by LAUREN CODLING
LGBT+ Asians have spoken of their concern for fellow members of the community after protests against a school programme which teaches children about same-sex relationships.
In recent months, some parents have criticised the No Outsiders programme which teaches pupils about diversity and equality, as well as LGBT+ issues.
Many parents have held rallies outside Birmingham’s Parkfield Community School in protest against the lessons.
Some withdrew their children from the school, claiming the material “undermined parental rights and aggressively promoted homosexuality”.
Five schools in the city have stopped teaching about same-sex relationships since the debate began.
Despite the protests, earlier this month education secretary Damian Hinds wrote to headteachers and encouraged them to teach LGBT+ issues to pupils if they were “age appropriate”.
Hinds said consulting parents was important for schools, but added: “I want to reassure you and the members you represent that consultation does not provide a parental veto on curriculum content.”
Khakan Qureshi, the founder of Birmingham South Asians LGBT, spoke about his worry that the protests could potentially stop people from being open about their sexuality.
“Just when I thought we were making strides, I feel this has taken us a step back or two,” he told Eastern Eye last week.
“For a number of people about to step forward, this has taken them back into the closet, which is unfortunate.”
Referring to content under the No Outsiders programme, Qureshi said some protesting parents had not even read the resources. For instance, his sister informed him that other mothers had told her the material was “very explicit”.
“It isn’t – it is user friendly, it is very simplified,” he argued. “It just has references to two mummies and two daddies. I asked if she or any other mothers had read the books, and she said no. People are protesting, and they don’t know what they’re protesting about.”
In his opinion, those from the Muslim community who have objected to the lessons are alienating themselves. With the rise of Islamophobia across the country, non-Muslims may assume the community is “backward” due to the protests.
Qureshi, who is from a Muslim background himself, said it was an ongoing battle for the LGBT+ community and more progressive Muslims who have to challenge this representation.
Growing up, Qureshi initially denied his sexuality and now wishes he had had access to a similar programme to No Outsiders as a child.
“For years, the BAME community or those with disabilities had no representation in the media, and it is only recently we have had that,” Qureshi, from Birmingham, said.
“It is good to have that conversation with children – we want to allow them to express themselves at that age.”
Asad Dhunna, founder of the Unmistakables, echoed his sentiment. He believes the protests threaten to undermine the progress LGBT+ rights have made.
Speaking to Eastern Eye, Dhunna says the impact would be most strongly felt among LGBT+ people from ethnic minority backgrounds.
“Young Muslim LGBT+ people will be more scared than ever to speak out about challenges they are having with their sexuality,” said Dhunna, who is also the director of communications for Pride in London. “What protests like these do is breed a culture of fear, and a dangerous
groupthink mentality will push away some of the most vulnerable young people from the community.”
Dhunna stressed that schools and governments should be questioning the validity of the protests and” getting to grips with the potentially irreparable damage” which could occur if the curriculum did acknowledge, or accept, the lives of millions of LGBT+ people in the UK.
According to Afshan D’souza-Lodhi, editor-in-chief of the Common Sense Network, the protests have “endangered” the lives of LGBT+ people.
Although efforts have been made to make things safer for LGBT+ communities, D’souza-Lodhi said many young gay people are becoming homeless and have the highest attempted suicide rate in the UK because they do not feel accepted.
According to a government survey in February, LGBT+ respondents were less satisfied with their life than the general UK population. At least two in five had experienced verbal harassment or physical violence in the last 12 months.
“This isn’t just a question of should we allow young children to be educated on different kinds of relationships. This has become a question about whether or not LGBT+ people should be treated with the same respect as everyone else,” D’souza-Lodhi, from Manchester, told Eastern Eye on Monday (15).
“We can teach about LGBT+ relationships without having to turn to sex. In fact, in order to teach children that LGBT+ relationships are ‘wrong’, you would have to explain sex and have uncomfortable conversations.”
Asked if ethnic groups are more accepting of the LGBT+ community, Qureshi admitted that though some were liberal, there remained “a harder-edged approach from a lot of Muslims”.
“I still know people from the ethnic community who are gay in their social circles, but when they go home, they don’t discuss it because of fear of reprisals and abuse,” he said.
D’souza-Lodhi noted there was still progress to be made, but it was not just ethnic groups who had work to do.
“The fact that these protesters are being entertained and schemes like the No Outsiders programme nationally are being suspended just shows this is a wider issue than the BAME communities,” she said.
Paul Twocock, executive director of campaigns and strategy for LGBT+ charity Stonewall, said it was “vital” to ensure all children from LGBT+ families felt welcome and included in school.
“We work with hundreds of schools – including 600 church and faith schools through the support of the government – to embed support for them to tackle anti-LGBT+ bullying and deliver LGBT+-inclusive teaching,” he said. “There is plenty of best practice to draw on where education at all ages is LGBT+ inclusive without detracting from the faith ethos of a school
or the children who attend it.”
In a report last month, the school watchdog Ofsted deemed the lessons “appropriate”, adding that there was no evidence the curriculum was not being taught in an age-appropriate manner.