A lesbian couple hold hands at a rally. Photo: David Silverman/Getty Images
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Labour’s plan to introduce LGBT education to five year olds is the best idea they’ve had

At school, Eleanor Margolis first heard “lesbian” as an insult. How much easier her own coming out would have been if the teachers had mentioned it was normal.

The first time I came across the word “lesbian”, it was being hurled across the playground as an insult. I was about nine and had no idea what one was, but thought it sounded interesting and exotic. I knew I fancied girls, but I didn’t know there was a word for that. In fact, the only word I could think of to describe my attraction to members of the same sex was “disgusting”.

If only I’d been taught, aged five perhaps, that what I was feeling was actually pretty mundane and this “lesbian” thing was about as exotic as a Marmite sandwich. Maybe then, I wouldn’t have burst into tears when I came out to my mum, aged ten. And maybe then I wouldn’t have kept this strange thing that was my sexuality knotted up inside my guts like an especially vindictive tapeworm, until it burst out of me.

Labour’s plan to introduce LGBT-oriented sex education to five-year-olds is simply one of the best ideas they’ve had. Liberal parents may shrug and say, “cool”, Daily Mail readers may reel off the usual Hallmark conservatism stuff about “loss of innocence”. But for me and all the millions of other LGBT people who know first-hand what it’s like to feel alienated at school purely because of our sexuality, this proposed policy couldn’t be more important.

For too many of us, our first introduction to anything LGBT is via playground meanness. I spent most of my childhood thinking “gay” was a rude word. When I was five, my very accepting parents just didn’t think to tell me that it’s OK for girls to fancy girls, and I didn’t think to ask them. If my teachers had taken it upon themselves to impart that crucial nugget, even as a side note – “A triangle has three sides. Two plus two is four. Oh, by the way, gay people are a thing and that’s fine” – things could’ve been very, very different.

The right wing press, naturally, have taken it upon themselves to remind us that teaching children about sexuality is a harbinger of the apocalypse. The Daily Mail headline “sex lessons for pupils aged five under Labour” seems to suggest that, if Ed Miliband manages to pull it off in May, every kid in the country is going to be issued with a My First Kama Sutra. But with stories like this about homophobic bullying in schools appearing more and more frequently, it’s vital that parents get a grasp of the difference between sexuality and sex. It really isn’t difficult. Not that teaching kids about sex is such a bad thing in the first place.

Aged five, the only narrative I knew about making babies was, “when a mummy and a daddy love each other very much… blah, blah, willy, blah, blah, fanny, something about tadpoles eating eggs, etc”. I wish I’d been taught that, if I ever want to have a baby, a willy doesn’t actually have to be involved, at least not directly. I wish I’d been taught that families come in different shapes and that, sometimes, sex isn’t for making babies at all.

I’m sure that, had my education taken that different turn, my response would still have been to hold back hysterical laughter over a teacher having said the word “sex”. But the stuff about girls liking girls, boys liking boys, and some boys being girls, and girls being boys: that would have changed my life.  

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

Photo: Getty
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The campaign to keep Britain in Europe must be based on hope, not fear

Together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of.

Today the Liberal Democrats launched our national campaign to keep Britain in Europe. With the polls showing the outcome of this referendum is on a knife-edge, our party is determined to play a decisive role in this once in a generation fight. This will not be an easy campaign. But it is one we will relish as the UK's most outward-looking and internationalist party. Together in Europe the UK has delivered peace, created the world’s largest free trade area and given the British people the opportunity to live, work and travel freely across the continent. Now is the time to build on these achievements, not throw them all away.

Already we are hearing fear-mongering from both sides in this heated debate. On the one hand, Ukip and the feuding Leave campaigns have shamelessly seized on the events in Cologne at New Year to claim that British women will be at risk if the UK stays in Europe. On the other, David Cameron claims that the refugees he derides as a "bunch of migrants" in Calais will all descend on the other side of the Channel the minute Britain leaves the EU. The British public deserve better than this. Rather than constant mud-slinging and politicising of the world's biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, we need a frank and honest debate about what is really at stake. Most importantly this should be a positive campaign, one that is fought on hope and not on fear. As we have a seen in Scotland, a referendum won through scare tactics alone risks winning the battle but losing the war.

The voice of business and civil society, from scientists and the police to environmental charities, have a crucial role to play in explaining how being in the EU benefits the British economy and enhances people's everyday lives. All those who believe in Britain's EU membership must not be afraid to speak out and make the positive case why being in Europe makes us more prosperous, stable and secure. Because at its heart this debate is not just about facts and figures, it is about what kind of country we want to be.

The Leave campaigns cannot agree what they believe in. Some want the UK to be an offshore, deregulated tax haven, others advocate a protectionist, mean-hearted country that shuts it doors to the world. As with so many populist movements, from Putin to Trump, they are defined not by what they are for but what they are against. Their failure to come up with a credible vision for our country's future is not patriotic, it is irresponsible.

This leaves the field open to put forward a united vision of Britain's place in Europe and the world. Liberal Democrats are clear what we believe in: an open, inclusive and tolerant nation that stands tall in the world and doesn't hide from it. We are not uncritical of the EU's institutions. Indeed as Liberals, we fiercely believe that power must be devolved to the lowest possible level, empowering communities and individuals wherever possible to make decisions for themselves. But we recognise that staying in Europe is the best way to find the solutions to the problems that don't stop at borders, rather than leaving them to our children and grandchildren. We believe Britain must put itself at the heart of our continent's future and shape a more effective and more accountable Europe, focused on responding to major global challenges we face.

Together in Europe we can build a strong and prosperous future, from pioneering research into life-saving new medicines to tackling climate change and fighting international crime. Together we can provide hope for the desperate and spread the peace we now take for granted to the rest of the world. And together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of. So if you agree then join the Liberal Democrat campaign today, to remain in together, and to stand up for the type of Britain you think we should be.