The ongoing row over the teaching of equalities lessons which contain information about LGBT relationships shows no sign of abating.
The LGBT community, our allies and the Government all believe that the lessons must continue - and there are plenty of voices within the Muslim community who are singing from exactly the same hymn sheet...
No individual, group or community of people will emerge unscathed from the ongoing row about equalities lessons in schools.
Since February, protesters unhappy with the teaching of lessons about LGBT relationships have made their presence felt outside two predominantly Muslim inner-city Birmingham schools - Parkfield and Anderton Park.
In the main, the protesters have been Muslim, the groups made up of parents and activists. As a result of the protests outside Parkfield, the equalities programme, No Outsiders, through which children learn about LGBT relationships, was suspended while discussions took place between the school and the parents.
The programme will be reintroduced in the autumn under an amended name, No Outsiders For A Faith Community, and with various modifications having been made to the lessons.
Despite the consultations, protesters remain unhappy with the programme, claiming that it continues to be ‘heavily biased towards LGBTQ’.
Left to right: Khakan Qureshi, Saima Razzaq, Andrew Moffatt
At Anderton Park, meanwhile, an interim injunction won by Birmingham City Council ensured a trouble-free end to the summer term, with a court hearing pending to look at the case in greater detail.
The school’s head, Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, has been critical of the Government guidelines regarding equalities lessons, saying that they’re ‘too woolly’. It remains to be seen whether Boris Johnson’s sacking of Education Minister Damian Hinds, replacing him with Gavin Williamson, will bring about any change in strategy regarding Department for Education guidance.
What is clear, however, is that there are plenty of voices in the Muslim community speaking out against the protests - not only because they disagree with the stance being taken, but also because they fear the impact which a small number of religious fundamentalists may have on the standing of the community as a whole.
Saima Razzaq, the first Muslim woman to lead a Pride Parade in Britain - this year’s Birmingham Pride - and the co-chair of SEEDS (Supporting the Education of Equality and Diversity in Schools), is particularly concerned about the impact which the ongoing row is having on the female Muslim community: “We as Muslim women need to find a way to detach ourselves from this continuous male choke-hold on a narrative that sees men representing the British Muslim experience, when in fact they represent no one but themselves.”
And Saima is not alone in her concerns about the motivations behind the protests. Khakan Qureshi, a gay Muslim activist who runs Birmingham South Asians LGBT and who led the Birmingham Pride Parade alongside Saima, believes that the Muslim community as a whole is not homophobic, but feels that a minority of protesters are ‘agitating’.
“The attitudes of the protesters towards the No Outsiders programme is completely homophobic,” he told the BBC. “No matter how they package it, it still comes across as homophobic.”
Stench of hypocrisy
Khakan’s view is shared by Muna Adil, who works for Quilliam International, the world’s first counter-extremism organisation. “The stench of hypocrisy is unmissable,” she says. “The vitriolic hate espoused by these parents has somehow managed to disguise itself as victimhood. Their claim is that the promotion of LGBT awareness is ‘exploiting children’s innocence’. But what about the fundamentalist Muslim agenda that aggressively pushes the notion that homosexuality is sinful? What about its repercussions on gay Muslim kids who will be forced to repress their identities forever if they wish to remain part of their communities?”
Support has also come from leading Muslim charity Tell MAMA, whose spokesperson told Metro.co.uk: “The actions against an LGBTQ programme in Birmingham take a ‘pick and mix’ approach to equalities, which is not acceptable.”
Meanwhile, the Church of England is to provide support for its schools to help them deliver the new relationship education required by the Government from 2020, including teaching on LGBT relationships and families.
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