In protests by some parents at the Parkfield Community School in Birmingham against the “No Outsiders” project, a number of parents say their religious freedom is threatened by the commitment of the Assistant Headteacher to teach LGBT rights.
The 400 parents, predominantly Muslims, who have signed the petition say that “No Outsiders” goes beyond the idea of treating LGBT people with respect and is not appropriate for young children. Andrew Moffat, the teacher in question, has long been an advocate of LGBT education in schools. He has written a book, Challenging Homophobia in Primary Schools.
He resigned from a previous school in 2013 when Christian and Muslim parents objected to a similar scheme.
The parents’ protests were sadly backed by a Labour councillor. It appears it took the threat of disciplinary action from the Birmingham Council Labour Group for the councillor to say he had “overstepped the mark”. For a group of parents to stop their children being taught about LGBT equality because it goes against the religious beliefs that some of them choose to promote to their children goes beyond the rights of religious freedom.
For the children to learn about different relationships, and read literature with same-sexcouple and trans characters is part of a rounded education. It provides support for LGBT students. Some parents have withdrawn their children from the school. Similar threats have been made amongst some sections of the Haredi Jewish community, particularly in North London, who say they will home-school their children if they are forced to teach about LGBT equality.
Fatima Shah, who has led the protests, has said that, “Children are being told it’s OK to be gay, yet 98% of children at this school are Muslim. It’s a Muslim community. He said all parents are on board with it, but the reality is, no parents are on board with it.”
The idea that Muslim children are not LGBT is what drives this opposition, and teaching unions, and the labour movement should stand up for schools being welcoming and safe spaces for LGBT students and school workers.
The objection that children will become “confused” by these ideas is nonsensical. Lots of things are confusing as you grow up. Being confused and trying to understand things, learning, asking questions are all an important part of childhood and life. The use of “confusion” is a cover for the children wondering about the contrast between certain religious beliefs and the beliefs of their parents, their own feelings and what the school is teaching.
Nor is this question, as some of the protesters say, of teaching about homosexuality crowding out maths, science and English. In fact some of the lessons are in effect English lessons, only reading and using books that have LGBT characters.