Queering the Curriculum: We Are Not Something To Be Feared

Author wishes to remain anonymous.

[Featured Image: The LGBTQ+ flag colours the otherwise black and white picture of a girl in a classroom raising her hand. Source.]

At my single-sex high school, lesbians were essentially the Hogwarts equivalent to werewolves; the girls there knew that they existed, spoke about them in hushed whispers, and hoped that they would never have to encounter one. Everyone’s heard the typical rumour, that ‘all girls schools are full of lesbians’ – but is being a queer woman really something to fear?

The LGBTQ+ community has been continually hidden from schools, whether that is through banishment from the curriculum, a blind eye turned to homophobic bullying by teachers, or simply just a lack of conversation surrounding homosexuality. This is damaging to young queers, affecting their perception of both the world and themselves, and it is important that this changes; LGBTQ+ figures should be included in the curriculum as normally as any other, because normalising queer people existing in communities – and recognizing the contributions they have brought to the world – fundamentally shapes the worldview of teens during a particularly formative time in their lives.

Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 in the United Kingdom prohibited local authorities from ‘promoting homosexuality’ – including in schools, where homosexuality was banned from all aspects of the curriculum.[1] This was largely motivated by the idea that queerness is something to be feared; a notion that is still worryingly present today. This was not only a fear of confirmation that a huge number of queer people exist worldwide, but more so the fear that knowledge and understanding of this would corrupt youths – the misconception that LGBTQ+ figures in education would allow children to ‘choose the lifestyle’, as though it was something one chooses, rather than something that is an inherent part of them.

Whilst there were many attempts to repeal Section 28, these were repeatedly defeated for over twenty years until one was finally successful in England in in July 2003[2] – and this certainly did not come easily; from lesbians storming the BBC to Ian McKellen coming out to protest against it, it took 14 years to put a stop to this branch of homophobia.[3] Furthermore, even with the Section repealed, the sentiment of the clause is still believed by many today. There are innumerable issues with keeping any traces of queerness out of the curriculum, but let’s start here:

The idea that children may ‘decide’ to become gay as a result of learning about the queer community is, frankly, ludicrous. Children are regularly subjected to media depicting various different kinds of relationships that have no effect on their sexuality ‘choices’ (for example, a woman falling in love with a bee in Bee Movie – although I suppose at least he’s male!). However, more importantly, not teaching about queer relationships in order to prevent children pursuing them only deepens the false idea that they are abnormal and undesirable. Governmental promotion of this idea is damaging to the work done that tries to create acceptance and equality for the queer community, in all environments. It is detrimental to the process of education itself. To educate is to learn, and to grow: so why is the government so intent on prohibiting this?

School is a difficult environment for teens socially as it is. It is one of the most pressurised social environments people will experience in their lives, with specific standards to fit in, and savage consequences for those who don’t meet them. High school is notorious for seeing teens try to stay under the radar, as illustrated by the numerous teen dramas on TV from Gilmore Girls to 13 Reasons Why, from Sex Education to Glee; the latter specifically focusing on the difficulties queer teens face at school. If it is well known that this is the situation faced by teens, why is it that we, as a society, are so hellbent on making it that much harder? It has recently been announced that government-backed projects to tackle the bullying of queer students in schools across England have had their funding pulled – in fact, that it was pulled last March. Bullying in schools disproportionally affects LGBTQ+ teens. A Stonewall report revealing that more than half of queer children experience homophobic bullying in schools, with 96% of gay pupils hearing homophobic remarks in school, and shockingly, only 10% of gay pupils report that teachers challenge homophobic language when heard.[4] These numbers are just further proof of a problem that is widely acknowledged, so why is there such minimal effort to change this?

Being a part of the LGBTQ+ community is made to seem undesirable when it is treated as something shameful. By schools hiding any traces of homosexuality from their curriculums, it becomes that much harder to gain acceptance from their peers, teachers, and even families. Avoiding the idea of homosexuality altogether reduces it to being something dirty, a shameful taboo, when in reality it is entirely natural; eradication of the LGBTQ+ community within schools is damaging to not only peers’ opinions of queer teens, but to queer teens’ opinions of themselves. Including LGBTQ+ figures in the curriculum is fundamental to reverse the misconceptions surrounding queerness, and providing role models gives evidence that people can do incredible things, regardless of their sexuality.

Not only is queering the curriculum important to remove the taboos associated with homosexuality, it is so important to recognise such influential figures throughout history, across all fields, and to celebrate what they have achieved. Queer history is not widely discussed, and telling their stories is important. Whether that be talking about historical icons such as Alan Turing or Marsha P. Johnson, or important figures in literature such as Audre Lorde or James Baldwin, these historical figures should be widely known. Queer people have made history in all areas of life; Billie Jean King or Nicola Adams in sport, Andrew Scott or Kate McKinnon in film, Sally Ride or Sara Josephine Baker in scientific fields – the list is long and ever-growing, and these people should be celebrated, and recognised for the work they have done.

Including all sexualities and genders in the curriculum is simply a necessary step for establishing the fundamental principle that being queer is not an issue, and to recognise important queer figures throughout history. LGBTQ+ figures that have made huge contributions to the world as we know it today are being forgotten because of their sexualities, and reversal of this is essential. Heteronormativity is resulting in queer children questioning their worth, their abilities; having queer figures in the curriculum is certainly a step in the right direction for normalising the spectrum of sexualities and removing the taboo it still carries amongst school communities today.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/homeaffairs/page/0,11026,875944,00.html

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/27/section-28-protesters-30-years-on-we-were-arrested-and-put-in-a-cell-up-by-big-ben

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/27/section-28-protesters-30-years-on-we-were-arrested-and-put-in-a-cell-up-by-big-ben

[4] https://www.stonewall.org.uk/system/files/The_School_Report__2012_.pdf

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