Opinion: Why we urgently need LGBT+ inclusive education in Ireland

Ireland still has a long way to go in terms of LGBT+ education. Children receive very little knowledge, and the little there is is often religiously biased.

An empty classroom with a poster falling in the back. LGBT+ education

I’m 16 years-old and in Transition Year. In my experience growing up in Ireland and currently going through the Irish education system, I find the sex-ed programme insufficient. Sexual health and being LGBT+ are taught as abstract concepts.

You are taught the basics of safe sex under the assumption that you would only have sex after marriage and with a long-term partner. Contraception is mentioned in passing – it seems it’s assumed that you won’t need it. You also simply learn that LGBT+ people exist, not that it’s okay to be LGBT+ yourself.

Schools often offer no kind of support for LGBT+ students. Apart from the occasional counselling from a teacher who would often be uneducated themselves on the topic. But who’s to blame them, Ireland was completely dominated by the Catholic Church up until around 15 years ago. Homosexuality was only legalised in Ireland in 1993. Most teachers would be well into their adulthood by then. 

As the majority of schools in the country are religious schools, they often fear to introduce a comprehensive and inclusive sex-ed program. A backlash from parents who fear that an LGBT+ inclusive education would somehow make their kid more or less queer than they already are is inevitable. People fear what they don’t know and with most having grown up hearing that being gay is a bad thing – “That bag is so gay” or “We got homework today, that’s so gay” – they may be hesitant to let their kids learn about LGBT+ topics.

Most don’t realise that an LGBT+ inclusive education isn’t vastly different, it’s simply an extension on the basic principles of respect and to respect those around you, no matter who they love or the gender they choose to identify as. 

Last year BeLonG To released the 2019 School Climate Survey. It was the first survey of its kind, 788 LGBT+ students were surveyed. The survey highlighted a need for drastic change on awareness and attitude of LGBT+ students in schools. 73% felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation and 27% felt unsafe because of their gender expression.

Fortunately, change may be coming soon. The Provision of Objective Sex Education Bill 2018 was introduced by TDs Ruth Coppinger, Mick Barry and Paul Murphy. The bill is defined as “an Act to guarantee the right of students to receive factual and objective relationships and sexuality education without regard to the characteristic spirit of the school.” The bill is currently in the third stage in Dáil Éireann. 

Hopefully, the bill passes through in the near future and is fully implemented as an inclusive sex-ed program is one of the first things we need if we want to create more inclusive schools and safer environments for LGBT+ people in Ireland.

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