Khakan Qureshi spoke to Gemma Short and Kate Harris about protests against No Outsiders and LGBT+ inclusive education in Birmingham.
My name is Khakan Qureshi, I’ve worked in social care for the last 20 years across the spectrum of vulnerable adults, and I currently work with the homeless. I founded the first LGBT+ south Asian support group in Birmingham which is now five years old. I became involved in the situation at Parkfield and Anderton Park schools by tweeting my responses and thoughts on the protests, the BBC invited me onto the Big Questions show to discuss the issue. Andrew Moffat (the Deputy Head at Parkfield School and creater of the No Outsiders project) invited me in and I have become a sort of spokesperson for the programme. I am also a Stonewall LGBT school role model and a Diversity role model.
The situation at Parkfield feels very personal for me, it crosses two very important parts of my identity – being gay and being a Muslim. It is a three pronged attack – on LGBT+ people; on Muslims with the far right picking up on and exploiting the fact that protests are majority Muslim; and on free speech in an allegedly secular and democratic society.
Gemma and Kate: What is the latest with the parent/community protests at Parkfield and other schools in Birmingham?
KQ: Parkfield had a consultation meeting with parents last week. Moffat was told by the DfE that he should not be at the meeting or speaking to the media. The No Outsiders programme has been suspended at Parkfield, and we don’t know for how long or in what form it will come back if it does.
Anderton Park protests are continuing every day. The police presence has been increased. The Head there has been very supportive of staff, but the police have had to warn teachers to carry out risk assessments as to their safety on their journeys to and from work.
G&K: What impact has this had on LGBT+ people from a Muslim background in the city? What response has there been to the protests?
KQ: I work with the social support group Finding a Voice, but also with Supporting Education of Equality and Diversity in Schools, SEEDS, which was set up in response to the protests is made up of educators, and LGBT+ campaigners. Some in the group put the emphasis on mediation and finding solutions and dialogue, and have held meetings with parents. Others want to organise counter protests and more action.
On one side I’m in agreement with counter protests, but on the other side I’m trying to work out else can be done. The DfE have given Parkfield a glowing report, but on the other hand the school have suspended the programme and the DfE has told Moffat not to speak to the media. So where do we go now? I can’t see any immediate solutions.
It is also difficult to organise counter action because, for various reasons, the majority of LGBT+ campaigners who come forward to protest are white.
Gemma: Are LGBT+ people from a Muslim background keeping their heads down, staying out of it? Are people scared?
KQ: Yes, definitely both. In Birmingham itself there is myself speaking, there is also, Saima Razzaq, and Hafsa Quershi, who works for the MoJ and is Stonewall’s Bi role model of the year – but it is really only us speaking out as LGBT+ Muslims at the moment. There are LGBT+ Muslims elsewhere speaking out, but not in Birmingham. There needs to be more people speaking out in Birmingham.
G&K: Nobody seems to be talking about the impact on students at the schools. How are the protests affecting children from Parkfield and Anderton Park?
KQ: As far as I’m aware all the conversations that have been had are with adults. We need to be looking at how this is affecting children. I was at Anderton Park school recently when protests were taking place, and you can just see children’s innocence being destroyed. Children will go home and ask their parents what is going on, what they are protesting about, and what is “homosexual”. I asked the Head at Anderton Park school about what happens the day after a protest when children and parents have been chanting and shouting at them, and she said lots of children are in tears. They are distressed and they say to her “we don’t want you to leave Miss!”. It is heart breaking, they look quite torn.
G: And some of those children will become adults who are not straight.
KQ: Yes, and this is the time when some of those children will be thinking about who they are and finding their identity. That is why programmes such as No Outsiders are so important for those children, an adult saying that it is OK and helping to prevent a whole range of mental health issues, including suicide. That fear of being an outsider, and being told that is something wrong with you and having conflicting identities. This is where conversion therapies end up gaining victims, and particularly in the south Asian community — marriages of convenience.
G&K: Why the protests now? What forces are at work here? Has there been other moves against LGBT+ people in Birmingham and in particular against LGBT+ Muslims?
When this was brought to my attention, with the particular mother at Parkfield, I thought it was one of those things that was one person’s opinion. I did not expect it to become as big a thing as it has. Where there appears to be Muslim majority populations there are protests or meetings cropping up.
The programme has been going on for four years at Parkfield with great success, there is a video with Mums looking at the books students read and giving positive comments.
But the more I’m watching and getting involved I realise there is a lot more going on behind the scenes. I was watching the Channel Four’s Unreported World about Brazil, and the language and the ideas were the same. Some of the protests in Birmingham have had platforms which included Christian Voices, who are anti-Muslim. Rabbis have been attended the protests. One of the campaigners shared a tweet by Nick Griffin.
Dr Kate Godfrey-Faussett [the controversial psychologist and advocate of conversion therapy] has had a particular influence on the protests, she is apparently the person that many of the Muslim protests are following. Many parents when interviewed are quoting her verbatim, like a broken record.
The coordination of the protests is really clever, with whatsapp chats, it is well coordinated and the propaganda is carefully targeted. The propaganda harks back to section 28. But there is plenty of parents who don’t understand what is going on, whether a language barrier or cultural barrier. If you took away some of the key protestors, some of them who are not even parents, the issue would be less.
At Anderton, the leader is called Shakeel Afsar, a young man of 31 who is not a parent and is leading the meetings. From what I understand there is a lot of harassment going on within the Muslim community.
Another thing we have overlooked is the levels of literacy of the parents themselves. If we have people, without any disrespect to the community, who have migrated from parts of the world with low levels of education and literacy due to poverty, and often a lack of challenge to religious doctrine. You have to question where these doctrines come from, if you can’t read and write how can you read about and question this religion?
Kate: the media approach has often been a simplistic clash of civilisation narrative.
KQ: Yes, when we’re sharing stories and experiences we don’t tend to look at issues inside the Muslim community itself. For example I shared my story and throughs with the local newspaper, I can handle trolls usually, but my own nephew has been putting up that I want to be famous and I’m lying. He is also from Alum Rock, are his views a product of that environment or are they personal view point?
As part of the SEEDS group we met with some of the protestors in a curry house a few weeks ago. They started talking about Prevent and targeting of Muslims. Parkfield school did include this in Powerpoints advocating No Outsiders four years ago. However if your aim is to protest Prevent, which would be fair enough, why would you target LGBT +people, all the material is about LGBT+ people. The right and Islamist organisations have grabbed this opportunity to exploit this situation.
In a bizarre way I’m kind of glad it is happening, for years I’ve been saying we need to talk about this, about religion and sexuality. It is good in some ways that the dialogue is now happening in communities. Last year I went to my former Sixth Form College, which has majority Muslim students, and I encountered students who said you can’t be gay and Muslim. It was a bit of a first for me, I usually talk to audiences that are liberal, it is like preaching to the converted.
Kate: How do you tackle talking to students about Islam and sexuality?
KQ: There can be different responses — 1. You can be gay and Muslim because I am 2. You are not here to judge, that is for Allah, 3. Is the story of Lot. I want them to offer their personal opinion about what that story is about – I encourage people to go away and reflect on the issues raised in that parable. The message is always the same throughout Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
This experience made me realise we may have been complacent, and has lit a fire in my belly, it will stay with me. If we are trying to change people’s views and attitudes we need to have these more difficult conversations. Something good may come out of this.
I just want people to remember that this is the education of a young child that people are breaking, the well being of the child has to be important more than anything. There are same-sex parents out there, heterosexual parents, thinking about how to bring their children into a better world. This is regression, and that this is nationwide – in fact global, in some ways we have become complacent but we need to continue this struggle every single day. I want to see in 20 years’ time that being LGBT+ is not an issue. I would like parents to state that “my child is LGBT+ but that is not an issue with me”.