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Conservatives blocked plans for compulsory LGBT-inclusive sex and relationship education in schools.

The Women’s Equality Party and leading LGBT+ organisations, activists and politicians called together on Thursday for immediate action to introduce compulsory LGBT-inclusive sex and relationships education (SRE) after Conservative MPs voted to block reform.

The vote took place during the committee stage of the Children and Social Work Bill, and was divided down party lines, with all 10 of the Conservative MPs on the committee voting to block the SRE amendment, while all five Labour MPs supported it. No other party was represented on the bill committee.

The Conservative MP for North Dorset, Simon Hoare, said the amendment did not afford enough protections for faith schools, stating that there may be concerns about the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality through sex and relationships teaching.

“For too long children have been left alone to work out crucial matters like sexual consent, mutual respect and, increasingly, how to navigate online misogyny and sexism,” said Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party. “This is a huge failure – as is the constant stalling of progress towards and understanding of LGBT+ rights. This particular conversation has foundered year after year, parliament after parliament, on the issue of faith schools – to the detriment of all children in all schools. It is our urgent responsibility now to move the conversation on.”

Angela Eagle, MP for Wallasey, emphasised the Labour Party’s commitment to mandatory SRE, noting that it had been an all-female group of her party’s MPs that had tabled the amendment to the bill. “Labour wrote, moved and voted for the amendment in committee, and have gathered cross-party support in Parliament for pushing forward on this issue,” she said. “It is only by giving our children an inclusive education that they can make choices as adults that are right for them. We need SRE in all schools that teaches inclusion, tolerance and respect – without it, we are letting our children down.”

Women’s Equality Party co-founder Sandi Toksvig said: “I have spent my life fighting for the rights of LGBT+ people to live freely. I co-founded the Women’s Equality Party to put issues of fundamental equality, including this one, at the top of the political agenda. We cannot further delay inclusive sex and relationships education, and a world in which every young person has the information and support to live happy, healthy lives as themselves.”

A spokesperson from Stonewall said: “We are disappointed with the decision this morning, as it is vital that we see compulsory, age-appropriate SRE that is inclusive of lesbian, gay, bi and trans issues and different families in all schools. Inclusive SRE doesn’t just benefit LGBT young people, but helps all young people to develop an understanding of difference and diversity as they progress into adult life. This also plays a key part in tackling the bullying of LGBT young people in schools.”

Alison Camps, co-chair of Pride in London, said: “Proper, fact-based education is key to addressing the very real problems young LGBT+ people face in coming out. With effective, supportive and inclusive sex education we can help ensure that all citizens are able to live their lives, as who they are, without fear. Pride in London is dismayed at the Government’s decision to block inclusive sex education, which we see as fundamental to helping young people of all genders and sexualities develop positive and healthy attitudes towards sex and relationships.

We may have made some advances in this country with equal marriage, but if we do not back this up in the way that we educate our children, then it is clear that we still have some way to go before we can claim to be a genuinely inclusive society.”

Linda Riley, founder of the European Diversity Awards and co-publisher of DIVA magazine said: “I wholeheartedly support the Women’s Equality Party’s call to have non-heterosexual identities included in SRE. Failure to teach children that alternative sexualities exist and, importantly, are OK is eerily reminiscent of the dark days of Section 28, which put LGBT rights back for a generation. In a world where suicide and mental health issues are far more prevalent among LGBT 15-24 year olds than among heterosexuals, I urge the Government to take steps to ensure that SRE is fully inclusive of all sexualities.”

Walker added that she began 2017 by accompanying an organisation called Diversity Role Models to a school in north London. “I watched them talk to children there about the experiences of people in the LGBT+ community. The session was conducted with openness and good humour and the children engaged with cheerful responsiveness. We need the same good will and trust demonstrated in all our classrooms.”

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