Exclusive: New Equalities Minister pledges to fight for LGBT-inclusive sex and relationship education

PinkNews logo on a pink background surrounded by illustrated line drawings of a rainbow, pride flag, unicorn and more.

PinkNews Exclusive

Nick Gibb, the newly appointed Junior Minister for Equalities, has pledged that he will fight to make sex and relationship education LGBT-inclusive.

In a wide-ranging interview with PinkNews, the minister also admitted he “regrets” voting against equalising the age of consent and said he was open to a non-binary option on British passports.

Teaching SRE became statutory in all schools earlier this year, and Gibb said that although the law doesn’t go into specifics about the subject’s content, he would do all he could to get LGBT issues on the curriculum.

nick gibb and husband
Nick Gibb and husband Michael Simmonds

This is despite a poll by YouGov for PinkNews showing that more than four in 10 Brits believe that children at primary school shouldn’t be taught about gay relationships in school.

Gibb, a former Minister for Education who has been Bognor Regis and Littlehampton’s MP since 1997, said: “My intention is to ensure that it will be LGBT-inclusive.

“We need young people to be equipped for life in Britain as it is today, with all its diversity, joy and challenges.

“We will be consulting widely about the curriculum to ensure it is the best it can be, is age appropriate, and commands the support of the teaching profession.”

Nick Gibb and husband Michael Simmonds
Nick Gibb and husband Michael Simmonds

Gibb also indicated that the government would give consideration to calls by the community to add a non-binary ‘X’ option on UK passports, in addition to the ‘M’ and ‘F’ categories.

The gay minister, who is in charge of the day-to-day running of the equalities portfolio, said: “I genuinely want to hear people’s views.”

He observed that one potential roadblock to British progress in this area could be other countries’ intolerance.

“One of the issues we need to take seriously is not endangering transgender people when travelling to countries that have a less enlightened approach to transgender issues,” he explained.

Gibb came out in 2015 while he was Education Minister, simultaneously revealing that he was engaged to marry his secret partner of 29 years, Populus polling organisation chief executive Michael Simmonds.

While in the closet, Gibb followed the Conservative Party whip and voted against a law to equalise the age of consent for everyone – including same-sex partners.

Nick Gibb

The 1998 Reduction of Age of Consent for Homosexual Acts to 16 passed the House of Commons, eventually being knocked down by the House of Lords.

“I do regret that vote,” he said.

“My reasoning at the time was my concern about teenage sexual activity, heterosexual or gay.

“I have always believed that teenagers engaging in sexual activity before they are sufficiently emotionally mature can be very damaging for those young people.

“But I was wrong to vote as I did, because unless we were prepared to address the age of consent for all young people the issue of equality should have been my priority in deciding how to vote.”

Even growing up in the 70s and 80s, Gibb said he wasn’t aware of the hardships faced by gay men in Britain.

When he came out in The Times in 2015, Gibb said he and his partner Michael were “overwhelmed by the warmth of the response,” but also by the stigma which still existed.

“I was surprised by the number of people who came up to me and told me quietly that the interview had given them encouragement to be bolder and braver about their own sexuality,” he said.

“This surprised me because, although society’s attitude during the 30 years of my relationship with Michael and the years before had been mostly hostile to homosexuality, I had never allowed it to undermine my own confidence in my sexuality or let the opinions or beliefs of others lead me to think there was anything wrong in loving another man.

“I knew they were just wrong and that gay relationships were as natural as heterosexual relationships. For me it was never an issue, we just had to be careful in how we conducted our lives.

“But of course that was my experience. Not everyone is so lucky.”

He was sheltered from the worst of homophobic prejudice because of his location, Gibb explained.

“We had each other, and we worked in a liberal and large cosmopolitan city.

“Local communities and workplaces with oppressive attitudes on such matters can still be intimidating places for gay men and women.

“That’s why I shouldn’t have been surprised by the quiet word. And why in my new role as Equalities Minister I want to be able to help gay people have easier lives.”

Overall, Gibb said he felt “honoured – but with a huge sense of responsibility.”