It’s illegal to teach LGBT issues in Hungarian schools. In June 2021, (Pride Month, of all months) the Hungarian parliament passed a controversial new law banning LGBTI education for children. From footballers to politicians, the decision has been roundly criticised; EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called it “a shame” and announced the Commission plans to take action against Hungary.
Under the guise of protecting children from pedophilia (thereby conflating homosexuality with pedophilia), the new law prohibits, among other things, the teaching of content to “popularise” homosexuality or trans identities in schools. Teachers are thus prohibited from even talking to young people about LGBTI issues, let alone teaching them. Human rights organisations warn that such measures will have a serious impact on the mental health of LGBTI youth in Hungary.
Other countries take a very different approach. Scotland, for example, was the first country in the world to integrate LGBTI-inclusive education into its curriculum. Since 2019, state schools in Scotland are obliged to teach pupils about the history of LGBTI equality. In this way, Scotland aims to combat homophobia and transphobia and give pupils space to explore their identities. Although Scotland is considered one of the most LGBTI-friendly countries in the world, a study found that even here 9 out of 10 LGBTI people have experienced homophobia. Could education help fight homophobia? Should LGBTI-inclusive education be introduced across Europe?
What do our readers think? Our reader Nefeli believes that education is the only way to fight homophobia and break down prejudices.
Of course, education is very important: education in school, but also education in the activities outside of school which kids and also young people participate in, and then also education in the family. However not everybody has the chance to address subjects like LGBTI questions in their family. Therefore, the school and all the institutions around school have to play an important role.
I think LGBTI questions should not just be an extra subject, but part of a broader upbringing, including sexual education, talking about love, about relationships with people. I think when you have such subjects in school, you cannot ignore LGBTIQ issues.
For another perspective, we also put Nefeli’s question to Rubén Ávila Rodríguez. Rubén is Policy & Research Manager at IGLYO, an international LGBTQI organisation working to make education safe and inclusive for all.
Thank you very much, Nefeli, for your question. I believe that education is one of the strongest tools we have to raise awareness on hate speech and on our own rights. I think that incorporating LGBTQI people, history and issues in school curricula could combat the widespread homophobia Nefeli is talking about, but also bi-phobia, trans-phobia and intersex-phobia that we face in our societies.
Including this type of content in curricula could also offer a safe environment to students who are exploring and kind of understanding their own sexual orientation, gender identities and gender expressions and sex characteristics. We disproportionately face the effects of bullying in schools, so being able to discuss that in a safe environment would help a lot.
While including all of that in schools is very beneficial for students, the way that this is presented is also very important. We know that teachers sometimes lack the confidence to include [LGBTQI education] in schools and also the knowledge on how to do that. So it is very important that they are trained to have this anti-bias lens, so that they can celebrate diversity when it comes to being LGBTQI. And that should also include teachers not having biases when it comes to racism or sexism. So yes, I fully agree: education is one of the strongest tools we have, but we need to work on how we implement it when we are at school.
Next up, we had a comment come in from Teodora. She argues that sex education should be compulsory in schools across Europe, and points out that LGBT awareness and inclusion are particularly important in this regard.
How would Rubén Ávila Rodríguez of IGLYO respond to Teodora?
I fully agree with you, Teodora. At IGLYO, we have published several resources always with young people in charge, and inclusive sex education has always been one of the minimum standards that we have always seen. For inclusive education, we think it should be compulsory, indeed, we believe that lessons should focus on relationships, rather than only on reproductive functions and health risks, which is what happens a lot of times. And this discussion should remain diverse with regards to gender and sex characteristics.
We think that if we do it like that everyone would be able to understand sexual health, while having a positive representation of who they are in regards to sexual orientation, gender identities, gender expressions and variations of sex characteristics. Here, again, I would say teachers should be sensitive to the fact that they might have LGBT students, who also have the right to access this education in a meaningful way.
We understand that sexual health is much broader than just reproductive or procreative sex. Yes, we do need to talk about health risks, but also about how to have a positive experience when it comes to sex and that is very important for LGBTQI people, and we need to be sensitive to what sex might trigger for some people, depending on their experiences of sexual orientations, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics.
Finally, we had a comment from David arguing that there are many differences in attitudes as well as legislation towards LGBT issues across Europe. He therefore thinks that education on LGBT issues should be determined at a national level instead of being imposed by the EU.
How would MEP Marc Angel respond to David?
I would say to David that, first of all, the EU has very few competencies in education. And if you look at the LGBTQI equality strategy issued by the Commissioner for equality, Commissioner Dalli, in November, there was a chapter on education, but they talk about exchanging best practices from other countries, and nobody is imposing this.
What Europe does have to impose are the fundamental rights and our treaties, such as Article 2, where we talk of rule of law, where we talk about fundamental rights, where we talk of democracy. You cannot ignore LGBTI rights, and no country can have legislation where LGBTI rights are not seen as human rights. It’s like with women’s rights or with disabled rights – LGBTI rights are also human rights. Human rights are indivisible. In some countries, like Poland and Hungary, they’re saying that this is an ‘LGBTI ideology’, a ‘gender ideology’. No, I’m not an ideology. I’m a gay man and this is an identity. Being an LGBTI person is about an identity, and it is certainly not a choice. But being homophobic or transphobic – that’s a choice.
But I can understand David’s reflection. Education is not a competence of the European Union, though I hope that in every country we can have good sexual education. It’s important for the future and it’s also important that children learn about what is discrimination, what is bullying, because all of this is linked to each other. If you know that ‘gay’ is not an insult or a swear word, then you don’t use it in that way. This is also a lot about language and the younger we start, the better it is. But there’s this very well-organised anti-gender movement in Europe. They tried to ban gender studies from universities, they are against sexual education, they want to bring us back to the patriarchal society, but we don’t want that.
Therefore, I think it’s important that Europe pushes LGBTQI rights without imposing it. We need to strengthen civil society. And in places where legislation is not ready yet, we have to be an ally with civil society and make them push and change legislation to have more pro-LGBTI legislation in these countries. It certainly won’t be dictated from Brussels, but it’s something which has to come from the people.
Should schools teach LGBT issues? Could teaching LGBT issues in school help fight homophobia? How should the EU deal with Hungary’s ban on LGBT education? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below!