Views on LGBTQ+ education

The young people we spoke to talked about their experience of being taught about LGBTQ+ issues and lives in school and made suggestions about how to improve the experience of school for trans and gender diverse pupils. In this section you can find young people talking about their experiences of:

  • Education and LGBTQ+ lives
  • Sex education
  • Inclusive education initiatives
  • Teacher training and useful resources
  • Inclusive language and pronouns
  • Tackling bulling and transphobia in educational settings

Education and LGBTQ+ lives

Young people had varied experiences of education that mentioned LGBTQ+ people and their lives. Most reported having no education that included mention of trans people. Reuben said he received ‘none [LGBTQ+ education] whatsoever’. Young people said that gay, lesbian and bisexual relationships came up briefly and in too little detail, while there was no discussion of gender identity.

Jacob said the only mention ‘was gay people have AIDS’*1. He said ‘That was all we heard. Nothing, nothing to support asexual people, pansexual, bisexual people, you know, LGBT at all.’ Summer and Declan were told that ‘gay people exist’. Freya said ‘It was kind of just like you’re maybe gay and it happens. It’s cool, nothing wrong with you. … But gender identity didn’t come up.’ Kat said that she had ‘one lesson in Year 7, one 50 minute lesson in which we were shown half of a film about a gay person and that has been it, I guess.’

Jacob talks about his experience of LGBTQ+ education I didn’t get taught anything.

Age at interview 17

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Cas said ‘We don’t actually talk about any issues surrounding gender. It’s always male/female. There isn’t any spectrum.’ He continued ‘there isn’t any mention of trans. There isn’t any mention of non-binary. The gender spectrum it’s always XY or XX. There isn’t any in between. You don’t even have intersex people which I think is very important to talk about, because they are valid.’

Bailey isn’t sure that a teacher would have the specialist knowledge to teach about LGBTQ+ issues.

Age at interview 18

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Some people described seeking out education on LGBTQ+ lives from friends, online media and TV shows. Bailey said, ‘You learn more from the students than you do from the teachers.’ A said ‘I only picked up [LGBTQ+ education] by myself from the internet mostly.’ Cas said ‘I kind of self-taught myself about what LGBTQ+ was and what that community was.’ Evelyn talked about receiving one ‘Stonewall assembly’ during her education.

Young people and adults with experiences of school before 2003 reflected on the impact of Section 28*2 had on their school experiences. They said the absence of education and information on LGBTQ+ lives meant they relied on their own education and representations in the media.

Jack talks about his experience of LGBTQ+ education at school with no mention of sexuality or transness.

Age at interview 22

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Bay had ‘absolutely nothing… my awareness and education has only come through my own journey and therefore educating myself’. Tori had no LGBTQ+ education at school, but instead figured things out for themselves by ‘watching TV and then there being like queer characters occasionally in like TV shows’. CJ reflected they ‘got all of my LGBTQ+ education from films, I’ll be honest.’ Noelle thought ‘most of what I learned about queer people, growing up was through TV shows and stuff, which usually weren’t that flattering.’

N reflects on their experience of LGBTQ+ education and the power of inclusive education.

Age at interview 34

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Sex education

People talked about their education of LGBTQ+ sex and relationships in sex education lessons, which many thought was poor. Rosa said ‘The sex education I got at secondary school was very cis [cisgender] and straight’. Jacob said ‘we had [sex education] and it was just a guy and a girl do this and use contraception and don’t get pregnant’. Patrick talked about the benefit of attending a trans youth group via a charity for learning ‘pretty much everything I know about sexual health’. He said the youth group ‘did sessions on it and it was all LGBT specific and super inclusive and able to actually give me relevant information for myself’.

Theo talks about his lack of sex education and poor introduction to trans identities.

Age at interview 23

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Eel wishes there was more information available about sexual health for queer people.

Age at interview 17

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Teacher training and useful resources

People thought formal training in schools should be empathetic and understanding of trans lives. Many felt teachers need to see the wider implications of understanding trans people. Some people encouraged staff to invite trans facilitators with lived experience to give talks to pupils. Kat said ‘There are so many charities who are willing to give talks to your students about being trans’. Jay said he would like to have ‘actual trans people come in and speak first-hand about their experiences’. People were also aware of useful resources shown on TV and online.

Tom and his mum share the story of the TV show that helped Tom come out at school.

Age at interview 13

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Shash gives her advice to teachers, educate yourself on trans issues [and be] affirming.

Age at interview 23

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Inclusive education initiatives and training

People were keen to share positive initiatives and ideas for improving the experiences of trans and gender diverse pupils at school and the inclusion of trans lives in LGBT and sexual health education. This included tackling biases, doing independent research, keeping an open mind, supporting trans young people and not policing someone else’s identity. Reuben highlighted the importance of teachers ‘tackling [their own] prejudices and biases’ in the classroom. Tyra said teachers ‘should challenge themselves more and be aware of their own ingrained biases’. Tom’s key message was ‘be supportive’ of trans students. Max agreed and added to be open minded and not police trans identities ‘don’t put your opinions on it on like it’s not a time for your opinions at this point’.

It was important to some people that teachers improved their knowledge and understanding themselves rather than expecting young people to do this. M’s message to teachers was ‘do your research, if you care about supporting trans students, you shouldn’t ever put the onus on a trans child to explain to you how to deal with them.’ Tyra said ‘step out of your comfort zone speak up for people that can’t speak up for themselves.’ She suggested teachers ‘have the conversations… with your friends, with your peers’ and ‘take it outside of your work’.

Cas talks about his wishes for inclusive LGBTQ+ education.

Age at interview 16

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People also wanted teaching about LGBTQ+ history and trans activists and role models. Cassie said she would like to see schools ‘talk about who Marsha P Johnson*3 was and why she’s important.’ She wanted schools to ‘talk about that varied and consistent existence of trans people throughout history’. Jack said ‘Teach LGBT history and acknowledge that queer people, LGBT people exist in your lessons even without knowing that you have a kid who is like somewhere within those identities like it’s okay to acknowledge that these people exist, it’s not Section 28 anymore, you know’.

M shares their hopes for inclusive education that being queer or transis a non-issue’

Age at interview 25

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Using inclusive language and pronouns

People highlighted the positive impact of good communication at school, especially getting their name and pronouns right. They spoke about appropriate systems, such as teachers being made aware of their new name and pronouns on electronic registers, and through effective reporting to relevant teachers. Declan highlighted the importance of having a system so that substitute teachers are aware of new names and pronouns. He advised ‘if a child asks to go by a different name in class, then even if you can’t change it on the system, let them’. He also said to ‘be mindful… to inform the substitute teacher because it can be really awkward trying to explain to a substitute teacher that your name on the register isn’t your actual name.’

Several people said they appreciated it when teachers themselves used pronouns. A, Eel and G felt that it was more inclusive when teachers took the initiative of giving their own name and pronouns at the beginning of school term. However, G also said it was important ‘not to make assumptions’ and to clarify with the pupil how they want to be referred to in different scenarios, such as with meetings of parents. Shash said to‘make sure you use the pronouns and their preferred name when a kid says. Do not disclose they’re trans, or sexuality, anything like that’s personal to them to their parents. She said it could possibly ‘put them in risk, in possible danger’.

H talks about all the changes he would like to see for trans gender diverse young people at school.

Age at interview 28

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A shares inclusive strategies for teachers using names and pronouns.

Age at interview 21

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Tackling bullying and transphobia

Many of the young people said that tackling transphobia and bullying at school should be a key initiative for schools and teachers. Some talked about negative experiences they had with teachers. Theo said that when asked about trans people in biology a teacher described it as a ‘mutation’. Jacob said ‘the only transphobia I faced was actually from my English teacher who refused to call me my chosen name and pronouns no matter how many times I explained.’

Loges gave the advice to teachers that ‘if you do hear any transphobic comments or anything just like make sure the person who they were said to is okay and ask if they want it to be reported and make sure it is reported.’ Tom said he hoped that teachers would, ‘be better at identifying and [have the] confidence to tackle homophobic, biphobic, transphobic language in schools.’ Henry wanted teachers to, ‘actively challenging transphobia when you see it, both in school and out of school.’

Declan advises teachers to look out for gender based bullying’ at school.

Age at interview 20

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Anderson shares their advice for teachers to act with understanding and compassion’ and fight’ for trans kids.

Age at interview 26

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See also:

School 

College and university 

The impact of media coverage and strategies for self-care

*1 HIV and AIDS was first identified in the early 1980s. The LGBT foundation suggest “a lot of social stigma around HIV remains, despite effective treatment making HIV a very manageable condition. Regular testing to know your status is the best way to combat HIV transmission, and early diagnosis and treatment insures that a person living with HIV will become undetectable and will not transmit the virus” (LGBT Foundation, 2021).

** Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 banned local authorities and schools from ‘promoting homosexuality’ or ‘publishing material with the intention of promoting homosexuality’.  It was repealed in England and Wales in September 2003. (Stonewall, 2021).

*** Marsha P. Johnson was a trans-rights activist who played a significant role in important moments for the LGBTQ+ movement, such as the Stonewall protests (BBC, 2020- newsround Pride Month: Who was Marsha P. Johnson). Jenkins, A., (2019). Power to the People: The Stonewall Revolution. QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking, 6(2), pp.63-68.

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