Simon Jenkins agonises about the implications of LGBT education on parents, teachers and even on government ministers, but does not mention the most impacted group of all: LGBT pupils themselves (Sex education is not a matter for ministers, Opinion, 1 March). When I realised I was gay in the 1960s, I had absolutely nobody to turn to. Had just one person told me that I wasn’t sick, a criminal or a freak, it would have meant everything and spared me from years of lonely misery during what were supposed to be the best years of my life. Half a century later, LGBT youngsters are still far more likely to have mental health issues or to commit suicide. LGBT education can be an overwhelming factor in stopping all that. It should be mandatory in all schools – state or independent, religious of secular. If we let those who are bigoted, or just plain misguided, win this argument, the message is reinforced to every LGBT student that they are still outsiders and far less valued in this world. In a so-called civilised society, is this what we really want?
• While I agree with Simon Jenkins that sex education is a difficult topic for all concerned, I cannot agree with his conclusion that schools, especially faith schools, should be allowed to opt out of teaching it. As an English teacher for many years, I always countered the casual use of “gay” as an insult in my classroom. On one occasion, when I explained to a class of 15-year-olds my objection to the implied belief that to be gay was bad, one boy declared: “Everyone here thinks it is.” When I challenged this he said: “OK, hands up anyone who disagrees.” Naturally, in that environment, no one was willing to put their head above the parapet. However, I then passed out slips of paper for everyone to write their views, and was thus able to prove to the boy that in fact many of his classmates thought otherwise even if the prevailing homophobic school culture prevented their feeling safe to say so to him. It was clear that this was the first time he had encountered any challenge to his (and I suspect his parents’) world view. That seemed to me to be a key part of my job – widen horizons and give a range of views an airing.
Statistically there are gay children in every classroom, and in every faith, whatever their parents may choose to believe, and we know from what gay people tell us that many know they are gay from a young age.
If schools, even implicitly through silence, endorse the beliefs being projected in their homes and churches that they either don’t exist or are somehow damaged and shameful, where will they and the straight children around them learn that they are equally valued and valuable? Sex education, carefully and sensitively taught by specially trained teachers, rather than the unwilling conscripts Jenkins’ embarrassed friend clearly was, is both a right and a boon for all children in a world only too quick to thrust other less nuanced views in their faces, whether in their churches or on their smartphones. If they then choose to accept the tenets of a particular faith, at least they will have had a choice in the matter and the information to make that choice.