Steven Smith discusses plans for sex education in schools, talking about LBGTQ issues to primary schoolchildren, coming out to his own nephew…plus a Lady Gaga anecdote.
Jodie, aged six, on hearing her uncle Paul and his friend, who she affectionately calls Uncle Steven and has done since she can remember, are coming over for tea askes her mother, “Who looks after them?”
Mum asks what she means. “Well, you look after daddy and he looks after you. So who looks after them?” Mum replies: “they look after each other, as they love each other like mummy and daddy do.” Her reply? “Oh, cool. Can I have a biscuit?”
Scarred for life? An agenda forced on an innocent child? No, but it opens up the subject, not making it taboo or wrapping it in mystery. It allows it to be something that can be discussed in the future. Plus, people in love and of either sex won’t cause Jodie to raise an eyebrow or cause shocks when she starts to grow up.
There is much horror in the press, for example: “SEX EDUCATION FOR PRIMARY SCHOOL KIDS, INCLUDING GAY AGENDA” – unsurprisingly a quote from ITV’s This Morning. The Christian right have exploited this to make it sound like children are going to be taken on a tour of XXL, or two male strippers are going to be doing a show live in class whilst demonstrating protection by showing how to put a condom on. Nothing can be further from the truth. Though I might take a night class if that was on offer.
Is it really better to protect kids by telling them that they were dropped on the front door by a stork? Yes, it is lovely to have Santa and the tooth fairy adding a bit of magic to childhood. But neither of these fictional characters causes hate or bullying. If you think that having a perfectly natural human desire should be veiled in mystery, guilt, and be something that cannot be broached as a subject in a wider context, then we need to open it up right from the start and educate.
Remember your first day at school, perhaps being asked to draw a picture of mum and dad? That was done because it fitted the box you were expected to be put into for life.
And there is the very thing that needs to be stopped, as we do not all fit into those simple categories, although it all looked so easy back in the 60s and 70s. It’s even more traumatic if you do not fit in when it comes to asking about people being in love or where we come from
Let’s go with that: where do we come from?
A grown man and woman, often in a loving relationship, create you in an act of love and kindness. Men and woman love each other, but sometimes men love each other, just as women love each other. It lays down a path to talk further without bringing the word ‘gay’ up, or even using any similar lingo at this point. But the stigma is removed and makes it clear that people of both sexes can love each other.
Of course, that is not technically true. There are babies from one-night stands, for example. But we are talking education here and we have to start at the beginning, a little like starting with building bricks. Older kids for sure should be taught the consequences of promiscuous behaviour and unsafe sex.
Similarly, we don’t dictate to children that boys have to play football or soldiers, and girls have to play with dolls and dress up. We should let them pick what they would like to do without judging or pushing them. Shooting your friend soldier-style as a starting point in early childhood, even as a game, should not really be encouraged. But kindness and love should be, and we do not have to put them into boxes that some do not fit into and make them feel different from the start.
Now I am sure that there are those that would think even talking about this would condemn children to the fiery pits of hell for not falling into line over that ever-loving and forgiving book, The Bible. Yet there are some who some think we should all live by what it has to say.
Gays, sex out of wedlock, and much else, all lead to damnation. This is what some people want to teach children. Yet they skip certain bits of their book, such as the idea that it is ok for you to have a slave as long as it is from a neighbouring village, or that a man should be stoned to death if found in the house of woman who is menstruating.
I’m pretty sure that such stuff is more traumatic for kids than something like “Paul loves Steve”, or “Sarah loves Carrie”. To this day, I have lost count of the number of adults with issues later in life who have been brought up as strict Catholics – and, thinking about it, not only Catholics.
As life goes on, you have to forgive many people. It is said ignorance is bliss, and floating along in life in pre-boxed religions, as some societies would have us do, must be a calm place for those who want to stay in control.
But many of us have not stopped in our tracks and wondered: “How the hell did we get here? What is the purpose and point of it all?” Religion for many offered an answer, namely that if we do good in this life, we get to float on clouds with a harp, or sleep with 72 virgins. All of this makes the stork story sound convincing.
The Ten Commandments could be a great recipe for anyone who is a motivational speaker. Like any manifesto, it needs updating to move with the times. Whilst teaching basic morals such as “thou shall not kill” or “thou shall not steal”, we could add “it is ok to love each other no matter what gender”. Such a sentiment, according to some, would really have the school gates bursting into flames. Let’s be honest: a book that is preaching some of the hate we find in the Bible and other holy books, if published today, would surely be banned.
A dear actress friend of mine grew up among gay people, so it bewilders her when she hears homophobic language. She says: “What are they scared of?” Her own children were brought up the same way, even with a bit of knowing camp – her sons calling one family friend “Aunty Lester”. Yet, they are grounded, highly successful kids who do not ascribe to labels, and their mother deserves to be very proud of them.
My sister lives in Florida with my amazing nephew Matthew.She was married to a Catholic, a right-wing New Yorker, who by his own admission did not care for the gay community until he had a spiritual experience at a support group involving a man who identified as gay.
We decided for many reasons not to discuss my being gay with Matthew, but instead let it happen naturally. The subject did not really raise its head until he saw I had been at a party also attended by Paris Hilton. Though I only said “hello” to her, Matthew decided she was my girlfriend. Although I said no, he was so sure, and he went on and on.
Next, he decided I should go to Hooters every night (a men’s bar with famously buxom waiting staff). Laughing, I said: “I am allergic to girls.” Matthew was about 14 at this point.
One night, I went to club called Bill’s Filling Station in Wilton Manners, Fort Lauderdale. There appeared at first sight to be a very good Madonna lookalike performing. She was called Lady Gaga. In fact, the more I watched her, the more I realised that it was a very slick act indeed. She was sensational but did not have much of an audience.
But it gave me a chance to say hello after her show, and she gave me a signed EP. It went straight back to my nephew, who funnily enough knew who the New York producer was, although he was more into rap and hip hop.
It wasn’t until Lady Gaga was famous when I rang my nephew from the O2 (where she was performing) to say wish he was here. After I put the phone down, he went into the living room and asked his mum:
“Is uncle Steven gay?”
“Why don’t you ask him?” She replied. He wasn’t keen on that idea.
“Would it make any difference?” My sister asked.
“God, no. Is he?” My nephew replied.
He was more upset that he had not been told. When I called him, it was a huge surprise. Keeping it simple, I asked him how he felt. Did he still love me? (That was a bit needy, on reflection.)
“God, I love you more. And all the cool kids are gay at school and my best pal’s uncle is gay too. When are you coming back over?” The phone call was over. No trauma there then.
However, if my nephew had been taught that it is okay to love someone of the same sex from the start, his father’s views would not have come into play.
No one is pushing a gay agenda on schools; they’re simply asking to be given the chance to be seen as equals right from the start, and not to be disguised or suppressed, and starting at the core could stamp out hate, and teach young people so much more.
My nephew is now 19 and dating a lovely girl. He comes to stay often. I joke with him: “God, you’re not gay. What shall I tell my friends?” He thinks that’s funny.
There is the argument that it’s the parents’ duty to teach sex education not the schools’. But, in many cases, parents are the last to know about their kids being bullied, and many children are unable to open up to their mothers or fathers.
Historically, we learn more about sex from our peers and that’s not always reliable or good. Let’s stop making sex a taboo topic; wrapping the young in cotton wool is not protecting them – they need to know about coercion, consent and some pretty horrible STDs.
Steven is a published author, regular radio guest and has a monthly column in MilliOnAirMagazine.