LGBT+ lessons in schools: what does the law say?

Posted by Debaleena Dasgupta on 24 May 2019

This week further stories emerged of a small but vocal campaign which objects to primary schools telling children about LGBT+ people and families, when they are being taught about relationships.

Some campaigners claim that any mention of LGBT+ people and families conflicts with their religious beliefs. Some have even pointed to legal protections for freedom of religion in the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act to support their case.

This has caused confusion for some schools as to what the legal position is – a few have even suspended or withdrawn educational programmes which outline that a child can have two parents of the same sex.

So today, Liberty wrote to the heads of all primary schools to outline the legal position and cut through the pseudo-legal “advice” we have seen circulating on social media. Our intention is to provide an unbiased explanation of the law in this issue.

Liberty has acted for people asserting discrimination on the grounds of their religion. We have also acted those asserting discrimination based on their sexuality. We have the utmost respect for both fundamental rights and believe they must be valued, defended and protected.

But this does not present the “clash of rights” the media seems to claim arises. In fact, there is a reasonably clear legal position and it is important for primary schools to understand it.

Parents who hold religious beliefs critical of, say, homosexuality, have an absolute right to hold those beliefs - and to share those beliefs. Those rights are protected. However, that right does not extend to the right to impose those beliefs on others in a way that creates discrimination – especially by seeking that a public body, in this case primary schools, prepare a curriculum which erases the existence of LGBT+ families who also suffer discrimination.

It is important to remember that this is not a theoretical issue. Children in these schools may themselves be LGBT+, or have people in their lives who are, perhaps even their parents or friends’ parents. It is important that given they may face discrimination, victimisation or harassment, they see the relationships relevant to their lives included in any discussion of positive, everyday relationships. That is especially important where that discussion takes place in a school setting. Schools are public bodies and have a duty to try to eliminate discrimination in what they do.

This is not a case of one person’s rights trumping another’s. This is not about “taking sides”.  It’s a balancing act of the laws accommodating values of freedom of belief and equality and one that the courts have consistently re-affirmed.

Unfortunately this is not a novel conflict. Nearly twenty years ago, there was similar religious opposition, that time led by Christians, to the repealing of Section 28 - a law prohibiting “the teaching…of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.

But Section 28 was repealed. And now, as then, the values of equality for all must be upheld.

Debaleena Dasgupta Liberty

Debaleena Dasgupta

Liberty
Lawyer