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Will Young Says LGBTQ Lessons in Schools Are Vital to Tackle UK Suicide Epidemic

By Rachel Savage

LONDON, July 4 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — British pop star Will Young said teaching children to accept LGBT+ people was vital to tackle an "epidemic" of suicides, as research released on Thursday found 71% of British teachers had witnessed homophobic bullying.

"Learning about LGBT issues in schools is important," as gay and transgender people killing themselves is "pretty much at epidemic levels," said Young, who came out as gay in 2002 after winning a popular British TV talent show, Pop Idol.

LGBT+ young people are at least three times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers, according to 35 studies from 10 countries collated by researchers in 2018.

One in eight LGBT+ 18- to 24-year-olds had tried to kill themselves in the previous year, according to 2018 research by British advocacy group Stonewall. Almost half of trans people and 31% of lesbian, gay, and bi people had thought about suicide.

"Definitely growing up I had to hide, you know, being gay," Young, 40, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

He spoke at the launch of an "LGBT+ reading roadshow" in which tech giant Amazon will donate books about gay, bisexual, and trans people to six schools.

From September 2020, it will be mandatory to teach children under 12 in England about same-sex parents. Older children will learn about sexual orientation and gender identity.

But parents have staged protests objecting to teaching of same-sex relations at schools in predominantly Muslim areas of Birmingham, Britain's second-largest city, saying it contravenes their values and usurps their role.

"Adults are obsessed with sex," said Young, who also co-presents Homo Sapiens, a podcast about LGBT+ issues. "All they think about with LGBT people is sex and they put that agenda onto their children."

"But it's not about sex," he continued. "A sexual preference is one tiny thing, being LGBT. It's actually about love and about having a right to be whoever you want to be."

More than a third of teachers witness LGBT+ pupils being bullied in their school at least once a month, according to a survey of 1,004 teachers by polling firm YouGov for Amazon. And seven in 10 said they had seen it at some point in their work.

Related Stories June 28, 2019 Transgender Hate Crimes Soar by 81% in England, Scotland, and Wales

"I went to an all-boys school — I kind of did the maths and was like if I come out, I'd be beaten up," Young said.

"The only visibility then was HIV and AIDS," he added. "So the narrative I was being told was, 'You're gonna die, you're ill, and you're wrong and you're weird.'"

A 2017 study by Stonewall found 45% of LGBT pupils had been bullied for their sexual orientation or gender identity, down from 55% in 2012.

  • If you're based in the UK and want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the Samaritans for free at any time, from any phone, on 116 123. You can find international resources here.

(Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)