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.

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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.