The Equality and Human Rights Commission published a report – Researching and Monitoring Adolescence and Sexual Orientation: Asking the Right Questions, at the Right Time – in December 2010, undertaken by the University of York.
The report says evidence suggests that young people can experience disadvantage due to their sexual orientation, such as homophobic bullying, mental health issues, rejection from family and friends and increased risk of homelessness. A first step in understanding how to capture such inequality is to review the evidence and explore the issues involved in researching and monitoring sexual orientation in adolescence. The type of question asked, and method used, should be appropriate for the purpose of the study. The principles at work here are about ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all young people, whatever their sexual orientation.
It says evidence suggests that by the age of 12 young people are dealing with emerging sexual feelings and attraction to others. Young people also begin to identify the actual/perceived sexual orientation of others and this underpins homophobic bullying.
The report says it is ‘critical’ to track children’s sexuality to ‘shed light on the complexities of young people’s developing sexual orientation and how this may disadvantage them’. It recommends that researchers should not dismiss gay feelings of interviewees as ‘a passing phase’. Some youngsters, it says, may use categories such as ‘questioning’, ‘queer’, ‘pansexual’, ‘genderqueer’, ‘asexual’, ‘pan-romantic’ and even ‘trisexual’. A record should be kept of those unsure or ‘questioning’ their sexuality.
The report finds that it is ‘practically and ethically’ possible to interview young children about their sexuality. It says parental consent, while ‘considered good practice’, is not a legal necessity.
Teachers, nurses and youth workers will be urged to set up pilot studies aimed at monitoring adolescent sexual orientation for the first time. It says monitoring sexual orientation among youngsters could help to prevent them from becoming victims of discrimination, and claims that ‘some young people begin to question their sexual orientation as early as age eight and may begin to identify as LGB (lesbian, gay, bisexual) from early adolescence’.
The Daily Mail claims the report has provoked outrage, headlining an article today ‘Fury at equality watchdog after it calls for teachers to ask 11-year-olds if they are gay.’ In an attempt to justify their headline, they asked Graham Stuart, Tory chairman of the Commons education select committee, to comment. He said the plans were ‘invasive, sinister and threatening’ adding ‘School should be a place of safety, not a place where pupils are picked over for the purpose of some quango; and many children won’t understand what they are talking about.’