understanding so that they can answer the questions posed by a class of forward-thinking, curious teenagers to help them support their peers. But, then again, how can one possibly be equipped to answer such questions without first-hand experience? Schools need to be places where queer teachers feel comfortable enough to be open about their sexualities so that they can provide counsel to lost pupils looking for an adult who understands.
In spite of my school’s best efforts, I feel as if the acceptance now taught in PSHE isn’t evident around the place. This needs to change. A truly welcoming environment is essential at our age because studies show that 48% of queer American college students discover their sexuality in high school. Even if the school rules officially ban ‘abusive comments about gender or sexuality’, the school community as a whole doesn’t acknowledge the possibility of homosexual relationships. Girls and boys are not allowed into each other’s rooms until their final year, at which point the door must be propped open. There are no such restrictions on people of the same gender. With nearly half of young Britons identifying as something other than completely heterosexual, these differences seem somewhat outdated if the school wishes to maintain that ‘sexual relationships are forbidden in any circumstances’. Of course, people aren’t having sex every time they go into a friend’s room, and it would be ridiculous to keep everyone separate all the time for fear of sexual relations. But it’s rules like these that demonstrate the wide denial of homosexual relationships within schools.
Reform is not only important for equality, but also to save the feelings of pupils. As the current rules stand, an undisclosed gay couple could easily be having sex, or even living together in the same room. This is completely inappropriate in a school environment, and yet there is nothing to prevent it. Although there is no risk of pregnancy, there are other problems that schools must protect against where sexual relations are concerned. I can only imagine the emotional turmoil following a break-up at such close quarters, not to mention how divisions and awkwardness will affect other pupils. The feelings of these heterosexual housemates must also be considered when rooming gay pupils, because in the same way that girls aren’t allowed to see boys change, the same should presumably go for gay pupils, and yet they mustn’t be segregated either.
It seems that there is still much to be done in terms of the acknowledgement and support of the LGBT community within schools across the country. From a local perspective, I would like to see the development of an LGBT Society where queer pupils and those who support the rights movement can discuss the challenges they face and, soon, the breakthroughs of the community. With this raised awareness and openness, the taboo would dissolve and the pastoral care team would become better informed about the issues. Their knowledge would be passed on to the rest of the school and eliminate the ignorance that can lead to prejudice. Of course, things will gradually improve over the years, but why wait to start the movement towards a more open and happier school environment? ′