by Grace Davis
LGBT+ Officer – Oxford University Labour Club
Going to university and finally being able to openly express who I am has been overwhelming.
Coming from a small rural town in mid Wales, it was exciting to meet so many people with such varied experiences of life and from so many different backgrounds. But one thing that was particularly striking was that I was no longer the “only lesbian in the village”. University can be a safe space for many young LGBT+ people, and for those live me, a chance to finally express themselves.
The Labour Party has always been a supportive part of my life where I could be open about my sexuality. But it’s important to remember that life outside the political bubble isn’t always like that. When I first came out as gay, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by family who were accepting. But I still never felt I could come out properly until I had left high school, for fear of the playground bullying that so many young LGBT+ people experience. Intolerance surrounding sexuality and gender identity seems to be particularly prevalent in schools, and arises before a lot of young people have the experience of being around openly LGBT+ people.
One main reason homophobic bullying is still a problem amongst school children is that we are not properly educated about LGBT+ relationships from a young age, or even what it means to be LGBT+.
Yet a well-evidenced case for LGBT+ inclusive sex and relationship education already exists.
Our current curriculum still does not reflect the educational needs of LGBT+ young people in our schools, we LGBT+ people remain an afterthought at the end of sex ed. And after almost 15 years some people are still outraged if we’re mentioned in primary school classrooms; Section 28 is gone – but its shadow remains.
It begs the question: are any of us really informed?
When someone asks me who my LGBT+ role models are, my mind instantly jumps to current out politicians; the likes of Welsh Assembly Members such as Hannah Blythyn and Jeremy Miles, or MPs like Stephen Doughty, Angela Eagle and Ben Bradshaw. I could go on listing LGBT+ Labourites who have inspired me. I am particularly grateful to Nia Griffiths MP who came out whilst I was at my very first Labour conference, exactly around the time I was convincing myself it would be ok to come out myself. It had a huge impact on my life to be reassured that coming out was the right thing to do.
Although I’m so proud to have so many inspiring LGBT+ figures in the party, I know there are equally inspiring LGBT+ figures from history who we just do not know about.
History was never my best subject school, but I feel as though my knowledge of LGBT+ history is far below what it should be, I imagine it’s the same for many, but not all, of my fellow LGBT+ comrades. Too often on our campuses, LGBT+ people feature very little in the syllabus, too often erased by a history obsessed with removing the existence of LGBT+ figures. I find it too hard to reason that there is such infrequent mention of inspiring LGBT+ role models in history, given our long and deep struggle against discrimination.
Being LGBT+ isn’t exactly a rare occurrence, yet the visibility for LGBT+ role models, or scope to learn about them and their achievements, is just non-existent. We should be fighting, firstly as members and allies of the LGBT+ community, and secondly, as young members and students with progressive values at our heart, to encourage universities to explore more inclusive syllabuses.
This needn’t mean every lecture becomes a lecture on sexuality, but a mention of an LGBT+ academic goes a long way in encouraging young and upcoming students to pursue their passions without worry of who they are and who they love.
If this knowledge begins to filter down to younger generations, and those school yard bullies become more accepting, we all win.