If you are uncomfortable with your child being told about LGBT+ people, then you are being homophobic

Not talking about LGBT+ people doesn’t make these people disappear. Erasing our existence from the curriculum will only serve to stigmatise LGBT+ children

Labour MP Shabana Mahmood suggested 'LGBT acceptance lessons' were not 'age appropriate' for primary school'

The dispute over LGBT+ lessons in primary schools has continued to gather pace this week. Following protests by parents at Parkfield Primary School in Birmingham, four more schools in the city have stopped teaching lessons about diversity and LGBT+ issues due to parental complaints. Leigh Trust school has said it will also be suspending the No Outsiders project, which teaches tolerance of diverse groups.

To be clear, the No Outsiders project has nothing to do with sex education, it merely informs children of the existence of LGBT+ people. As part of this project, pupils are taught about the positive values of diversity, tolerance and acceptance, in a wide-ranging curriculum encompassing LGBT+ rights, same-sex relationships, gender identity, race and religion. Ofsted inspectors have deemed the lessons “age-appropriate”.

Tensions were escalated by an intervention from local Labour MP Shabana Mahmood, who appeared to side with parents opposing the lessons. This prompted a hailstorm of interventions from other MPs, including neighbouring Labour MP Jess Phillips, who supported the LGBT+ lessons. A minority of local residents then took to the streets, reportedly chanting that homosexuality was unnatural. Leaflets were distributed discussing the sexuality of assistant headteacher Andrew Moffat, who co-authored the No Outsiders project.

Now Tory MP Andrea Leadsom has got involved. Speaking to LBC’s Nick Ferrari, Leadsom said it was "absolutely right" parents should be able to withdraw their children up to a certain age from LGBT+ classes. She said parents should get to decide when their children "become exposed to that information".

Leadsom’s use of the word exposed, as if LGBT+ people are some kind of toxic radiation, goes to the heart of why this “debate” has become so troubling. It reveals, with distressing and devastating clarity, just how little understanding there still is among heterosexual people about the LGBT+ existence. It also shows that this isn’t just an issue confined to any one faith – intolerance thrives across society.

The culture war over LGBT+ lessons in these schools is an example of why schools should never be forced to concede to intolerance or homophobia. Because, to avoid any doubt, that’s exactly what this is. If you are uncomfortable with your child being told about LGBT+ people – just the fact that we exist in the world – then you are being homophobic. It is really that simple.

It is telling that the very people who insist children can’t “understand” same-sex relationships are often the ones to ask five-year-old boys if they “have a girlfirend yet” or encourage their children to watch Disney films about heterosexual romances. The longer this information is kept from children, the more taboo it becomes. Just because parents don’t want to understand same-sex relationships certainly doesn’t mean their children are incapable of doing so.

Each school in the UK has some LGBT+ pupils and likely some same-sex parents too. These are facts of life. To allow individual schools to protest this curriculum opens the door, as we have seen, for others to protest. It reminds people like me of the dark ages of Section 28, where my gay existence was forcefully erased from schools. It is also a reminder of the fragility of the rights we’ve fought so hard for, given that a vocal minority can take them away so quickly.

Not talking about LGBT+ people doesn’t make these people disappear. I certainly knew I was gay in primary school. My parents knew too. Erasing our existence from the curriculum will only serve to sigmatise LGBT+ children, damage their mental health and ensure that the next generation grow up more vulnerable.

It is not fair that children in some areas will be deprived, while others will reap the benefits, of these valuable lessons. Teachers across the UK need to feel empowered and confident that they can mention LGBT+ people in the classroom. This protects us. For example, how will children be protected from anti-LGBT+ bullying, if even mentioning gay people becomes an issue?

Children are taught in school to respect different religions from a young age. Pupils aren’t taught to follow religions, but simply taught about their values and why we should respect those who subscibe to them. LGBT+ inclusion lessons won’t turn children gay, just like Religious Education lessons didn’t turn me into a Buddhist or a Muslim. They simply educate people about those who do.

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Though, crucially, this isn’t just about LGBT+ children – it’s about everyone. It benefits heterosexual children to learn that gay people are nothing to be scared of. In the long run, it’ll benefit their children, but their parents too if they grow up to challenge their outdated views.

But that is precisely what this opposition is about: maintaining a system of silence that suppresses and damages LGBT+ people. In these schools, we are seeing what happens when rights collide. For now, it appears that the rights of homophobic parents are being prioritised over powerless children.

LGBT+ children deserve to know they aren’t shameful and that they are normal human beings. In a world still dominated by heterosexuality, saying nothing is a form of neglect. Section 28 might be behind us, but this row shows that the battle for LGBT+ inclusion in schools is far from over.

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