In a week where British politics went into apocalyptic freefall, you might be forgiven for missing this comparatively less significant nugget of parliamentary debate. (Mustn’t mention the B word… mustn’t mention the B word…) The dire and unsettling situation that we are all drowning in is all-consuming and as such, some stories pop up here and there for a short time only to later disappear into the Brexit mire, never to be seen again. (Only one paragraph in and I’ve succumbed, damned Brexit) But for myself, and I hope others, this particular story needs to be put under the spot light and it is essential that what is being attacked, is defended.
The situation that arose at first in Birmingham and then more recently in Manchester surrounding the teaching of LGBT awareness in schools has been given moderate coverage in the media in recent months. In case you’d not been following the story, several schools in Birmingham created a stir when rolling out their ‘No Outsiders’ programme. The programme is premised on the fact that, a far cry from the 2.4 children model taught in sociology, families and specifically their composition from one to the next vary as widely as what they eat for their tea. Some have a mum and a dad. Some are fronted by a single Mum or a single Dad. Whilst others feature two mums or two dads. And everything else in between.
‘No Outsiders’ however has been met with anger among some parents in Birmingham who challenge its ethos and have opted to remove their children from classes on the basis that they do not ascribe to their values and/or beliefs. Consequently, the programme has been shelved until resolution with parents can be reached. Last week, the profile of the debate was raised when Andrea Leadsom, whilst being interview by LBC, appeared to support the position of these parents. Whilst paradoxically claiming that she supported programmes such as ‘No Outsiders’, she went on to qualify this by saying that it was the prerogative of parents to choose when their children are ‘exposed to this information’. Interesting choice of language there, Andrea.
As a mother of two children (who happens to be married to a woman with whom I share said children), I find this debacle, and its apparent support by a leading politician, so tragically sad and hurtful. Children raised by same sex couples are largely excluded from mainstream popular culture aimed at children. Whilst soaps are all over same sex and trans relationships, which is wonderful, in my two and a half years of being tortured by Peppa Pig for instance, I don’t recall ever being introduced to an LGBT character or family. (The writers are clearly missing a trick with Miss Rabbit. That woman has so many different identities, surely she’d be an ideal candidate?) Mummy Shark is of course followed by Daddy Shark in that irritating and addictive little ditty – and so on and so forth. I don’t oppose or challenge this in anyway – it is just fact.
It does mean, however, that if not discussed in the home, some children may be completely oblivious to families that are different from their own. These families exist; just like algebra, the periodic table and the Tudors and Stewarts. To censor what children are privy to on moral grounds by allowing parents to withdraw children from lessons is worrying, divisive and dangerous.
The furore on display in the face of the ‘No Outsiders’ programme is founded upon, in my view, a number of monumental errors of judgment. The first, and most upsetting for me, is the assumption that the teaching around LGBT families is in any way connected to sex. Its opponents, I can only imagine, envisage a class of 7 year olds huddled around a screen watching the Village People provide a whistle stop tour of butt plugs, gimp masks and all manner of assumed quintessentially homosexual paraphernalia. On the contrary, OFSTED requires that such teachings are age appropriate. It is about the introduction to children of the notion that families are different. They come in different shapes and sizes. But despite their differences, the one common ground, the fabric that runs through each, is just love. It is that simple.
The second, and I have to admit quite amusing misconception that these individuals harbour is the assumption that all LGBT folk are in some way desperate to ‘recruit’ the young. Just stick a clip board in their hands and put them in town centres freezing their tits off in high vis and they’ll enrol anyone into their club. Far from it, the majority of us just want a quiet life.
If Andrea Leadsom is right and the repeal of Section 28 (dark ages legislation that forbade the ‘promotion’ of LGBT themes in schools – it was repealed in 2003) caveated by parental approval, the effect is such a painful pill for parents such as myself to swallow. Children are by their very nature inquisitive. When I went to school in the 90s, the nit nurse thought nothing of singling out poor ol’ nitty Nora and making the poor lass stand aside from the rest of the class scratching at her lice ravaged scalp for dear life. Watching on from the ‘nit-free’ queue, you were fascinated by Nora and her nits and wanted to know why she was taken aside. For what reason? It will break my heart into a million pieces if I ever have to explain to my children that one of their friends was in fact singled out and taken out of class as their parents did not want them to be ‘exposed’ to families like ours.
Our children are our life. We make banana pancakes together. We go to swimming lessons. We have time out when they’re dicking about and refusing to put their shoes on. We go to soft play and get our knickers in a twist when the play dough colours get mixed up. Our fridge doors are an overcrowded monstrosity, awash with art work (god, what are you supposed to do with it all?!), dentist appointments and letters from nursery reminding us about World Book Day. We put our children first in absolutely everything we do and fiercely protect them from things that we think may cause them harm.
Whilst on some level I can relate to the primal protective instinct that those parents who oppose LGBT education experience, I cannot ever accept that harm can come from telling children that families such as ours exist.