This week, teenagers across the UK, including myself, will head back to the classroom as the new school year begins.
While lots of young people will be looking forward to going back to school and reuniting with their peers, for others this is not the case. For too many LGBTQ+ young people school is still not a place where they feel able to be themselves, making heading back after 6 weeks off a daunting prospect.
We’ve come a long way since the dark days of Section 28 back when schools were banned from talking about LGBTQ+ identities, but Stonewall’s 2017 School Report found that almost half of lesbian, gay, bi and trans pupils (45 per cent) are bullied for being themselves. The research also found that 40 per cent are never taught anything about LGBT issues at school.
Throughout high school I barely remember hearing about LGBTQ+ identities at all, as a result, I felt unable to articulate my own feelings or what they meant. A pivotal moment for me was hearing a talk in school about what it meant to be transgender, I remember this helping me find the words for what I had been feeling for a long time.
Without LGBT-inclusive education, many LGBTQ+ young people can feel isolated, and are more likely to think their identity isn’t ‘normal’ as it’s brushed under the carpet and not talked about. This also adds to an atmosphere where students feel they cannot come out, which can have a negative effect on wellbeing.
That’s why I was so pleased when the government announced that LGBT-inclusive Relationships and Sex Education will be made compulsory in all schools in England from 2020. This change means that all young people will be given an equal opportunity to understand LGBTQ+ identities, regardless of their background or families. This is so important, because one of the main reasons for homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools is students’ lack of understanding of what it actually means to be LGBTQ+.
It’s also why, as part of my campaign for Stonewall’s Young Campaigners Programme, I made a short film to highlight the voices and experiences of other young trans and non-binary people at school, told through their own words, in their own voices.
The documentary highlights the lack of understanding many schools still have about trans identities and the detrimental impact this has on young people’s mental health and their education. Making this film was of personal importance to me because of my own negative experience in school, which I know many other trans people have gone through.
When I interviewed other young trans people, I found there were a few points that were mentioned by almost every person, including the need for gender-neutral language, for trans students to be involved in policy making, and the positive benefits of having an LGBTQ+ club in school. Lots of the young people addressed these issues and explained how a lack of these things can lead to students not concentrating in lessons due to fear of being misgendered, as well as not wanting to go to school because they don’t feel accepted.
However, the main theme that resonated with every interview, was that understanding, and educating is the only way that things can improve for young trans people. Through educating students and teachers on trans identities, schools will hopefully become more supportive and inclusive environments, where trans young people can grow and learn in the same way that every other young person goes to school to do.