Nikki Peach covers the Young People’s Festival of Ideas and tell us more about LGBT+ issues.
In light of LGBT+ history month, Bristol Museum’s MShed hosted Young People’s Festival of Ideas to discuss language and misrepresentation within the LGBT+ community. The panel of speakers addressed issues and questions brought forward by an audience of diverse, young and inspiring individuals. Panellists, chaired by LGBT historian Cheryl Morgan, included a BME+ (black & minority ethnic) officer at University of Bristol, a history graduate now working as LGBT+ editor for Bristol24/7; a PSHCE teacher changing the face of sex education and a young campaigner for Freedom Youth.
‘Only 17% of a young audience had been taught about LGBT+ rights in PSCHE lessons at school and 100% of survey-takers felt the LGBT+ community was not fairly represented in the media.’
A range of topical and contentious issues were raised, directly affecting young people not just in Bristol but across the country; reminding the audience of the importance of open discussion and education for the next generation. Morgan had sent a survey to audience members prior to the event, asking them to answer a series of questions and the results were disconcerting. Only 17% of a young audience had been taught about LGBT+ rights in PSCHE lessons at school and 100% of survey-takers felt the LGBT+ community was not fairly represented in the media thus introducing the first point of discussion. This lead to a stimulating debate about common misconceptions of the community in the media and popular culture.
— out bristol (@outbristol) February 22, 2017
The media is prone to boxing LGBT+ individuals, often presenting them as sexualised or criminalised. An audience member then brought up the harrowing case of the ‘Grindr Killer’, a 41-year-old man who used the app Grindr to abuse and murder young gay men. The coverage of this case focussed more on the fact the victims were gay than the reality that this man is a murderer using an established modern gay space with criminal intent. Audience members agreed that this sort of publicity makes what should be a safe space to explore your identity, another target of public homophobia and stigmatisation.
‘The only time young people are taught about LGBT+ is in PSHCE lessons which rarely amount to more than forty minutes of a week.’
The event then went on to focus on the critical importance of the education of young people on both the LGBT+ community and the issues they face; reminding us that hate is taught and gender and sexuality discrimination is not innate. As it stands the only time young people are taught about LGBT+ is in PSHCE lessons which rarely amount to more than forty minutes of a week and classes are often run by reluctant staff members who have a vacancy in their timetable. The national curriculum also enables a dubious degree of selectivity, meaning teachers can go into as much detail about these topics as they choose which can be detrimental to pupils and their education.
To add to this, inclusion of LGBT+ culture is not compulsory which marginalises the community further both in terms of gender and sexuality; it is difficult to aid people’s knowledge and understanding when they are uninformed. The panellists all agreed that it would be hugely beneficial to have members of the LGBT+ community go into schools and interact with students directly. It is important to have role models from the community so that the LGBT+ culture is normalised and young people have figures to aspire to.
— M Shed (@mshedbristol) February 22, 2017
There are of course contentions when it comes to educating children on sexuality and gender as an audience member remarked that young children might find the topic confusing. This attitude was met with the response that the more children are exposed to minorities and different cultures the safer an environment it will be for those individuals; understanding and acceptance are co-dependent. One girl on the panel described how daunting it was, at 21, to tell people she was a lesbian and that she would have struggled a lot less if people at school were more accepting and better informed. Too often labels such as ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ are used in a derogatory way and this breeds stigmatisation.
‘The idea of a ‘gay best friend’ being fetishized in popular culture, further stereotyping people based on their sexuality.’
The panel agreed that the same is true of the idea of a ‘gay best friend’ being fetishized in popular culture, further stereotyping people based on their sexuality. The frequent insensitivity when addressing LGBT+ topics also raised the issue of the BT+ being forgotten, of course they should be included in the conversation both in and outside the classroom. The talk ended with each panel member giving a call to action with the dominant message being to keep talking; exposure to different cultures is critical in education, the media and common discussion. They pleaded to not believe myths that most transgender people regret transitioning, that lesbians are aggressive sports-players and that non-binary people are just confused. There was a positive closing sentiment that things are improving, albeit slowly, and we should all be more sensitive and more aware of what we say and how we show support.
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