Educate to celebrate our diverse disabled and LGBT+ families

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2019 National Disabled Members' Conference
11 July 2019

Conference welcomes the introduction of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Plus (LGBT+) inclusive relationship education in primary schools and relationship and sex education in secondary schools, which forms part of the Department for Education’s statutory guidance, applying to all maintained schools, academies and free schools.

Although the mainstream media has focused on the inclusion of LGBT+ relationships, the guidance should see all kinds of families and relationships celebrated, including disabled people’s relationships. This is a significant advance on the traditional approach to disabled people as not having a right to make our own relationship choices.

Conference welcomes that these guidelines not only cover disabled pupils in mainstream schools and Additionally Resourced Provision (ARPs) but they also extend to disabled pupils in special schools.

However conference is concerned that disabled staff and students are being adversely impacted by protests by a vocal minority opposed to inclusive education, in particular LGBT+ inclusive education.

The Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education and Health Education (England) Regulations 2019, made under sections 34 and 35 of the Children and Social Work Act 2017, make Relationships Education compulsory for all pupils receiving primary education and Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) compulsory for all pupils receiving secondary education from September 2020.

The guidance allows parents to withdraw their children from the sex education itself, but rightly provides no withdrawal provision from relationship education. This is a positive step, allowing children to be taught an inclusive and positive message about the many different relationships people throughout society have. Such education will help to dispel myths, foster closer community cohesion and help to create future generations who celebrate diversity rather than fear it, as well as supporting young disabled LGBT+ people to understand their feelings are commonplace despite their worries.

However, conference is extremely concerned that this statutory guidance is being misrepresented by a vocal minority, intent on sowing division and hate in our local communities. We welcome the early adoption of these guidelines in some schools, such as Anderton Park Primary School in Birmingham which has implemented the ‘No Outsiders’ programme, but deplore how it is being used by a right wing minority to marginalise LGBT+ people, and create a dangerous and divisive “us and them” narrative. Conference welcomes the condemnation of these protests by many mosques in the Birmingham area.

Conference firmly believes that all public services, and particularly education, need to be inclusive of LGBT+ and disabled people and welcomes the No Outsiders programme which addresses inclusion of people in all equality strands in the Equality Act 2010: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation.

In line with the Act, OFSTED issued guidance for schools so they can teach a curriculum which promotes respect and understanding of our richly diverse communities.

Conference notes that RSE has become more inclusive and representative of society since the repeal of the homophobic and regressive legislation of the Thatcher era. Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, after several attempts, was finally repealed on 18th September 2003, a little over 16 years ago. Prior to its repeal many young disabled LGBT+ people were failed by the educations system, causing untold damage and difficulty in realising their sexual orientation and/or gender identity is nothing to be ashamed or frightened of. Many education staff at the time felt unable to support LGBT+ pupils for fear of falling foul of this restrictive and draconian legislation, risking becoming criminalised for simply trying to support the young people in their schools if they tried.

For disabled young people, the state has historically seen us as unable to form relationships. Historically disabled people have been subjected to forced sterilisation programmes or have been denied the right to form lasting relationships. Information has not been readily available in a variety of accessible formats meaning that disabled people and disabled LGBT+ people have not had access to the same information as their non-disabled peers. For disabled LGBT+ young people, inclusive RSE means their choices are finally accepted and celebrated.

However, if the vocal minority opposed to inclusive RSE is allowed to set the agenda, we may well return to more oppressive times.

Pupil and staff anxiety is heightened by hate fuelled crowds, in particular frightening disabled young people as they simply try to make their way into their school. The trauma of passing these protests may lead to cases of post-traumatic stress, depression and other mental health concerns. Neurodiverse students and staff may be particularly affected and school workplaces may become inaccessible to our members who are disabled. Staff and school children have a right to access and to feel safe and secure in their school, but this right is being denied them.

Conference therefore instructs the National Disabled Members Committee to work with the National LGBT+ Committee, the Local Government Service Group and its Schools Committee, and other relevant UNISON structures where appropriate to:

1)Raise awareness of the importance of inclusive and accessible RSE for both disabled and LGBT+ children and young people

2)Contribute to the union’s work on protecting school staff members during these continued protests, and specifically disabled schools staff who may be particularly impacted where their workplaces are inaccessible due to protests

3)Link with appropriate disability organisations to challenge the myths portrayed by these protests

4)Report on progress to National Disabled Members Conference 2020