LGBT+ group have tried to build bridges with protesting parents who helped shut down same-sex relationship classes

Eleanor Busby
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LGBT+ group have tried to build bridges with protesting parents who helped shut down same-sex relationship classes

An LGBT+ group with hundreds of members is attempting to build bridges with protesting parents who have helped to shut down lessons on same-sex relationships in primary schools.

“We are both dealing with phobias – homophobia, transphobia and Islamophobia,” Ann Sawyer, the founder of the new online campaign, told The Independent.

The group, made up of LGBT+ educational professionals, was set up in the wake of protests against the “No Outsiders” programme in schools, where pupils learn about same-sex couples through picture books.

Protests outside Parkfield Community School in Birmingham – where lessons on LGBT+ rights were introduced by headteacher Andrew Moffat four years ago – were held once again on Thursday.

A placard saying “Adam and Eve. Not Adam and Steve” was seen at a recent demonstration despite the suspension of No Outsiders at Parkfield and four other schools across the city.

But Ms Saywer, a teaching assistant who launched Supporting Education of Equality and Diversity in Schools (Seeds), does not believe the homophobia is reflective of parents in the Islamic community.

Members of the LGBT+ group ate with parents and community leaders who have concerns about the programme and Ms Sawyer, a transgender woman, said she was treated with “utmost respect”.

She said: “A lot of the protests appear to be from people who are not parents at the school [Parkfield Community]. People with other agendas are coming in and stoking things up.”

Members of the Christian and Muslim community are due to meet in Birmingham on Saturday evening to oppose reforms to the relationships and sex education (RSE) curriculum.

Representatives from Seeds are planning to give out leaflets at the event to ensure their voices are heard. “Dialogue is the only way out of this,” Ms Saywer said.

The recent attacks on mosques in the city has made Ms Sawyer even more motivated to set up future meetings with concerned parents. She said: “We are both the victims of something bigger.”

Khakan Qureshi, who runs the Birmingham South Asians LGBT+ group, is also a member of Seeds. He told The Independent that he has been left “frustrated” by the same rhetoric.

“The ‘we're not homophobic but’ undertones has lost its credibility. We can't be educating about equality and bowing down to bigotry,” Mr Qureshi said.

But he is open to more meetings with the protesters, adding that he believes in “breaking the shackles of the ‘traditional’ mindset to move forward”.

The group, which is mainly focused on Birmingham, hopes to expand into other areas in the UK.

Some schools in Greater Manchester have been approached by parents who are worried about the government’s plans to make lessons about same-sex relationship compulsory at primary school.

A motion to reform RSE in English schools – which includes teaching LGBT+ issues – was delayed this week after Conservative MP Philip Davies objected to it.

Amelia Lee, strategic director of The Proud Trust, an LGBT+ youth charity based in Manchester, said she supported the LGBT+ community “building bridges” with parents across the country.

She said: “Often the reason why parents are objecting to LGBT+ inclusion is because they have not had the opportunity to look at the resources and lesson plans. When they have a chance to see and hear about what is really being taught, often their fears are averted.

“As a Catholic and lesbian myself, I understand that sometimes people feel these are difficult conversations to have. There are LGBT+ people in every faith and LGBT+ allies in every faith.

“It is important we have places to explore this and to ensure people are not bullied or excluded from any of their communities. Islamophobia and LGBT+phobia are equally abhorrent.”

Mr Moffat, who has been at the centre of the LGBT+ row at Parkfield School, will find out whether he has won one of the world’s top teaching awards for the No Outsiders programme on Sunday.

The winner of Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize will be announced in an event in Dubai.