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Relationships and Sex Education: making it LGBT+ inclusive

Youth Board member Lucy explores the challenges LGBT+ young people can face when learning about healthy and unhealthy relationships and what can be done to make this experience more inclusive.

Relationships are difficult to navigate (there’s a reason everyone writes songs about that). But for an LGBT+ identifying person, figuring out relationships and the emotions that come with them can be even more complicated (unfortunately, not very many people write songs about that). Sadly, there is very little awareness of the challenges non-heterosexual/cisgender people can face in relationships. This can mean that if the relationship becomes unhealthy, or abusive, people might not realise. It also means that, a lot of the time, people do not feel able to seek support or talk to others about what they are experiencing.

What does a healthy or unhealthy LGBT+ relationship look like?

The good news is, healthy relationships don’t discriminate! Relationships full of mutual respect can exist between people of any gender or sexual orientation. However, sadly, unhealthy traits and abuse can also happen in any relationship.

There are some challenges that are specific to LGBT+ people in relationships. For example:

  • someone they are in a relationship with threatening to ‘out’ them (i.e. tell other people about their sexual orientation/gender identity) as a way to manipulate them
  • someone making them feel that their sexual or gender identity isn’t ‘real’ or isn’t valid. For example, someone may purposefully not use their chosen pronouns, or say that bisexuality doesn’t exist.
  • someone telling them that their abusive behaviour is just a normal part of a same-sex relationship
  • not having any safety net or place of support to turn to, because the people close to them do not accept their sexual orientation or gender identity.

It’s really important that people understand, and know how to talk about, these issues – so that LGBT+ people can recognise if behaviour is abusive, but also so that there is a better understanding generally of what it means to be LGBT+ identifying.

How many LGBT+ people experience relationship abuse?

Research by the charity Stonewall shows that:

  • 1 in 4 lesbian or bisexual women have experienced abuse in a relationship
  • 49% of gay or bisexual men have experienced at least one example of domestic abuse from a partner or family member since the age of 16

The lack of understanding and discussion around trans issues means that figures for relationship abuse are not so easily found. However the Scottish Transgender Alliance estimates that a shocking 80% of trans people have experienced abuse from a partner or ex-partner.

These figures show us that LGBT+ people are not safe from abuse and unhealthy behaviours – so why are they so often left out of the conversation about these issues?

What’s Tender doing to help?

Luckily, Tender are on it. They’ve recently received funding from Hackney to deliver four projects to young people in Hackney over the next twelve months – with a special focus on LGBT+ young people. The 5 week projects focus on healthy relationships, and will support young people to identify what it means to be in a healthy/unhealthy relationship, identify early warning signs of abuse, and learn more about the support services available to them and their peers.

This project will help to broaden these conversations to make sure that they address additional barriers/vulnerabilities that so many young people face. It will look at what it means to be LGBT+, the stigma and attitudes that can condone abuse or prevent someone from seeking support, and at the additional support services that are available.

The projects will be delivered to various groups, including LGBT+ identifying groups, and will raise awareness on the importance of equality – exploring what it means to be an ally and to safely challenge normalised discrimination and hate speech.

As part of the five week project, groups will create resources and campaign materials which will then be displayed at a celebration event in April. The event will bring the various different groups together, as well as their peers, family members, and other organisations.

There is still a huge amount of work to be done to increase people’s understandings of healthy relationships generally: the conversation about healthy relationships has a long way to go. Including LGBT+ issues in these conversations is vital – but it’s not enough just not to discriminate. We must also acknowledge specific issues faced by people who are not heterosexual and we must champion LGBT+ people.

Written by Tender Youth Board member Lucy.

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