Every morning, I kiss my children goodbye at the gates of their school, and then walk hand in hand with my wife to the tube. I am proud of my family. We love and respect each other, and we have lots of fun.
Yesterday, Commons leader Andrea Leadsom suggested that parents should have a say over whether their children are “exposed” to lessons about same-sex relationships. This is the latest comment in a growing controversy about whether children should be protected from learning about families like mine.
I’ve spent my life trying to be brave, trying to be proud. Holding hands on the way to the tube is my own daily act of insurrection. I’ve fought for my family and for my rights. I have become used to the stares and the comments, the doors shut in my face. But I wasn’t prepared for how hard I’d find it to explain homophobia to my children. It is crushing to have to prepare them for discrimination, when I know the damage it has done to me.
Experiences at school have a lifelong effect. I vividly remember one morning before class. A friend confronted me after discovering the news that I was a lesbian. He used to like me, he said, but now he was disgusted. This was a particularly unpleasant attack on an isolated and insecure young person, but the view he was expressing was institutionalised. We can’t do anything about homophobic bullying, I was told, as there wasn’t a policy for that.
Growing up, it wasn’t the name calling that bothered me the most; it was the revulsion. I hated the idea that people thought my sexuality was in some way seedy or shameful, that I was ‘disgusting’. I understand now why the LGBT movement places so much significance on pride. It is the antidote to the shame we were taught to internalise. But I have also learned that no number of brave political acts can make that shame go away. It corrodes your confidence and weighs you down. We should all be determined that the next generation of young LGBT people never have to live with its burden.
The best way to do that is through what children learn at school. The reason the LGBT community campaigned so hard for inclusive sex and relationship education is because we knew how transformative it would have been for us. Children should see themselves reflected in what they learn, and every child should learn to embrace difference rather than fear it.
Expressing fears about what is age appropriate or worrying about children being exposed to same-sex relationships reflects back at gay people the fear that we all have faced: that there is something wrong with us. That is what is so toxic about the LGBT education debate, especially when you remember that children are having to walk past protestors on their way to school.
Those who seek to remove their children from class may say that they are not homophobic. Our politicians may say that there is no contradiction between giving parents this choice and supporting LGBT rights. But you don’t get to pick and choose if you believe in equality. Every child should be taught about same sex relationships. There should be no exceptions. You really shouldn’t worry about exposing children to families like mine. It’s exposing them to hate that should concern you.