Updated: Mar 20, 2019
I grew up in the 1980s and 90s - a dark time for LGBTQ people. Section 28 [Find out more] prohibited any mention of anything remotely LGBTQ in school - to the extent teachers would face disciplinary action even if offering one-on-one advice to kids. Kids and teachers were openly homophobic. In fact, back then it was quite acceptable to be homophobic but entirely unacceptable to be LGBTQ.
Fast forward a couple of decades and the very opposite is now true, within most british cultures at least. Phew.
You've probably heard all about the controversy surrounding Parkfield School in Birmingham, UK by now, right? If not, here's the general gist. I do apologise if my version of events is in any way misinformed - I'm consolidating several news articles from various perspectives here.
So. An award-winning teacher at a state primary school in Saltey, Birmingham called Andrew Moffat designed a lesson plan, 'No Outsiders'. We've been big supporters of Andrew Moffat MBE for some years - he's a trailblazer in LGBTQ awareness in schools. Anyway, the lessons introduce his pupils to concepts of inclusivity and inclusion. The lesson plan is reported to cover several aspects of diversity including race, religion, gender identity and, crucially, sexuality including gay people and same-sex families.
Meanwhile, a large group of concerned (dare I say homophobic) parents took objection to the LGBTQ segment of the lesson plan and distributed propaganda in the form of leaflets among local residents. When the No Outsiders sessions continued, some 600 parents staged weekly protests outside the school, causing an enormous disruption and sparking some rather unfortunate debates online. The parents held up placards like, "Say no to promoting of homosexuality and LGBT ways of life to our children". To make matters worse, the parents then began to illegally remove their children from the school.
This is happening now, by the way, in 2019, not 1989. Section 28 has long been screwed up and thrown into the flaming bin of antiquated homophobic trash from the past where it belongs.
Anyway, according to The Guardian [original article here], Parkfield School issued the following statement:
“Nothing is more important than ensuring our children’s education continues uninterrupted.
“Both parents and the trust held constructive discussions with the regional schools commissioner, and, as a result of these discussions, we are eager to continue to work together with parents over the coming days and weeks to find a solution that will support the children in our school to continue their education in a harmonious environment.
“Until a resolution has been reached, No Outsiders lessons will not be taught at Parkfield and we hope that children will not be removed from school to take part in protests.”
To confuse matters, the school also suggested that No Outsider lessons were already postponed until next term, regardless of the actions of the army of protesting parents. I don't know if that's true or just a PR move to distract from the protests and controversy, who knows.
Anyway, Ofsted weighed in on the situation by clearing the school of any wrongdoing, praising Parkfield’s record on promoting “tolerance, acceptance and mutual respect” and confirming its Ofsted rating of “outstanding”. Good.
Is anybody else sensing some mixed messages here? As a concerned gay dad, let me explain my thoughts on all this.
Homophobia disguised as 'concern'
I just wanted to clear something up. A parent has every right to be concerned about their child's education. I myself feel particularly concerned around Mothering Sunday, about how the school might involve the boys to ensure they don't feel excluded or different. Other parents might have concerns about splitting classes into sets based on academic understanding. Me too, actually. But, those concerns are reasonable and centered around the child's wellbeing.
People are brought up with prejudice, usually about people outside their version of normal. Their prejudice might be handed down through religious teachings, or through generations of families, friends, the media, traditions. I know that - I used to go to church - I'm not daft.
Lets get back to prejudice basics. Prejudice against LGBTQ people is homophobia. In exactly the same way prejudice against women is sexism and prejudice against people of colour is racism. But, the media is generally very nervous about calling out homophobia when it occurs, even when it's staring them right in the face like this. Let's be clear - these parents are acting through homophobia, be it because of their religious views or whatever. I mean, isn't this the whole reason these lesson plans existed in the first place? To cut through prejudice about minorities. And that brings me on to...
Parents enforcing their own prejudice onto the wider community
The Parkfield parents feel they need to protect their children and all the other children at the school from talking about the existence of LGBTQ people. We (our readers, friends and families) know there's nothing wrong with LGBTQ people - in fact, we're fabulous (usually).
So, the reason the Parkfield parents feel children should be protected from LGBTQ is they collectively think we're wrong, inappropriate or some kind of 'lifestyle choice' their kids might choose as a result of these lessons. This is inherently wrong. We know this because LGBTQ people have always existed throughout every community, country, race, religion and age-group and we didn't have inclusivity lessons at school - Section 28 made sure of that. So it stands to reason their children are no more likely to 'turn out' gay, lesbian or whatever by hearing about us.
In my humble opinion, these parents should not be allowed to enforce their prejudice against LGBTQ people onto the wider community.
It's not age-appropriate
The Parkfield protesters complain their kids are 'too young' or it's not 'age appropriate' to talk about LGBTQ. But think about it, there's no age-rating system when it comes to love and families. I was three when I knew I didn't fancy girls like everybody else. Our boys were four when we adopted them. It is perfectly fine to talk about LGBTQ people with children, whatever age.
LGBTQ children exist
This is a bit of a taboo for some reason. Maybe it's people confusing LGBTQ with sex or maybe it's good old fashioned british prudishness. Who knows, whatever.
In every classroom right from year one up until GCSE years and beyond, there are LGBTQ children, sat there at their desks, looking up at the teacher, pencil in hand. Probably feeling quite scared and lost I would imagine. I was one. So was Tom and his brother and his brother's fiance and hundreds of thousands of other children.
My biggest 'concern' throughout this debacle with Parkfield Primary is their pupils, and of course children with LGBTQ parents, like our boys. What kind of message is this sending to those children? On one hand you have the british version of Westboro Baptist Church standing outside school in their hundreds with homophobic placards and signs. On the other hand the school have 'postponed' the inclusive lessons which will probably leave all the kids a little baffled about what's going on. For the sake of the children, I really hope the lessons continue.
With all this in mind, I believe the Parkfield Protesting Parents (that has a nice ring to it, actually) are simply impelling their prejudice about LGBTQ (probably mainly gay people I expect) onto the wider community and the school appear to have surrendered - temporarily at least. I'll be keeping a close eye on this, and reporting back to you after Easter.