Labour MP Lucy Powell: No, teaching gay rights is not ‘nonsense’

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Writing for, shadow education minister Lucy Powell rebuffs a tweet from the Department for Education claiming it’s “nonsense” to suggest that schools “must teach gay rights”.

On Sunday, following a week of listening to the Education Secretary attempt to distance herself from her own vote against same sex marriage, I saw a tweet emerge from the official account for the Department for Education arguing it was ‘nonsense’ to say that schools must teach gay rights. It then went on to suggest that instead, schools should teach a curriculum based on British values.

Whilst this Government are still yet to define what they think British values are, we can assume that this tweet serves as a first insight.

It could not have been less British if they tried.

To suggest that the rights of LGBT people do not form part of the values that this country holds dear is deeply offensive. This is wholly out of touch with the views of the majority of the population, who get that it is crucial that we educate and inform children of the dangers of intolerance and discrimination, so that future generations are fully equipped to continue to tackle existing prejudices against gay and trans people and other minority groups. Far from being ‘nonsense’, ensuring that the next generation is taught about the rights of minority groups, including those who identify as LGBT, is complete common sense.

But perhaps most worryingly of all is that Nicky Morgan’s Department felt the need at all to rebuff the suggestion that schools should teach LGBT rights. Homophobic and transphobic bullying is still such a serious issue in schools. Research by Stonewall has shown that more than half of gay young people have experienced homophobic bullying and that for the majority this affects their school work and can impact on their self-esteem and ambitions. These young people are often more likely to self-harm and contemplate suicide. Over a third of gay pupils still feel unable to speak out when they are bullied.

With the consequences of ignoring LGBT rights in schools so disastrous, it is baffling that this Government felt the need to strongly refute the suggestion that they should be taught. It suggests that for all the efforts of Nicky Morgan this week to reposition herself as no longer against equal rights for gay people, she just doesn’t get the challenges the LGBT community currently have to overcome. It reveals the true attitude of this Government and fundamentally undermines their recent attempts to appear sympathetic on the issue of tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools.

This tweet was both inappropriate and offensive, and was subsequently deleted. But it is insulting to simply write it off as just another gaffe from another gaffe-prone Tory Education Secretary. It is insulting to all the gay young people who experience prejudice at school that affects their school work, their self-esteem and their future plans. It is insulting to all the gay young people who will have seen that tweet over the weekend and have gone into school this Monday, following their half-term break, perhaps feeling like progress on supporting their rights just isn’t being made.

That tweet was not a gaffe. At its heart it shows that the old sentiment within the Conservative Party still prevails. It is the same sentiment that caused Nicky Morgan to vote against same sex marriage in the first place, describing her position as “an issue of conscience”. Perhaps it is the same sentiment that prevents the Tories from supporting Labour’s plans for compulsory sex and relationships education in schools, including LGBT rights, which will ensure that young people learn respect for each other and themselves, alongside zero tolerance of violence in relationships and the importance of sexual consent.

The importance of promoting, supporting and observing the rights of minority groups, including LGBT people, are exactly the sort of values that we should be teaching the next generation. Nicky Morgan should apologise that her Department ever suggested otherwise and support Labour’s plans to place the importance of respect for each other, whatever a person’s sexual orientation, at the heart of our children’s development.

Lucy Powell is Shadow Minister for Children and Childcare.

She is also MP for Manchester Central.

(Update: Shortly after publication, Lucy Powell was promoted to Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office)