I will stamp out LGBT bullying in schools

On Thursday it will be 50 years since the passing of the Sexual Offences Act which partially decriminalised homosexuality in England and Wales.

Before 1967, many lives were ruined and people were fined, imprisoned and demonised because of who they loved. The stigma of those convictions lasted for many years.

This Government has taken steps to correct this great injustice by passing Turing’s Law, which provided pardons and disregards for people convicted of consensual same-sex offences. While this was an important step, it can never make up for the hurt and suffering endured.

Thankfully, our society is very different today. We are recognised as one of the top three countries in Europe for LGBT rights. And we are among the leading countries in the world for ensuring all people – whatever their sexuality – enjoy the same rights and liberties.

As a gay man who has been in a loving and stable relationship for more than 30 years, I have seen social attitudes change significantly. I met Michael in a different era, and one that was much harder than today. 

There was widespread intolerance, discrimination in the professions and a very hostile press – not least towards politicians.

It was easier for us to have a relationship that wasn’t known about. This meant we missed out on things that most people take for granted. Having children was out of the question. We didn’t go to parties or attend family dinners as a couple. We spent every Christmas apart.

Many other LGBT people had a much more difficult and challenging time.

As society changed, Conservative and Labour governments gradually brought equality nearer. Civil partnerships were introduced in 2005. In 2013, I was proud to vote in favour of equal marriage which has freed thousands of LGBT couples to have their love fully recognised.

This legislation is one of the greatest achievements of this Government, and it was the happiest day of both of our lives when Michael and I married in 2015. We had no idea what a difference it would make to us as a couple.

We have made great progress in this country, but there is still more to do. That is why today we are announcing a package of measures that will take us another step closer to equality for LGBT people.

In particular, we want to improve the lives of trans people. That’s why we will be launching a consultation on the Gender Recognition Act. It will aim to streamline the legal and medical processes faced when changing your gender so that people can focus on the emotional aspects of change rather than worry about all the hoops they have to jump through.

Alongside the consultation, we are launching a nationwide survey so we can hear directly from people about the experience of being LGBT in the UK, with a focus on health, education, safety and the world of work. The results will help us to take the right action to drive further progress in LGBT equality.

As well as the steps announced today, we will continue to look at how we can support young people as they discover who they are. This is a personal priority for me as the Minister responsible for school standards and equalities.

Having worked across the party divide to change the law so that age-appropriate relationships education will be taught in every primary school, and relationships and sex education (RSE) will be taught in all secondary schools, we are updating the guidance given to schools so that it reflects the challenges pupils face today – including LGBT issues.

The change in the law applies to faith schools. This is important because, while we respect teachers’ personal faith and the special status and ethos of these schools, we need to make sure that children know what the law is and are equipped to have healthy relationships.

I am very proud of the role I have played alongside my colleagues since 2010 in driving up standards in schools, restoring knowledge to the heart of the national curriculum, dramatically improving the way in which reading is taught and ensuring that all pupils have the opportunity to study core academic GCSEs.

We have also addressed standards of behaviour. As all parents and teachers know, having good behaviour in schools – and preventing bullying of all kinds – is essential to raising academic standards and ensuring that all pupils feel safe and supported.

Bullying at school is cruel, particularly as LGBT pupils are coming to terms with their sexuality or gender. I am determined that we stamp out the use of the word ‘gay’ as a pejorative term.

Schools such as Sir John Cass Redcoat in Stepney Green, London, which has set up an equality group to promote a culture of understanding and respect throughout the school, are doing great work to prevent LGBT bullying. 

And the Government is putting £3 million into a programme to tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools.

Westminster has also made huge steps forward. The Election saw more openly LGB MPs elected to Parliament than ever, and more trans candidates than ever. When you remember the reaction that MPs received from the press and the public in the past, this is a reflection of how far we have come. Parliament will be better for it and will make better decisions that reflect the society it has been elected to represent.

There is much more to do. The Prime Minister and Justine Greening, the Education Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, have been clear that we need to continue to protect and advance LGBT rights.

Having felt the need to be silent for decades about my sexuality, I am determined to make a positive difference. I will be tireless in ensuring that all gay, lesbian, bi and trans people can live free, happy and fulfilling lives.

This article appeared on dailymail.co.uk on 22nd July 2017.  To read the original article, click here.