Gay group push for equality in faith schools

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A group campaigning for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality in schools, is urging the government to ensure faith schools adhere to the terms of the incoming Equality Act which outlaws homophobic discrimination in the provision of goods and services.

Schools Out warned that faith schools must not be allowed to discriminate against LGBT students.

The organisation also called for an education system where LGBT people, culture and history were visible to students, and for an extension of the regulations to cover transphobic discrimination.

Spokesperson Nigel Tart, who also represents the Green Party’s gay group, said: “LGBT students have a terrible experience of discrimination in our schools. Research consistently shows they are subjected to appalling levels of bullying and that schools often fail to act on this. LGBT identities are so stigmatised that most students daren’t ask for help.

“We believe that this oppressive school culture is at the root of many of the problems faced by LGBT people, such as dropping out of education, mental health problems, unsafe sex and ultimately suicide.

“We believe that the censoring of LGBT visibility in schools is discriminatory and that every school should be duty bound to actively promote measures to create a truly inclusive community. This should be equivalent to the requirements on schools to actively promote good race relations.’

The Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department of Trade and Industry is holding a consultation on the new legislation until June 5 2006.

A spokeswoman told “Current government proposals (as part of the ‘Getting Equal’ consultation) are to prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities, services, education, and in the provision of public functions as of October this year, under a power contained in Part 3 of the Equality Act 2006.

“We are specifically seeking views through the consultation paper on whether any special provision needs to be made to enable faith schools in both the maintained and the independent sectors to balance the new obligations that they will have under the new sexual orientation regulations with their need to operate in a way that is consistent with their school’s ethos;

“We are also seeking views on how teaching in schools should be covered by the proposed regulations. Requirements are already placed on maintained schools in relation to the subjects that are taught to children at different stages of their education. Guidance is already provided on what should be taught in these subjects and, to some extent, how that teaching should be delivered.

” This makes clear that teaching, particularly in subjects such as Personal, Social and Health Education, should meet the needs of all young people whatever their developing sexuality. The guidelines also allow schools to exercise appropriate flexibility to ensure that the subjects they are obliged to teach can be taught in a way that is relevant and appropriate to the school’s ethos and with which the individual teacher feels comfortable.

“The Discrimination Law Review currently underway is also considering the case for extending public sector duties as part of a single equality duty, including sexual orientation.”

The law may be implemented as early as next year.