Andrea Leadsom has denied claims she opposes LGBT education in schools, after saying parents should decide when their children are “exposed” to information about gay relationships.
The leader of the House of Commons came under fire on Tuesday after she told LBC that families should be able to withdraw children from lessons about LGBT relationships “up to a certain age”.
“I think it is right that government should have passed legislation that requires that relationships and sex education is taught in schools, but at the same time, I also agree that it is right that parents should be able to choose the moment at which their children become exposed to that information,” Leadsom told presenter Nick Ferrari.
But the Tory MP said she was a “massive supporter” of Conservative Party efforts to achieve equality for LGBT communities, saying that all children must be given the lessons at a certain point “in order to have an equal society”.
“It is absolutely vital that children do grow up understanding the society that they live in and that they grow up tolerant and seeking equality and respecting differences,” she said.
Leadsom added later: “For many parents – myself included – I would be extremely happy for my children to grow up finding that their LGBT classmates are exactly the same as them.”
One of her own children was in a class with a child who had two mums and “that was absolutely normal right from a young age”, she said.
Following criticism of her interview on social media, the former Conservative leadership candidate shared a tweet calling her a “staunch supporter of LGBT education in schools”, saying it was “absolutely right”.
But Lib Dem education spokesperson Layla Moran said Leadsom should “apologise immediately”, calling her choice of language “unacceptable”.
“What she refers to as being ‘exposed to that information’ is in fact children being educated. Which is exactly what our schools are there to do, and are being taught to understand and be respectful of all individuals, families and relationships,” Moran said.
“Andrea Leadsom’s comment comes across as nothing short of bigoted and offensive.”
Meanwhile, Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle called on Theresa May to condemn Leadsom’s choice of words, accusing her of “dog-whistle politics”.
“Will she condemn bigots who don’t want LGBT people to be heard in schools?” he asked during PMQs.
The PM said she would write to him with the guidance given to schools about sex and relationships education.
Leadsom’s interview comes amid a row about LGBT lessons for children, with several schools in Birmingham having stopped teaching pupils about gay rights following complaints from parents.
At one school, 600 children were reportedly taken out of school for a day in protest over the classes, with parents arguing the curriculum “promotes” same-sex relationships.
The Commons leader later said: “As I said this morning, it is vital that every child is taught about the need for tolerance and respect, at home and in school, and that they demonstrate these values towards LGBT individuals at all times.
“I believe wholeheartedly in equality and ensuring children grow up accepting and respecting the diversity that shapes our country. government policy allows parents to choose when their child takes part in sex education lessons of all kind, up until the age of 15.
“This unacceptable and deliberate misrepresentation of my views will have genuinely hurt my own LGBT friends and family, as well as the wider LGBT community.”