If you’ve been watching Irish media closely, it might seem as though the subject of LGBTQ+ inclusive education - in particular trans-inclusive education - has suddenly started to command headlines in a way it didn’t before. Focus has been drawn to the updated RSE curriculum for secondary school students, the topic of trans identities in primary and secondary school, and one high-profile case of a teacher who disagreed with the use of “they/them” pronouns.
That last case has reached as far as local Paddy’s Day parades and your uncle’s WhatsApp memes. What’s been glossed over is that there’s a student whose life, identity, and education have become the topic of national debate and court battles.
Eventually that scandal will die down, and hopefully that student will be able to carry on and thrive in their school. But the media debates on LGBTQ+ inclusive education will continue well into September’s school term.
We’ve seen pushback on the idea of teaching students about what it means to be trans, and how they can be more accepting of trans and non-binary people. There have been waves of negativity in response to a draft secondary school RSE curriculum which looked at gender identity as one aspect of personhood. We saw more aggressive responses still when it was merely suggested that children might learn about trans people in primary school. There has been a certain skewing here on the media’s part. The loudest voices don’t always represent the reasonable majority; we learned that in the 2015 and 2018 referendums.
Unfortunately, what those loud voices are doing when it comes to the topic of LGBTQ+ education is drowning out the most important people in this discussion: young LGBTQ+ people themselves. Those young people have asked, time and time again, to learn about the realities of the world they live in. In particular they’ve begged for an RSE curriculum which prepares them for adulthood and relationships, regardless of how they identify.
The young people we meet in schools through ShoutOut’s educational programmes are eager to understand what it means to be LGBTQ+. They especially want to know what it means to be trans, non-binary, or intersex - those very identities which have become so controversial in the papers. Many of those students are straight and cisgender but genuinely curious, and keen to tease out these complex topics sensitively with our volunteers.
For a student questioning their gender or sexual orientation, the opportunity to learn about what it means to be LGBTQ+ could be transformative. A positive, informed conversation about LGBTQ+ identities in the classroom reassures a young person that they’re not alone. It lets them know that the adults in their lives have the tools to help them on this journey.
Be radical for a moment - imagine those students were given the chance to go deeper still? To study queer literature, learn about Irish LGBTQ+ history, be given the vocabulary to claim themselves as Gaeilge?
As queer folks, we don’t all look back on our school days with fondness. It was a difficult time for many of us. We can change that script for the next generation of LGBTQ+ young people, together. In 2023, we must stand together to protect LGBTQ+ inclusive education in Ireland. We can do this by challenging the narrative; by sharing our stories and reminding our communities that LGBTQ+ young people in our schools exist - and that, like we once did, they deserve to be supported, represented, and given the opportunity to thrive.
Ruadhán Ó Críodáin is the Executive Director of ShoutOut, an LGBTQ+ charity working to promote LGBTQ+ inclusion through education in schools and other settings.
Visit shoutout.ie to learn more about how you can volunteer delivering LGBTQ+ inclusive education in classrooms or otherwise support their mission. Their next volunteer training is April 18 in Outhouse at 6PM.