Explain gays and lesbians to kids, Dutch MP says



By Rob Kievit

Religion-based schools should mention homosexuality in their sex education lessons, just like other Dutch schools do, according to liberal MP Boris van der Ham. His view is that pupils in orthodox Christian or Islamic primary and secondary schools need this kind of education as much as any child.

The MP's plea coincides with Thursday's debate on the issue. In a joint letter to parliament, six well-established national organisations involved in sexual education are asking for homosexuality to be included as a mandatory topic in the sex lessons. The groups, including the national gay interest group (COC [1]) and teenage gay group Expreszo, point out that most schools ignore same-sex relationships. In Amsterdam 82 percent of schools were found to stay silent about the topic.

"Sexual education gets only a minimal mention in the national curriculum. This enables many schools to avoid it altogether," Mr Van der Ham told news website Publicly funded non-denominational schools also wriggle out of giving this kind of education, he says, proposing that funding is cut when schools leave the obligatory sex lessons out of the curriculum.

A similar proposal was recently rejected by Deputy Ministers of Education Marja van Bijsterveld-Vliegenthart and Sharon Dijksma.

Freedom vs. freedom?

Freedom of religion is not at issue here. Mr Van der Ham's position is that schools are allowed to determine how they teach, but they cannot change the targets set in the national curriculum. Educators in denominational schools are often worried that teaching about homosexuality may plant unwanted ideas into children's heads, and will offend the parents.

MP Van der Ham, on the other hand, considers sex education which explains homosexuality essential to combat discrimination of gays and lesbians. "It also helps gay teenagers to feel respected," the liberal MP said.

"Too many children are raised with a homophobic moral. In cities that happens in immigrant families, while in the country many native Dutch families have such prejudices. It is up to schools to correct misrepresentations."

Boys and girls

Mr Van der Ham is pushing for better sexual education not just in the interest of homosexual people, but also to improve relations between the sexes. "Being treated respectfully by boys is important for the sexual independence of girls."

Research shows that a quarter of girls and women aged between 15 and 25 have been subjected to sexual violence in some form.

Two weeks ago Deputy Minister of Public Health Jet Bussemaker announced she was budgeting extra money for the sexual education of boys.

In a letter on sexual health policy to the Dutch lower house the minister wrote she wanted to tackle prevailing double moral standards. Research has shown that many teenagers think boys who have many sexual partners are cool, but girls with the same behaviour are dubbed whores, she said.

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