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Dutch Pride 2022: Feeling free to be who we want to be starts at school

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4 August 2022 Tags: CSE, LGBT, Pride, Sexuality education, the Netherlands

Pride in the Netherlands. Every year this leads to cynical remarks about the extravagant and supposedly hysterical mostly white gay men in little clothing. Critical questions arise like: does all this extravagance really promote equality? And is it actually still necessary?

Yes, it is necessary. And yes, visibility promotes equality.

Feeling free to be who we want to be, that is the theme of this year’s Dutch Pride. Because everyone should feel free to be themselves, without an imposed norm from outside. Unfortunately, the reality is different.

Recent research by the the Netherlands Institute for Social Research shows that in 2022 equality in the Netherlands is still not self-evident. LGBTQI+ people feel less safe than heterosexual Dutch and are more often victims of (sexual) violence, exclusion and discrimination. This is especially true for bisexual women, transgender people and LGBTQI+ people of colour.

Children and young people who are in the process of discovering themselves and their identity are extra vulnerable. They need to be protected against (sexual) violence, exclusion and discrimination. At school and outside. However, last year the national safety monitor in primary and secondary education showed that students are less keen to be friends with LGBTQI+ students and least keen to be friends with transgender girls. In primary education, but even more so in secondary education, even teachers are twice as likely to be guilty of bullying LGBTQI+ pupils.

This shows how important comprehensive sexuality education is. Because sexuality education promotes understanding of diversity.

Complete relational and sexuality education makes relationships and sexuality discussable, promotes sexual health, and works preventively against problems such as STDs, HIV and sexual border crossing.

Unfortunately, not every school in the Netherlands pays structural attention to this, or schools (still) only focus on the biological aspects of sexuality. In most schools this is due to a lack of time, money or expertise, but in some schools it is also due to a different vision of society and gaps in the law to pay as little attention as possible. With all its consequences.

Especially young people themselves say they miss important information. They rate their sexuality education with a 5.8 and want to pay more attention to diversity, gender norms and consent. Teachers and school management support students in this, as does the Dutch Education Inspectorate.

“Just a nice atmosphere where you can feel comfortable. That you don’t have to be afraid of who you are. That you can just be yourself.” Nikki, age 22

Government must do more

The government must do more to structurally embed sexual education within the entire field of education, from elementary school to secondary school and higher education. To this end, it is crucial to tighten the core objectives and to make sexuality education compulsory for upper secondary school pupils. Just like better testing instruments for the Education Inspectorate to supervise this.

Only then will a generation grow up with respect for each other’s wishes and limits and an understanding of diversity. And it will be possible for everyone to discover themselves in safety and to show that to others with pride. During Pride, at school and beyond.

Written by: Luc Lauwers, programme manager sexuality education at Rutgers, Netherlands centre on Sexuality

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