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I did not spend half my youth marching against homophobia just to sit back now when I see it, shrug my shoulders and write a column about the snow. As I am sat at my kitchen table tapping at my keyboard, my heart is marching around my kitchen, holding a placard and chanting: “We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!”
This week Andrew Moffat, a primary teacher in a Birmingham school, is receiving a backlash from parents who object to his very sensible No Outsiders programme which promotes tolerance and understanding of LGBT+ people, and which he’s written about for The Independent.
Shockingly, today some people still seem to think that being tolerant of LGBT+ people is all about sex. You can almost hear them: “Gay sex? You wanna teach primary school children about gay sex?”
As though children are sat down around a TV set to watch porn for a lesson. Sex is all that seems to be on the minds of those who stress they don’t want it “rammed down their throat”.
Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) is so important for primary aged children, and education around LGBT+ issues under this umbrella is vital.
Inclusion of LGBT+ rights as part of SRE teaches children that there are families which differ from the “mummy and daddy” norm. Children ask questions from the moment they learn to string a sentence together. My son was four when he asked me: “Can boys marry boys?”
“Yes,” I told him.
“Good,” he said. “Cos I’m gonna marry Spider-Man”
That’s it. Children don’t need details. They are the most naturally accepting and non-judgemental group of humans on the planet, and we teach them intolerance only when we lead by example; when, say, we yank them out of school when they are learning that not all people are the same.
The law established equal rights to LGBT+ people, but it can only do so much. Culturally, we still have a long way to go.
One mother, Fatima Shah, initially took her 10-year-old daughter out of the school because of Moffat’s No Outsiders programme and said: “We don’t send our children to school to learn about LGBT+, we send them to school to learn maths, science and English.”
She then gift-wrapped her protest for Islamophobes by adding: “Children are being told it’s OK to be gay yet 98 per cent of children at this school are Muslim. It’s a Muslim community.”
Actually, a quick glance on Twitter will tell you that those most ghastly Islamophobes seem to be rabidly homophobic too. In that case Shah must be blowing their minds as they find themselves agreeing with a Muslim. Every cloud, I suppose.
I wonder if Shah would have understood if I had taken my children out of school on similar grounds the day their class visited a mosque? “We are an atheist family!” I could have declared. “They go to school to do PE, geography and learn to swear. They do not go to school to have the five pillars of Islam rammed down their throat.”
What would she have thought of me if I had said that? We need to take homophobia as seriously as other kinds of bigotry. We are still not doing so and people suffer because of it.
I’ll be honest, I have been known to grumble to the other mums at the school gate when the children are being taken to yet another jaunt around a place of worship. They are not my beliefs, they are not the beliefs I’m raising them with. I would rather they were learning some good poetry or how to pick a lock, but that doesn’t put me in the right.
Their school is not terribly diverse, it is mostly middle class and white and for the few Muslim kids in the school, it’s a good thing that their way of life is being talked about and valued by godless children like mine. (I’ll leave moaning about the lack of Humanist education at schools for another time.)
Things were different in the 1980s. I remember a Jewish friend who was very quiet about her religion at school. Antisemetism went largely unchallenged back then in education. One boy called us “the Paki and the Jew” in front of a teacher who tutted and just told him to “pipe down”. The Sikh kid in the topknot at primary school had to endure rambunctious boys pulling at it in the playground and teachers merely regarding that as playground rough-and-tumble.
Whether Shah likes it or not, within her children’s school, there will be some who will come out later as LGBT+. Her attitude makes life harder for those kids and is exactly what teachers like Moffat are protecting them from. When tolerance is not taught at home, it’s the school’s duty to promote it. All the children will be out and about in society when they are adults, and it causes all sorts of bother for all of us when people have been taught not to accept others who are different to them.
Children learning in school that LGBT+ folk exist and have the same rights, is no different than learning about Diwali, Eid or Darwin.