If we’re going to create a society that’s more inclusive of LGBT+ people, we need to normalise the fact that LGBT+ people exist! That means including discussions of LGBT+ lives in a range of subjects at school and within national curriculum resources. As one young person in this project said: “LGBT should be covered in all classes at school. If you don’t learn about it, you can’t be kind.” A big problem faced by participants in this project is being asked intrusive, ignorant questions by fellow students. So, let’s not save LGBT+ topics for specific classes on citizenship or relationships, let’s talk openly about them whenever we can.
The young people also think children need to hear about LGBT+ lives from a much earlier age. One of them said: “Schools should teach little kids about being LGBT so it’s not as hard for them when they get to high school and discover it about themselves. That way they won’t need to be afraid of being themselves when they’re a bit older.”
Many young people in this project have felt ‘othered’ by those adults in their lives who they turned to for support. As one young person said, “LGBT+ people shouldn’t be like mythical creatures”: they want to be valued, recognised, and included.
Not all adults with responsibility for supporting young people are familiar with the specific difficulties that LGBT+ people can face. Some young people report being advised to “get back in the closet because it keeps you safe from bullying”.
The young people want there to be better support, so that they can be who they are without fear of harassment or exclusion. They would like to see statutory training in LGBT+ inclusivity for all those working with young people, including in charities, the police, social workers, education providers, mental health professionals, and medical staff.
All of the young people in the LGBT+ Youth Manifesto project attend a local youth group. In their own words, this is why these groups are so vital:
“The youth group is a place where I can be myself and not be judged.”
“Most of us have feelings of depression and sadness, but the group is a small bit of happiness in the week.”
“I wouldn’t have survived without this group.”
“No-one at school understands, but you don’t get judged at the group.”
If we want all young people to feel valued and accepted for who they are, those who are LGBT+ or questioning their identity MUST have access to specialist support and people who can advocate on their behalf. The young people who’ve written this manifesto believe that the government must ensure that all local authorities are able to run regular LGBT+ youth groups – and that these must be properly funded.
The young people understand that not all adults have experience or knowledge about being LGBT, but they want that to change. They think everyone working in schools should receive specialist training from LGBT+ professionals. As one young person pointed out: “it’s just up to luck whether you have a teacher who’s happy to talk about it or not”.
The young people want the government to fund training for teachers and school staff on LGBT+ inclusivity and to do this in all schools. Too many young LGBT+ people are themselves having to be the educators: as one young person said, “my teachers have asked me to talk to younger kids about being LGBT because they weren’t comfortable doing it themselves”. When there are initiatives like Educate and Celebrate, the Rainbow Flag Award and Stonewall’s School & College Champion Awards, it doesn’t have to be this way.
The young people involved in this project attend a range of schools: some of them include LGBT+ identities and relationships when teaching sex education, but many of them don’t. So, they’d like to see a national, government-funded programme of resources covering this (including education on minority identities including asexuality and pansexuality) which all young people can access independently.
As one young person said: “if there’s no LGBT sex ed then kids will think it’s not normal to be gay”.
The young people would also like to see more public awareness-raising around the reality of being young and LGBT+. One young person involved in the project said, “everyone seems to think everything’s OK for us now – but it isn’t”. All adults should be aware of the mental health difficulties and physical risks that are faced by many young LGBT+ people, as well as where they can get help to support them.
Many gender non-conforming or trans young people feel unable to use their school toilets or changing rooms. As one young person said, “because they're unsupervised, that’s where any ‘different’ kids get bullied...I just try to call in sick on PE days”. The young people want all schools to provide gender-neutral bathrooms and changing facilities as well as gender-specific ones. Wherever possible, these should be individual cubicles with hand-washing facilities and lockable doors: this provides more privacy and therefore safety to vulnerable young people.
The Human Rights Act 1998 states that schools should ensure their uniform policies don’t discriminate against LGBT+ young people. Yet many uniform policies prevent young people from expressing their gender identity. The young people want schools to be asked to reconsider gendered uniforms, as well as sex-based segregation of sports and other core activities; this will help trans and non-binary students feel they belong.
One of the most painful things for young trans and non-binary people is when those in authority use the wrong name and pronouns to refer to them. Some schools allow students to use names and pronouns that differ to what’s on the register, but many don’t. This leads to young people feeling marginalised, with many hiding who they are as a result. This can be very dangerous if it stops vulnerable young people reaching out for help.
The more adults understand about pronouns, the more they’ll be able to educate children and young people about them. One of the hardest things about being non-binary, according to one young person in this project, is the fact that “people don’t realise there’s they/them”. This needs to change so that all young people can feel included and accepted for who they are. The young people would like to see statutory teacher training to include guidance on using and respecting pronouns.
Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic abuse is a hate crime, even when it happens in school. Many young LGBT+ people’s lives are ruined by constant harassment from their peers and even some adults. As one member of the LGBT+ Youth Manifesto project said, “schools don’t seem to understand that homophobic bullying is just as bad as racist bullying”.
When teachers and school workers hear homophobic language being used – including the use of ‘gay’ as a general insult – they must intervene. LGBT+ students also need to know there’s somewhere they can go to report hate crime. Schools should consider creating safe spaces and having at least one staff member who’s trained in how to be an LGBT+ ally and advocate. These must continue to be available during any future lockdowns, too, so that vulnerable young people aren’t left on their own.
In addition to gender-specific toilets, the young people involved in the LGBT+ Youth Manifesto project want to see better provision of gender-neutral toilets in public spaces - places like museums, train stations, and council buildings. These should be freely accessible to disabled and non-disabled people alike.
One young trans person said “I refuse to use public toilets now because I’ve had so many bad experiences with it”.
If someone thinks you’re in the ‘wrong’ bathroom, that can put you at risk. And for trans-masculine, non-binary and intersex people, using men’s toilets which only have urinals may not be possible and can lead to them having nowhere to relieve themselves. Nobody should be put in that position, which is why the young people in this project want to see a new law being passed around toilets in public facilities.
When gender stereotypes are challenged early on, children who don’t conform to them will be less likely to experience bullying. Some schools already do this, and are supported by organisations including the Church of England. But many schools that aim to be inclusive of LGBT+ students end up focusing only on sexuality, rather than gender too.
One young trans person involved in this project pointed out that “you’re never too young to figure it out for yourself”, but if there’s no information available for young people, they can be at particular risk. Research from Stonewall in 2017, for example, showed that 80% of transgender youth had self-harmed, and 40% had attempted suicide.
The LGBT+ Youth Manifesto team believe gender diversity must be made more prominent in training for current and future teachers.
Young trans people seeking practical, medical support regarding their gender identity often have to wait years until they can see a specialist. There are currently just two NHS Gender Identity Development Service clinics in England treating young people: one in Leeds and one in London. As a result, spaces are very limited, with the clinics currently seeing people for the first time who were referred in 2018. The young people involved in this project described feeling suicidal when they learnt that they might have to wait years for an appointment.
The recent legal decision that under-16s cannot consent to puberty blockers – drugs which temporarily stop their bodies developing while they access more support around their gender dysphoria – is also causing huge distress. In one young person’s own words: “we need to be able to access gender identity clinics and we should be allowed to use puberty blockers: otherwise, life’s just unbearable.”
Research from Stonewall reveals that 9% of LGBT+ young people have been pressurised into accessing services intended to ‘cure’ them of their sexual or gender identity. The young people involved in the LGBT+ Youth Manifesto project want to see this brought to an end; young people experiencing homophobia and transphobia from within their families are at particular risk of this unethical practice.
In 2020, the Prime Minister described it as "absolutely abhorrent" that conversion therapy still exists, saying it has "no place in this country", and in March 2021 the Equalities Minister said the Government are “committed to ending it”. However, in May 2021 it was announced that a public consultation on a ban would take place. While we wait for more consultation and debate, the practice is allowed to continue. This represents a real risk to young LGBT+ people right now: legislating against converstion therapy must not fall off the government's agenda.