Yvette Cooper: Young gay men face ‘huge mental health problems’ and we need stronger LGBT inclusive sex education

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Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary and Shadow Minister for Equalities, Yvette Cooper, has told PinkNews.co.uk that the government needs to make Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) Education a statutory requirement in order to address the health challenges faced by LGBT students.

Speaking to PinkNews.co.uk, the senior Labour MP stressed how stronger sex and relationship education, which included provision for LGBT students, could dramatically help in the fight against homophobic bullying and poor rates of sexual health in the LGBT community.

Research by gay rights charity Stonewall published in 2012 showed one in sixteen gay and bisexual men aged 16 to 24 attempted to take their own life in the previous year – a figure far higher than for their heterosexual counterparts. Gay and bisexual men are also more likely to self-harm, catch sexually transmitted infections and have depression compared to their straight peers.

When asked by PinkNews.co.uk, “Are you disappointed that the government so far has been unable to make it a statutory requirement to have PSHE in schools?”

Yvette Cooper replied: “Yes I think this is a mistake by the government. I think they are on the wrong track on this one. We’ve had plans before the 2010 general election to have some compulsory sexual relationship education in schools, and I think actually the case for doing so has become stronger since the election. It was blocked by Michael Gove in the Conservative Education Team before the election and they put it on hold ever since then, but I think [there] is a whole series of variants [to justify its inclusion]. For example, issues around violence in teenage relationships.”

Ms Cooped continued: “I have seen some of the great stuff that’s been done on Catholic homophobic bullying in schools. I think there is actually a lot more of that that should be done across the country, so I don’t think they’re taking it seriously enough at all. I think it is a big mistake and so that’s why we’ve been putting down amendments and trying to get compulsory sexual relationship education actually put into the legislation.”

Labour has tabled an amendment to the Children and Families Bill which could make issues such as equality, abuse awareness and same-sex relationships a compulsory part of the curriculum. The amendment will be voted on by MPs on Tuesday.

In March, Children’s Minister Elizabeth Truss confirmed that Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) Education in England would remain a non-statutory subject.

The Conservative MP said: “Teachers are best placed to understand the needs of their pupils and do not need additional central prescription.”

But Yvette Cooper warns that this approach is out of step with the views of most parents. A YouGov poll found in May that 86% of parents believe sex education lessons should be compulsory in secondary schools.

“I think most parents actually want to know that their children are getting good advice and education and support in schools,” Ms Cooper said to PinkNews.co.uk. “It actually can be really difficult for parents of teenagers to talk to them about this… you need to support schools doing their bit as well especially when there is evidence of problems growing.”

With Parliament now well on its way to legalising same-sex marriage, Ms Cooper added: “The area I think that we need to look at next is not just about the legal framework, it is actually about the way things happen in practice, so for example, you know the fact that there is still huge mental health problems among particularly young gay men, there is huge pressure that they can find themselves under and that you can have the homophobic bullying that still takes place in school.”