Image Credit: Image: Benson Kua
The York Pride parade, this year, was led by hundreds of school-age children from 25 schools and colleges from in and around York - ensuring that the LGBTQ pupils can also feel proud of their identity and supported by their community. Seeing the hundreds of kids, from babies to teenagers, decked out in rainbow face paint and t-shirts having a great time marching down the streets of York under a banner of acceptance is an inspiring image of how far LGBTQ acceptance has come, especially for children growing up today. This follows a historic York Pride in 2017 where York Pride became the first Pride in the world to have students and teachers from all the schools in the city take part.
So, what does it mean to grow up LGBTQ in 2019? This generation of queer people live in a world that many in generations past could never have imagined possible. Hopefully, queer children today will not have to face the discrimination that previous generations had to not only endure, but actively fight against. Hopefully, they will be able to reap the benefits that past queer activists have had to fight tooth and nail for.
In many countries, being LGBTQ is no longer considered an abnormality; people are able to legally change their gender, and same-sex couples are free to marry. There has been nothing short of a revolution. It may be a cliché, but it seems particularly stark this year that the revolution is nonetheless far from complete. There are constant displays of how much progress we have made, but far too many reminders of the battles left to be won. Even in the United Kingdom, objectively one of the best places in the world to be LGBTQ, people continue to face discrimination and cruelty for who they are and who they love.
Last week Melania Geymonat and her girlfriend Chris were sat together on the top deck on a London bus. They started getting harassed by a group of teenagers asking them to kiss while making crude sexual gestures. When Melania and Chris refused they were beaten and robbed. The teenagers, aged 15-18, have since been taken into custody. It was a vicious reminder, while the country was readying itself for Pride festivities, of the reality of being LGBTQ in England. Homophobia is not only a remnant of a bygone era but is alive and thriving even in the youngest generation.
This has also been a year in which LGBTQ education has, somehow, been a controversial issue. Even the mention of the existence of LGBTQ couples has sparked protests and outrage, with claims of the ‘indoctrina- tion’ of children into the ‘gay agenda’. These beliefs aren’t seen as radical or unorthodox with Conservative leadership and Number 10 hopeful, Esther McVey, having said the parents should have the right to pull their children out of lessons on LGBTQ relationships, claiming that “parents know what’s best for their children”.
By passing the buck in an attempt at neutrality shows the danger of passivity, dis- regarding the fact that allowing an environ- ment in which discrimination can be allowed to thrive can be just as dangerous as active homophobia. Neutrality only ever serves to help the oppressor, not the persecuted. Labour MP, Roger Godsiff, has even gone so far as to agree with the Birmingham protesters, that the protesters had a just cause and that these lessons were “over-emphasising a gay ethos”.
Godsiff and McVey’s comments came in response to the ‘No Outsiders’ programme introduced as part of the national curriculum in line with the Equality Act 2010. The programme, which simply teaches pupils about the existence of same-sex relationships and gender differences, has triggered protests by parents in predominantly Muslim areas of Birmingham, with the parents claiming that the programme indoctrinates children into believing that ‘immoral’ behaviours are to be tolerated.
The clash has highlighted the continued tension between those claiming to defend religious freedom and pa- rental rights and those promoting equality and tolerance. The protests have attracted sizeable sup- port from some conservative parents and have since spread to other parts of the UK, and some members of other religious communities have expressed solidarity. The clash raises the fundamental question about what the purpose of the national curriculum is, if not for ensuring that children have access to the education that their parents might not provide, and for ensuring that children comprehend the characteristics of wider society.
What is so stark about the debate around the ‘No Outsiders’ programme is that it is still focused on the acknowledgement that LGBTQ people exist, with supporters of the programme continually emphasising that it has nothing to do with teaching children about sex. Indeed, without children first knowing that queer people exist there is no prospect of substantive education about safe sexual practices in later education when the children grow older.
As such, sex positive LGBTQ education remains a distant prospect. This has serious implications. Although we are no longer living through the horrors of the AIDS crisis, an absence of adequate LGBTQ sex education leaves young queer people at risk of sexually transmitted diseases and other issues related to unsafe sex. Statistics from Public Health England consistently show that men interested in men in particular are often disproportionately at risk, with one report in 2017 showing that they accounted for 78 per cent of syphilis diagnoses.
The absence of LGBTQ inclusive education only becomes more ridiculous as time goes on, as children growing up today are only becoming increasingly likely to know more queer people. Wider acceptance and under- standing means more of their peers will be coming out. It’s increasingly likely that class- mates will have gay parents or grandparents as the barriers restricting queer couples from becoming parents are slowly being lifted - reproductive technology has improved as discrimination in the adoption system, though still present, is improved.
Even children’s media and entertainment is slowly catching up to represent the realities of children growing up in 2019. Arthur, a show aimed at young children, recently was praised for having an episode in which Arthur’s male teacher married another man - the topic wasn’t treated as taboo but as normal. Before this, Steven Universe, was created with prominent LGBTQ themes by a bisexual non-binary woman and has been described as “one of the most unabashedly queer shows on TV”. Long-standing British institution *Doctor Who *had a recent companion, Bill Potts as a gay woman of colour who, despite the fact that she was turned into a cyberman, did have a queer positive ending as she was able to depart to travel the universe with her lover.
However, these productions remain in the minority with major companies fearing a backlash if they were to put LGBTQ narratives at the forefront. Disney now has had their first gay characters in *Frozen *and *Beauty and the Beast *but both were blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, also owned by Disney, had a pathetic attempt at inclusivity in their 22nd film Avengers: Endgame, with one line by a background character. Disney has long been the most influential producer of children’s entertainment and their reluctance to have queer characters and queer narratives means that thousands of children will not be able to see themselves represented - it will only further the queer identity as ‘other’. With notable exceptions such as the ones mentioned earlier, representations of gay characters in children’s media often lean towards the white and male. Perhaps because lesbian relationships are, wrongly, perceived by the media as inherently sexualised due to the fetishation of gay women by straight men. As well as this, there is a strong absence of bi- and pan sexuality, trans and non-binary characters, and queer people of colour.
We must remember, however, that all these examples of progress, despite the continuing difficulties faced by queer people, are not universal in our United Kingdom. Some of the great victories which LGBTQ people have cherished in Great Britain preclude those living in Northern Ireland, where same-sex marriage remains illegal and a dividing issue, partly along old sectarian lines. The current Government promised that it would support LGBTQ liberation in Northern Ireland notwithstanding its deal with the DUP. It was recently revealed, however, that only £318 has been spent on promoting equality, leaving many young and old LGBTQ people feeling practically worthless. Those advancing equality in the United Kingdom must surely ensure that such progress applies to all citizens wherever they live, so that nobody grows up like a second-class member of society.
What 2019 means for young queer people can therefore be described as a triumph com- pared to previous generations, but all who believe in liberation must remember that the struggle for true equality continues. Whether it’s supporting equality in schools so no child feels like an outsider; fighting to combat the disproportionate burden of sexual health problems; standing up for positive depictions in the media; or ensuring that progress applies to all, the fight for Pride goes on.