The recent protests in England outside primary schools about teaching children about the full spectrum of relationships are a significant concern (Kotecha, 2019). Schools have a duty to promote positive relationships between different groups of people (2010 Equality Act, section 149) and to educate children about the rule of British law. Children need to be taught to respect differences, and to understand that different types of relationships and same-sex marriage are permitted within British law, irrespective of religious belief. Although it is important that faith and cultural values are respected, education is the best vehicle for eradicating prejudice.
These protests reflect an anti-LGBTQ+ discourse which has the potential to marginalise individuals with non-normative gender identities and sexual orientations. In recent months teachers have been accused of attempting to influence children’s sexual identities through exposing them to non-heterosexual relationships and a broad spectrum of family structures.
Within this hostile climate we have become increasingly concerned about the experiences of teachers who identify as LGBTQ+. Although the rights of individuals with LGBTQ+ identities have been strengthened across Europe (Lundin, 2015), international research continues to demonstrate that heteronormative and heterosexist cultures are entrenched within schools (Kjaran & Kristinsdóttir, 2015). Even in countries known for their liberal attitudes towards sexuality, such as Sweden, research demonstrates that heteronormative attitudes continue to prevail within schools (Lundin, 2015). Furthermore, in countries where homosexuality is either illegal or frowned upon, including in some Asian and African states, strict cultural values are used as a yardstick with which to disregard the rights of those with LGBTQ+ identities.
Regardless of the legal status of homosexuality, religion and cultural values shape public opinion on its acceptability. Research demonstrates that teachers with LGBTQ+ identities from across the world continue to experience discrimination and marginalisation (Marrs & Staton, 2016). Religious and cultural factors, parental resistance and unsupportive school leadership teams restrict the willingness and ability of teachers to declare their sexual orientation and gender identities in schools (Wright & Smith, 2015). These factors can result in internalised homophobia and psychological distress, and cause teachers to separate their personal and professional identities.
‘It is essential that schools prepare young people to live their lives within an inclusive society in which all identities are respected, valued and celebrated.’
Within a diverse society it is critical that children and young people are exposed to difference. Having a teacher who is openly LGBTQ+ can make all the difference to a young person who is in the process of coming out or is questioning their identity. It is essential that schools prepare young people to live their lives within an inclusive society in which all identities are respected, valued and celebrated. It is not acceptable to use one protected characteristic (in this case religious belief) to denounce another (sexual orientation). Schools have a duty to educate children about all protected characteristics in the Equality Act, and although schools must respect and be sensitive to religious beliefs, ultimately they are legally required to educate children about the rule of British law.
Given the existing research in this field there is an urgent need for research that presents positive accounts of the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ teachers and case studies of schools that have successfully implemented a whole-school approach to LGBTQ+ inclusion.
Kjaran, J., & Kristinsdóttir, G., (2015). Schooling sexualities and gendered bodies. Experiences of LGBT students in Icelandic upper secondary schools. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 19(9), pp. 978–993.
Kotecha, S. (2019, June 7). Birmingham LGBT row: ‘Homophobic protests must stop’. BBC News website. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-48545247
Lundin, M. (2015, December). Homo- and bisexual teachers’ ways of relating to the heteronorm. International Journal of Educational Research, 75, 67–75.
Marrs, S. & Staton, R. (2016). Negotiating Difficult Decisions: Coming Out versus Passing in the Workplace. Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling, 10(1), pp. 40–54.
Wright, T. & Smith, N. (2015). A Safer Place? LGBT Educators, School Climate, and Implications for Administrators. The Educational Forum, 79(4), pp. 394–407.