Thirty years ago, Section 28 was introduced into UK law, banning the "promotion of homosexuality" in schools. This month, on the 22nd of May, Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams introduced new legislation making LGBT relationship and sex education compulsory in the Welsh curriculum.
This change does more than show we've moved on from Section 28, which was officially repealed in 2003. Instead, it actively challenges the heteronormativity of education in Wales. As Williams stated when introducing the legislation in the Senedd, "Thirty years ago, Margaret Thatcher denounced local education authorities for teaching children that 'they have an inalienable right to be gay'. I want all our learners to know that they have an inalienable right to be happy."
This is not the first time Wales has pulled ahead of the rest of the UK in terms of LGBT inclusion. Earlier this year, Stonewall named the Welsh Assembly the top LGBT employer in Britain, and a Welsh man – John Randell – founded the first Gender Identity Clinic in the UK. Still, while progress is made in businesses and buildings, LGBT hate crime is at an all-time high in Wales and the rest of the UK, which is why education reform on this subject feels not just revolutionary, but a necessity.
The change in curriculum will be rolled out in 2022 and will require all schools – including religious schools – to teach Relationships and Sexuality Education (shortened to RSE) that is inclusive of LGBT issues. Williams explains to VICE that the four years leading up to the change will be focused on "developing the content alongside teachers and learners to make sure we get this process right and that we're delivering on what young people are asking of us".
This statutory requirement won't be relegated to one lesson a week in PSE, or an awkward hour of Biology, but will be applied to every subject. Teachers will be engaging with LGBT topics in regards to RSE in a number of ways, "from gender rights in Humanities to building self esteem and empathy through the Expressive Arts", says Williams.
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Of course, balancing a new curriculum to include all aspects of LGBT issues while including other relationship and sex education will be a difficult task, and it's already been met with scepticism.
Harriet PD – a Welsh Women’s Officer who organised the first LGBT club night in Merthyr Tydfil last year – suggests, "This legislation needs to have a particular focus on trans inclusivity, not merely focusing on LGB issues – not to say that they aren't important. I hope this education is fully backed up by providing inclusive and sensitive government training for teachers."
PD, who grew up queer but closeted in Rhondda Cynon Taff, also believes that education reform is fundamental when it comes to creating and promoting equality in British society. Her belief is that if she "had this type of education at school I would have been much more comfortable in discussing my sexuality and probably would have come out sooner". Similar sentiments have been shared by young people for years.
"This type of legislation is important and will help younger people," says PD. "It will help them to take up space in their sex-ed lessons, discuss their own personal experience, talk about the diversity and spectrum of sexuality, and finally, hopefully, make their peers understand that sexual 'normality' is a creation. We are building a new future."
While journalists and young people have asked for this reform – and are encouraged by the change coming from the Welsh Assembly Government – the push for an LGBT inclusive education was initiated by a study conducted by Emma Renold, a Professor of Childhood Studies at Cardiff University. Her expert panel found that present SRE education in Wales didn’t address young people's diverse needs, particularly in relation to LGBTQ+ and other minority sex, gender and sexual identities, expressions, experiences, relationships and rights.
"One of the most damaging legacies of Section 28 was that schools have maybe found it difficult to provide fully inclusive sex and relationship education – struggling to respond to the diverse needs of their learners, rather than following a 'one size fits all' approach," Williams explains. "Sex and Relationship Education hasn't stretched beyond the biological aspects of human relationships, and that’s just not good enough."
The changes in sexual education should mean that relationships, rights and respect will be taught hand-in-hand with sex. This is radical in nature, with Wales not only the first UK country to implement this education as statutory, but one of the first in the world. There'll be less need for students to take it upon themselves to create their own LGBT groups to educate their peers, because everyone will be taught from the age of five about these issues – across all subjects, across all schools. "I want all learners to feel proud of who they are, and I want our teachers to feel that they can fully support all our learners," says Williams.
"Attitudes are changing, and have shifted quite dramatically, but you should never take anything for granted. The fact is, prejudice still remains, and we as a government have a moral and civic duty to do everything we can to tackle it, wherever it occurs in our society," Williams continues. "Education is absolutely fundamental to this and I am deeply proud of the changes we’ll be making; it’s one of the most effective ways we can tackle all forms of discrimination."
Giving youth support in their classrooms and schools, backed up by changes to the curriculum focused on promoting positive LGBT relationships and thoughtful sexual education for LGBT topics, will affect how a whole generation perceives people who aren’t straight. From a young age, children will learn to embrace diversity in themselves and others.
It's been four years since Attitude Editor-in-Chief Cliff Joannou brought up the need for same-sex education in all British schools. Following the announcement it will be rolled out in Welsh schools, here's hoping the rest of the UK will follow their lead.