Growing up gay and Muslim, I know I would have benefited. Parkfield school should continue its ‘No Outsiders’ programme
Parkfield community school in Birmingham has found itself in the headlines once again after protests against its No Outsiders lessons. The protests by the school’s largely Muslim parent body garnered a lot of coverage and raised a fundamental question: how can inclusive education reach every child when many households of faith remain deeply opposed?
No Outsiders is a teaching package designed for primary school children. The lessons cover gender, sexual orientation and the idea that discrimination is wrong. Andrew Moffat, the author of the package and assistant headteacher of Parkfield, had been trialling the resource at the school when the controversy erupted.
Up to 600 pupils were reported to have been temporarily withdrawn from the school by their parents. More than 1,700 parents have signed a petition against the lessons. Local MPs Liam Byrne and Shabana Mahmood have been championing the views of the petitions’ supporters, demanding the right for parents to opt out their children. Their comments and the decision to stop the lessons have sparked fury on social media.
I found myself browsing the comments with trepidation. I grew up gay in a Muslim household. I was opted out of sex education at the same age as the children of Parkfield, and I could easily imagine myself as any one of them.
To be frank, for me, growing up gay and Muslim was bleak. I was raised to believe that my desires were unnatural. I was fed homophobic myths about HIV and “the gay lifestyle”. I was starved of gay role models or evidence that being gay could be anything but miserable.
It’s not a story unique to Muslim households. Nor is it one that is universal to all Muslims. I know LGBT Muslims warmly accepted by their families as well as people of no faith cast out by their parents. Those attempting to use this case as a weapon against Muslims are speaking out of ignorance. And, more importantly, they do nothing to help young people in households like mine.
Indeed, protests against LGBT-inclusive education have attracted a coalition of different faiths and those with conservative viewpoints. This coalition took to Westminster in February to oppose the government’s suggestion that LGBT inclusive personal, social and health education be rolled out. Waving banners demanding “Let Parents Choose”, they’re fighting for the status quo: a patchy, inconsistent approach across the country, with so many young people not learning that being LGBT is OK. What a healthy relationship is. What safe sex looks like.
We know the consequences. Recent research by Stonewall has shown that more than half of LGBT people have experienced depression in the last year, and three in five anxiety. Over half of BAME LGBT people report not being able to be open about their gender identity or sexual orientation to their family. Against that background, educating pupils to treat each other with kindness and acceptance is vitally important.
LGBT kids at Parkfield school deserve to be supported in who they are and to learn about their rights. Just as parents have the right to explain their faith and values. The society we live in thrives on a plurality of opinion and the freedom of everyone to choose the life and beliefs that are right for them.
How we move on from Parkfield is key. The government pledged to make relationships and sex education compulsory in secondary schools in 2017. Scotland has already promised to embed LGBT-inclusive education in the curriculum.
The government recently concluded a consultation on what inclusive education should look like. Backsliding to satisfy a coalition of conservative activists would let another generation of young LGBT people down. Researchers such as Dr Anna Carlile have done fantastic work showing how LGBT-inclusive education can be shaped to win over communities of faith. It’s vital that local MPs like Byrne and Mahmood listen to evidence like hers – and voices like mine, too.
• Benali Hamdache is a campaigner and co-chair of LGBTIQA+ Greens. The fee for this article will be donated to the UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group