A primary school in Birmingham has become gripped in the midst of a row which has pitted the LGBT community against religious conservatives. Parkfield Primary School has come under fire from Muslim parents who object to the school’s programme of teaching pupils about gender, sexual orientation, same-sex relationships and that discrimination against these groups is wrong. Unfortunately, parents have responded with anger to this programme, pulling their children out of school and staging loud and hateful protests outside the school gates. Faced with tremendous pressure from parents the school was forced to suspend the teaching this material.
This entire row is a truly terrifying prospect, and not just for the LGBT community. Firstly, the rhetoric of the protests was nothing short of homophobic and discriminatory. Videos posted online show a speaker at the protests declaring that schools are “aggressively promoting” the homosexual lifestyle and “indoctrinating” their children by giving it a “positive spin and telling people that it is ok for you to be Muslim and be gay”. Following this the speaker then encourages the crowd to repeatedly chant “Shame! Shame! Shame!” after which the large crowd of men, women and even children, readily comply, conjuring up chilling images reminiscent of a Jim Crow mob.
It is one thing to value religious freedom, but its another to openly violate the law and discriminate against disadvantaged communities. As it stands, it is a legal requirement to teach children that the LGBT community exists and that they shouldn’t be treated any differently to anyone else. It is an outright lie that schools are encouraging children to become gay or change their gender. They are simply teaching them about a community which for some of them they will one day be a part of. It is the equivalent of teaching children that boys and girls are the same and deserve equal treatment and opportunities. Or that the colour of our skin should not determine how we are treated. Furthermore, this issue is not just limited to Muslim families. As it stands religious conservatives from the Christian, Jewish and Sikh faiths have all voiced their vocal support for the protesters and have called for the teaching of LGBT equality and issues to be banned from schools. These groups hide behind the excuse that they are protecting their children from what they view as unnecessary sexual and immoral education, by claiming that they wouldn’t want their kids to be taught about heterosexual relationships either. The truth is plain as day that they simply want their children to grow up with as little acknowledgment, understanding, or acceptance of the LGBT community as possible.
This is clearly done with the intention to prevent their children from coming out, but what makes this protest all the more worrying is the fact that these parents clearly don’t understand that some of their children will grow up to become members of the LGBT community. It’s not a question, it’s a fact. And these disgusting and hateful protests simply highlight how a generation of young people will suffer serious developmental, mental, and emotional issues as they grow up gay or transgender in a homophobic household.
On this issue there is no debate about what the response must be. From a young age we are taught about how our gender and race does not change the fact that we are all equal. The same must apply to LGBT people. Many right-wing pundits have voiced support for the parents arguing that teaching about sexual orientation has no place in schools, and that schools only exist to teach children facts, not morals. Morals should be reserved for parents to teach their children. This line of argument, however, is wrong and displays a distinct tone of ignorance at how civil liberties become enshrined in society. Had schools not taught children about gender and racial equality, I would have little faith that all parents from all backgrounds of society would install these morals within their children.
In fact, the stereotypes and stigmas of many parents would almost certainly be passed down instead. Some pundits have suggested that LGBT rights is still a recent subject and is not yet ready to be taught in schools, whereas gender and racial equality are firmly routed in our society. To that I’d say that LGBT rights will never become the norm if religious conservatives are left to teach their children their own outdated view of morality, especially as we see shocking scenes such as parents enacting hateful and homophobic protests, picketing schools, and bullying teachers into submission. It is therefore of the utmost imperative that politicians, teachers and activists stand firm and support Parkland Primary School and reaffirm their liberal values.
Time after time liberalism and religious conservatism clash. And time after time the conservatives are proven wrong. They were wrong on gender equality, they were wrong on abortion, they were wrong on same-sex marriage, and they’re wrong now. History will prove so.
Religion should never be allowed to obstruct public policy, especially when it denies citizens their civil liberties, and could potentially cause children emotional trauma in the future. Politicians must not be afraid to denounce conservatives from all religions and protect the civil liberties which protect us all.
Much like gender and race, LGBT equality still has a long way to go. We must remain vigilant.