LGBTQ+ people are often talked about as one group, but there are important differences between the people who make up the LGBTQ+ community.
The asexual and aromantic spectrum is an umbrella term which describes people who experience a lack of, varying levels of, or occasional sexual and/or romantic attraction. People who identify under these umbrella terms may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms, including – but not limited to – asexual, aromantic, demisexual or demiromantic. Some people on the asexual and aromantic spectrum may also use terms like lesbian, gay, bi or queer to describe who they are attracted to if and when they do feel sexual or romantic attraction.
The term trans describes gender identity. We are all assigned a sex at birth (in the UK, babies have to be registered as male or female) but our gender identity is our internal sense of our gender (male, female, non-binary, or something else). Our gender identity may, or may not, sit comfortably with the sex we are assigned at birth. A person’s sexual, emotional and/or romantic orientation is separate to their gender identity – so trans people can be lesbian, gay, bi, straight, or on the asexual or aromantic spectrum, or may use a different term entirely to describe their sexual, emotional and/or romantic orientation. Cisgender is a word used to describe people whose gender is the same as the sex they were assigned at birth.
LGBTQ+ people use a wide variety of terms to describe their sexual orientation and gender identities, and the terms people use may change over time. The most important thing for education professionals is to be led by the language a child or young person uses to describe themselves.
How many people are LGBTQ+?
The Office for National Statistics estimates that LGB people make up two per cent of the population (1.1 million people), with trans people accounting for 0.3 to 0.8 per cent (between 200,000 and 500,000 people). However, it is important to recognise that these figures may be an underestimate, as many LGBTQ+ people feel unable to be open about their LGBTQ+ identity.
People realise they are LGBTQ+ at different stages in their lives, but many will know from an early age, so lots of schools, colleges and settings have openly LGBTQ+ children and young people. Some of the children or young people at your school, college or setting might not have come out as LGBTQ+ yet, or might be questioning their orientation or gender identity. If you work with younger children, they might not yet have the language to describe their feelings.
Proactively creating an LGBTQ+ inclusive environment will support all learners in their self-discovery and will demonstrate to them that they will be supported if and when they decide to come out (tell others about their orientation or gender identity). People come out at different stages of their lives and in different ways. A child or young person may talk to a friend first, or tell a parent, carer or teacher. They may choose to come out in some areas of their life, but not in others. How and when someone comes out is up to them – there’s no right or wrong way to do it.
People sometimes make assumptions about who is (or isn’t) LGBTQ+. These assumptions are often based on stereotypes, for example that gay men dislike sports, lesbians like to wear ‘masculine’ clothes, or bi people are attracted to lots of people. Some assume that all trans children and young people express their gender identity by ‘wearing the clothes of’ or ‘acting like’ the ‘opposite’ gender.
It’s also incorrectly assumed that disabled children and young people, and/or children and young people with special educational needs don’t have a sexuality, let alone an LGBTQ+ identity. But LGBTQ+ children and young people come from different backgrounds, ethnicities and faiths, just like all children and young people. They have their own interests, and ways of dressing, acting or talking. Children and young people express who they are in different ways and it is important not to make assumptions about who is (or isn’t) LGBTQ+ based on their personality or appearance.
LGBTQ+ children in primary school
Some children realise they are LGBTQ+ at primary school, and may come out then. We generally develop a sense of our gender early in our lives, so it is not uncommon for children to question their gender identity or realise they are trans when they are young. The principles around supporting LGBTQ+ children are the same at any age. You should talk to children about how they feel, ensure they feel welcome and included, and provide timely answers to any questions they have. However, the type of information and the way it is delivered, as with many issues, will vary depending on a child’s age and their level of understanding.
Younger pupils may tell you they are LGBTQ+ differently. Often, but not always, it will be their parents or carers that raise their child’s identity with you. A trans child may say ‘I feel like a girl’ or ‘I don’t feel like a boy ’ rather than using the word ‘trans’. They may come to school wearing clothes not typically associated with their assigned sex. However, any child might change the way they look or dress for lots of reasons and this alone should not be taken as an indication a child is trans.
Key definitions for primary-aged children
These definitions are suitable for primary-aged children and may also be more suitable for some young people with SEND, depending on their levels of understanding.
A lesbian is a woman who falls in love with, or wants to have a relationship or partnership with, other women. For example, some people have two mums that are in love with each other.
The word gay is used to describe someone who falls in love with, or wants to have a relationship or partnership with, people who are the same gender as them. For example, some people have two dads that are in love with each other, or two mums that are in love with each other.
If someone is bi, it means that they might fall in love with, or want to have a relationship or partnership with someone of the same gender as them or a different gender to them. For example, a person might have had a boyfriend in the past but have a girlfriend now.
Definition of trans for younger children: When they are born, babies are labelled as a boy or a girl. When some people get older, they realise that the label they were given was wrong. They might say ‘I’m actually a girl’, ‘I’m actually a boy’ or ‘I’m not a boy or a girl’. Trans is the word used to describe people who feel like this.
Non-binary is a word that people use about themselves if they don’t feel like they are a boy or a girl.