Comment: Inclusive sex education could have prevented my HIV diagnosis

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

James Hanson writes for PinkNews in support of policies to make inclusive Sex and Relationship Education compulsory, and reflects on his personal experience of SRE in school.

As a young, HIV positive man I believe that the sex education I was taught in school failed me. I feel that current and future Governments need to place an increased focus on this issue. I know that the sex education that I received was poor, and although I cant blame my HIV diagnosis on the education system, I do believe that it failed to educated me properly. I am sure that if I had a better awareness back when I was seventeen, I would have acted very differently.

So firstly lets look at what kind of sex education did I receive. My first memory is in primary school when we were ten and made to watch a video (yes, it was before DVDs were around) about how a normal family lived. There was a husband and wife and a couple of kids. I remember vividly that all of them walked around the house naked, and being told that was normal. I was taught about sexual activity between a man and a woman, I was taught how to make babies, and how contraception helped to prevent that. I was told about common sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia and genital warts, but that was about it. I also remember being given a plastic penis and a condom and showed the correct way to put it on.

I remember sitting in a classroom full of boys being too afraid to ask questions. At the age of 14 I knew I was gay. I knew I was attracted to guys and not girls and was confused as to why I wasn’t told about relationships between two people of the same-sex. I was too afraid to speak to my teachers – they never spoke about it so I assumed it was wrong to be gay.

Secondly lets look at LGBT+ history here in the UK. Under Margaret Thatcher’s Government there was an amendment added to the Local Government Act 1986, which banned the intentional promotion of homosexuality or publication of homosexual material. Section 28 meant that homosexual relations were not allowed to be discussed or promoted in schools. Homosexual activity was legalised in 1967 in England, however maggies government prevented people being educated on LGBT+ sex and relationships. How does that make sense?

Finally lets look at the future. This week Tristam Hunt, Labour’s shadow education secretary, outlined that the party, if they win the election, would make LGBT-inclusive SRE compulsory in all state schools. The Greens and Lib Dems also agree on this policy.

The Labour policy sets out that teacher training will equip teachers with the tools needed to deal with homophobic, transphobic and biphobic bullying, as well as providing a support network for teachers. The policy also sets out that age-appropriate SRE would be compulsory in all schools receiving state funding (no, 5-year-olds will not be given condoms).

In addition, mental health services to support LGBT+ people would be promoted and a best practice toolkit would be provided to all schools.

Some see this is a big step but I cannot understand why this is not already the case for all mainstream schools. How has our Government allowed this to go unaddressed? According to Stonewall there are 215,000 you LGB pupils in school, and 55% of those experience bullying because of who they are. Shockingly 99% of LGB pupils hear homophobic language.

I am angry at the Government for allowing these statistics to be so high, as well as for previous Governments for allowing this problem to go unfixed.

Any party wanting to gain seats this election really need to address LGBT pupils in schools. We have a duty of care for young LGBT+ people. Schooling has the second biggest influence on young people, only after their families. We need to ensure that we are making young LGBT+ people feel safe, provide a place of safety from bullying and also provide them with the right sex and relationship education that they need.

The Labour Party hasn’t specifically outlined that they will educate you people on HIV and AIDS, but I hope that with bringing a new reform on SRE will become included. I also hope that young people in schools are given the tools and education they need to make more informed decisions, that they feel that just because they are LGBT+ doesn’t mean they are of less worthy or in some way strange.

We have the power to change the future. We cannot change the sex education that we received be we can definitely influence that which coming generations will experience.

We need to push our MP’s to fight this cause. We need to make sure that the education system in this country isn’t failing young LGBT+ people every day. I believe it is all our duty to make change happen. The LGBT+ community have come so far in the past ten years, with gaining civil partnerships and now same sex marriage, the war for equality is not over.

James Hanson is an HIV awareness activist and blogger, and tweets at @PositiveJamesH.