Marriage (Same Sex Couples)

Memorandum submitted by the National Union of Teachers (MB 06)

Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

LGB [1] Rights in Education and the debates about Equal Marriage- a policy statement by the NUT

1. The NUT has been following the debates about Equal Marriage carefully. The NUT has not been contacted by members in relation to concerns about Equal Marriage. The NUT believes that claims from organisations such as ‘Coalition for Marriage’ that teachers are worried about talking about Equal Marriage in schools should be considered carefully and put in context.

2. There are several principles which should inform the consideration about how legislation enabling Equal Marriage will impact on schools.

Education is a universal service for all children

3. First, in any debate, the NUT would stress that it is important to remember that education is a service which must serve the needs of all children and young people.

4. In relation to all equality areas, including LGB rights, schools should be enabling the next generation to develop and create a more equal, fairer world. In relation to sexism, we do not accept that because there is a pay gap and women are paid less, that we should teach girls to expect inferior treatment. We hope that, by educating out the stereotypes about gender, we will reduce gender inequality for the next generation. Similarly, on LGB rights, it is important that schools educate all youngsters in a way which contributes to greater acceptance of diversity in the next generation.

5. At least ten per cent of the pupils in every school will identify during their teenage years or later adult lives as lesbian, gay or bisexual. Other pupils in every school will have family members, friends or relatives who are LG or B.

6. Although some parents may have religious beliefs which make them fear or denigrate gay people, this does not rule out that their child may be LG or B. Consideration should be given to those gay teenagers who are fearful about coming out to their parent/carers- it is those young people who need to receive positive and reaffirming messages about their identity and worth from their school. [2]

Homophobic bullying is an issue in UK schools

7. Equal Marriage extends to LGB people a choice which heterosexual people already enjoy. This is part of the jigsaw for civil rights for LGB citizens/taxpayers in the UK.

8. This follows the path of civil rights laid out in the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 and the Equality Act 2010.

9. Schools are expected by guidance to prevent and identify all forms of bullying, including homophobic bullying, which is highlighted by Ofsted and Stonewall. Teachers, however, are confused about what they can and cannot say in the classroom and homophobic bullying is not always challenged as consistently as is needed.

10. NUT local branches have been using surveys to establish the extent of this issue. One recent NUT survey [3] in Kirklees found that:-

· 93% of teachers agreed that homophobia is a serious issue demanding action;

· 66% heard homophobic abuse (for example, the ‘gay’ word used as an insult) on a termly basis;

· 10% of the teachers who responded have themselves been subject to homophobic abuse by pupils in the last school year;

· 48% of teachers would welcome specific training to help them better address homophobia in their classrooms.

11. In a similar survey by the NUT in Lancashire , 57.6% of teachers had o verheard or observed homophobic abuse in their school on a daily/weekly basis . Only 57% of teachers replied that they were confident about ‘ addressing homophobia in their classroom’.

12. Equal Marriage will send a powerful message to teenagers about LGB people. It will reinforce the message that LGB people are people who have the same range of life experiences, emotions and aspirations as their heterosexual friends.

13. This alone, however, will not achieve an end to homophobic bullying in schools. The Department for Education (DfE) needs to consider, in a fragmented school system with a wide variety of school policies, how schools can be empowered to challenge this form of bullying, and the attitudes that generate it. Most parents are very supportive of all strategies to reduce bullying in schools and understand that schools must be safe, welcoming and inclusive to all.

14. The guidance for schools [4] , commissioned from Stonewall and published by the then Department for Children, Schools and Families in 2008 was very useful and answered most of the common questions asked by teachers and heads. It was deleted from the DfE website which created an absence of guidance.

Balance between talking about bullying and talking about positive acceptance and recognition of achievements of LGB people

15. Equal Marriage will provide an important signal to young people that LGB people are just like straight people. Some will want to be married and some will not. The LGB ‘community’ contains a broad spectrum of people of different ages, political beliefs and races.

16. LGB teachers and parents of LGB students are rightly wary about the only focus in schools being on homophobic ‘’bullying’’ and homophobia. It is important not to portray LGB people as victims. Discussions about Equal Marriage should be used to challenge stereotypes about LGB people- for example, that they are not religious. There are gay people within all religious faiths, whose views are rarely reflected or aired.

17. It is not acceptable if the only reference that students hear about LGB people is in the sex and relationships curriculum when HIV/AIDS is discussed or if a couple of teachers tell them that homophobic bullying is wrong. Young people need positive images and messages about a whole range of LGB people. If a greater number of LGB staff were confident enough to be ‘out’ in their schools, this would be helpful.

18. Homophobia is learned behaviour and can be unlearned and avoided through education. The most powerful reminder that this is important is that homophobic hate crime is carried out by school aged pupils. Some local authorities have spearheaded excellent initiatives to reduce hate crime and homophobic attitudes such as in Liverpool following the murder of 18 year old Michael Causer. Michael, from a tight knit family in a suburb of Liverpool, was proud to be gay, was training to be a hairdresser and volunteered in a local care home. [5]

Teachers’ attitudes- why are LGB teachers in UK classrooms invisible?

19. Those who have been speaking about their concerns for teachers and the reservations that teachers supposedly have about talking about gay and lesbian people in the classroom are assuming all teachers are heterosexual.

20. 80% of the teaching workforce is female and between five or ten per cent of women teachers will be lesbian or bisexual. Debates about Equal Marriage must be conducted in a way which does not assume that all teachers are straight or which marginalises and ignores the existence and contribution of gay teachers.

21. No one knows how many teachers are LGB because the DfE does not monitor and employers do not compile data on sexual orientation. The NUT seeks to monitor members by sexual orientation when this information is provided by individuals so that we can offer relevant guidance. At the NUT’s Annual Conference, eight per cent of the delegates identify as LG or B. Each year at an NUT conference for LGBT teachers, we monitor how many teachers are able to be ‘out’ about their sexual orientation in their school. Many LGB teachers are still not ‘out’ in their school. This sends a very negative and inaccurate message to pupils, which is that gay teachers have something to fear or hide.

22. Both the Coalition Government and the DfE should take a lead in arguing that all schools must be safe and welcoming to existing and future LGB teachers and school staff.

23. This is required by the Equality Act 2010 but it is also good practice. Research [6] shows that employees who are able to be ‘out’ at work about their sexual orientation are more effective, more loyal to their employer and have fewer periods of sickness absence. The DfE should be speaking out in praise of LGB teachers in debates about Equal Marriage.

24. There are many examples where LGB teachers have already entered civil partnerships and where the primary or secondary school class/tutor group has celebrated with the teacher and presented them with gifts/well wishes as they do with straight teachers.

Do not make assumptions about the attitudes of people with faith

25. Equal Marriage is a new legal right which LGB adults will be given. Once it is law, teachers will need to respect this law.

26. In the debates about Equal Marriage, it is important to be specific and refer to the evidence rather than to perpetuate stereotypes about people with faith and faith schools.

27. In the debates on this issue, sometimes faith leaders are taken to speak for all the thousands of individual citizens who follow or ascribe to that faith. This is dangerous. Many women for example will describe themselves as Catholic but will access abortion and use contraception. It is important that we do not use the world ‘religious person’ as a byword for homophobia or intolerance. Different religious teachers will have different views on Equal Marriage and the religious leaders do not necessarily speak for all their followers.

28. Surveys by Stonewall [7] show that levels of acceptance of LGB people among people of faith and people with no faith are broadly similar.

29. Three in five people of faith (58%) support Government plans to extend civil marriage to same-sex couples.

30. When asked if it is right to tackle prejudice against lesbian, gay and bisexual people where they say it exists, 81% of people believed it was right, and 79% people of faith believed it is right.

31. Many faith schools are very inclusive and caring spaces which have excellent anti bullying strategies and which balance creating a faith ethos with respect for other faiths and other communities. This is the practice which needs to be nurtured, encouraged and shared.

32. Often faith schools have very strong track records on anti-bullying but they can be less likely to talk about LGB issues. Only half of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils in a 2010 [8] survey said that their schools say homophobic bullying is wrong. This figure was even fewer in faith schools at 37%.

33. The NUT was one sponsor on an ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) project [9] called No Outsiders which supported primary school teachers to be comfortable and confident to talk about the existence of LGB people and different families in primary classrooms. One of the schools involved was a Church of England school which used teaching materials about LGB families and same sex relationships and parents had no objections. The project helped teachers to explore how gender stereotypes and homophobic stereotypes are bound up together.

Teachers have a duty to present balance

34. Section 407 of the Education Act 1996 says that maintained schools must present ‘political views’ (both in a school and in extra-curricular activities) in a way which offers a balanced presentation. Teachers are required to teach in a balanced manner.

35. Therefore, currently, if teachers were to express homophobic views, or views which were hostile or negative about LGB people, this would be likely to breach Section 407.

36. Teachers would need to be very careful if trying to express a view about why their religion did not support Equal Marriage, because they would have to comply with Section 407. If a Catholic teacher were explaining that the Catholic faith does not allow Equal Marriage, the teacher would need to make it clear that many other faiths did, and that LGB people are equal citizens and that the UK law allows civil partnership and Equal Marriage in some churches. It would be safest for teachers not to comment about their private religious belief.

37. Section 407 has led to understanding among the teaching profession about how to deal with issues which they or others may label as ‘controversial’. Teachers, including in faith schools, recognise that they must teach in a balanced manner and express private views in a considered and balanced manner. In the same way that a teacher is not permitted to express racist views within a school, a teacher could be challenged by colleagues or employers for expressing homophobic views. LGB colleagues could allege that this breached their protection from harassment under the Equality Act 2010.

Homophobia is linked to sexism and has an impact on learning in schools

38. The NUT does not think that talking about LGBT people or about Equal Marriage in the classroom ought to be labelled as a controversial issue. Teachers need to be empowered to understand that the research shows homophobic bullying and attitudes are limiting and negative for all children and young people.

39. Sexism and homophobia reinforce each other. Homophobic stereotypes include stereotypes such as:

· Stereotypes that boys must be ‘macho’ and play certain sports or display certain attributes otherwise people will think that they are, or call them, ‘gay’;

· Stereotypes that if girls are sporty, competitive or assertive that they are not ‘feminine’ and not heterosexual;

· Expectations on boys to want to sexually harass girls and subscribe to certain views of women/girls in order to prove their heterosexuality; and/or

· Expectations that boys will dislike reading, learn in certain ways or be less likely to engage with school because they are boys.

40. The solution to homophobia is not to ignore it and say that Equal Marriage is too controversial for schools, or that faith schools need an ‘opt out’.

41. Whatever the causes of racism, we recognise that it needs to be challenged. Teachers should be at the forefront of dealing with homophobia in all its manifestations within schools. Teachers need support and encouragement in order to be able to do this. It has an impact on children’s learning, their life outcomes and their life opportunities.

Do not tolerate intolerance

42. Equal Marriage does not extend the requirements to ensure schools contribute to LGB equality- schools are already under obligations to play a part in eliminating discrimination and achieving equality for LGB people in various ways. These current expectations include:

· Schools are covered by the Equality Act 2010 which requires them to promote equality on grounds of sexual orientation and foster positive relations – in order to this, teachers need to be encouraged to realise it is alright to talk about LGB people and rights in school.

· Schools are prohibited from discriminating against LGB pupils in the way the school provides education for those pupils (section 85 Education Act 2010).

· LGB staff are protected from discrimination at work and so their workplace should not be hostile, degrading or be an intimidating environment.

· DfE guidance on anti-bullying makes it clear that homophobic bullying must be challenged- you can’t do this without talking positively about LGB people.

43. Teachers need to be given the confidence to know how to talk about sexual orientation in schools.

44. All teachers need to understand that talking about the diversity of families in the UK and about the existence of LGB people is important and will reduce homophobic bullying in the classroom and negative outcomes for LGB students, which in some cases have included suicides. All students in each class need to see positive role models and hear positive messages about LGB people. LGBT History Month has been a useful tool to give schools ideas of how to do this.

45. There was at one point huge stigma about inter-racial marriage which has reduced over time. Education is one crucial way to reduce prejudice but teachers need support, clarity and resources to support them in doing this.

February 2013


[1] LGB rather than LGBT is used throughout this briefing because this is a note about sexual orientation and Equal Marriage and not trans issues or gender reassignment.

[2] See Albert Kennedy Trust for work to support LGB teenagers who are evicted from home because of lack of support of threats from parents/carers

[3] Kirklees NUT Prevalence of Homophobia survey of 900 teachers, 2012

[4] Homophobic Bullying: Safe to Learn- Embedding anti-bullying work in schools, 2007, DCSF

[5] Allsorts Youth Project, Liverpool, project to develop teachers pack about hate crime

[6] Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Workers: Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace, F Colgan, C Creegan, A McKearney and T Wright, London Metropolitan University, Working Lives Institute, 2006

[7] Living Together: British Attitudes to lesbian, gay and bisexual people in 2012, Stonewall

[8] The Stonewall School Report- the experiences of young gay people in Britain’s schools in 2012 (a survey of more than 1,200 young people)

[9] Undoing Homophobia in primary schools by the No Outsiders Project Team, Trentham Books, ISBN 978-1-85856-440-1

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Prepared 15th February 2013