Like many people, I witnessed instances of homophobia painfully early. Slurs copied from crap films, cruel playground speculations formed from ignorance and a dull-eyed fear of difference.
High school brought further viciousness, with the enthusiastic, obsessive hounding of those perceived to be gay left unchecked by our Catholic teachers.
In my first few days of year seven, I was point blank told not to make friends with one particular girl as she was a ‘lesbian’. This warning was repeated to me several times on my first day, sometimes with undisguised disgust, sometimes with a greedy, childish snigger.
At 11 years old, I had no clue whether this rumor held any truth. But it shouldn’t have mattered either way. This girl should have been free to attend school without being a communal entity for gleeful whispers, vile graffiti and relentless harassment.
When she finally switched schools in year nine, she decided against speaking to anyone from school again, not even friends. She was worn out from having her identity squeezed and warped by bullies. She wanted to be someone else.
These memories will no doubt spark similar recollections of your own school days, where brutal strands of reactionary thought can thrive in minds left locked away from views and experiences other than their own.
According to statistics from Stonewall, 45 per cent of young LGBT people have suffered homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying. Sadly, 45 per cent of these young people never tell anyone after being bullied in this way.
Putting my two cents in regarding Parkfield Community School’s controversy: having heteronormative/sexual sex education did not make me any less queer, it just caused a narrow mindedness that stopped any self acceptance for a long time.
— Kerry Leigh (@kerrytheenigma) March 6, 2019
I was reminded of this girl after learning of the recent controversy surrounding Parkfield Community School, in Birmingham.
Parkfield’s No Outsiders lessons – which teach children about topics such as race, religion, gender identity, age, disabilities and LGBT rights – have made headlines after a shocking backlash from a number of parents.
According to the Government Equalities Office (GEO), their 2017 LGBT survey discovered how a mere 21 per cent of LGBT respondents recalled any classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity whatsoever while at school.
Created by assistant headteacher, Andrew Moffat, the No Outsiders programme signifies a notable step forward, encouraging vital conversations within a safe and supportive classroom setting.
As part of LGBT aspect of the No Outsiders programme, pupils read books which deal with LGBT themes in an accessible way, such as Mommy, Mama and Me and King & King.
If you signed the petition to ban LGBTQ lessons at Parkfield Community School you are a homophobe, there really are no two ways about it.
— Iain Ross (@IainRoss91) March 5, 2019
Although these texts may sound perfectly innocent, a number of furious parents took issue with the LGBT aspect of the No Outsiders programme, choosing to protest outside the school gates in a way which no doubt caused more distress than a simple book.
Parent protesters hand delivered a 350-name petition against No Outsiders to Parkfield staff on March 5. The petition came after hundreds of parents reportedly kept their children at home on school days in protest.
Fortunately, the staff at Parkfield Community School have shown commendable backbone, refusing to give in to the unreasonable demands of the protesters.
Although RE classes will temporarily replace No Outsiders until after the Easter holidays, the programme will return in the summer term. This decision was already made last summer according to Birmingham Live and does not reflect recent events.
I’m so disappointed in the parents who removed their children from Parkfield Community School over #LGBTQ+ lessons tackling discrimination, which have now been pulled. What kind of example are you setting when you let harmful views get in the way of a diverse education.
— Tom Knight (@TJ_Knight) March 4, 2019
Birmingham MP Shabana Mahmood denounced the homophobic banners and prejudices of the protesters.
However, she has still received some understandable criticism by relaying constituent concerns regarding the ‘age appropriateness’ of primary school relationships education.
Speaking before parliament on February 25, Mahmood said:
Most of my constituents have been contacting me about the specifics of mandatory relationships education at primary school.
None of my constituents is seeking particular or differential opt outs at secondary school level.
It is all about the age appropriateness of conversations with young children in the context of religious backgrounds.
But when exactly would be a good age to incorporate LGBT lessons into the curriculum? And is it really so sensible to wait until they are ego driven teenagers, already uncomfortable in their own skin and desperate to be considered ‘normal’?
Your suggestion that kids knowing gay people exist is not “age appropriate” is the oldest homophobic trope in the book – smearing gays as predatory and peadophiles. This speech is courting serious bigotry for the sake of pandering to a section of your core vote.
— Benjamin Butterworth (@benjaminbutter) March 4, 2019
Repealing Section 28 is part of Labour’s legacy of combating hatred and bigotry and we cannot allow people to try and roll back the clock.
— LGBT Labour (@LGBTLabour) March 5, 2019
Assistant Director of Public Affairs from the LGBT Foundation, Emma Meehan, has given the following statement to UNILAD:
School should be a place where young people are able to grow and mature into happy, healthy adults, learning about themselves and others. Evidence shows that a growing number of young people identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans.
Therefore it is more vital than ever that all young people are taught about sex and relationships in an inclusive environment. There are many people of faith who are LGBT, and many faith schools teach sex and relationships education in an inclusive way.
Without this space young LGBT people may feel they aren’t able to come out, or feel confused or ashamed of who they are. Schools should be teaching children to be confident in themselves and know that who they are, or who they love is ok.
That is why we’re pleased that the government’s latest guidance on sex and relationships education states that teaching should be fully LGBT inclusive.
It’s vital that schools follow the guidance for teaching #RSE, with parental engagement and proper consideration for pupils’ religion and background. Yesterday, I made this clear to Education ministers in response to a petition signed by 1,763 #Birmingham #Ladywood constituents. pic.twitter.com/M3Whe4SgDs
— Shabana Mahmood (@ShabanaMahmood) February 26, 2019
The argument that lessons on LGBT rights are too ‘confusing’ for children – as was written on one particularly baffling banner – is by no means a reason to ban them altogether.
Of course adult relationships – whether heterosexual or otherwise – will prove complex for children, and it is the duty of responsible adults to gently teach them about the life awaiting them beyond the school gates.
The games of mummies and daddies in the playground, the Wendy House weddings with the plastic jewelled rings, are all quite rightly viewed as innocent, photo album worthy pastimes.
There is no suggestion that there is anything inappropriate about making Barbie and Ken go on a ‘date’ away from their Dreamhouse. Why then is the notion of a king marrying a king seen as something beyond what a child can comprehend?
There are gay young people at every school, whether they are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus or non-believers. Erasing them from existence – and not educating young people about LGBTQ people – is horrendously harmful, and must not be allowed to happen.
— Owen Jones🌹 (@OwenJones84) March 5, 2019
Furthermore, to expect children to be confused about loving, supportive LGBT relationships – and not about fairy tales where girls fall in love with beasts and frogs – is making a sweeping presumption about their home lives which just doesn’t reflect reality.
Since 1996, there has been an steady increase in the number of same sex parents in the UK according to a report from the Office for National Statistics, meaning a growing number of children will be going home to two mothers or two fathers.
Gay adoption has been legal in the UK since 2002, with one out of eight adopted children being adopted by gay parents. Further progress was made in 2008, when barriers to fertility treatment for lesbians were reduced.
In 2010, there were 4,000 same-sex parents in the UK, a figure which had doubled by 2011. By 2013, this number had risen to 12,000.
Why should the hum-drum, everyday realities of such children be erased? Why should they be forced to see the grown ups who read them bedtime stories and pack their lunchboxes treated as too controversial and inappropriate for the classroom?
Today in the U.K.
Trans women being hounded out of sport
Trans women being segregated in prisons
Policy for allowing trans women on female hospital wards to be reviewed
LGBT education being cancelled in schools
How do I raise my daughter safely here???
— trans mum 🧜🏻♀️ (@transmum1) March 4, 2019
Director of Education at Stonewall, Mo Wiltshire, has given the following statement on the Stonewall website:
It’s vital children learn about and celebrate diversity at all ages, and we work closely with schools, providing training and support to help them do this.
Schools that strive to create inclusive environments do so because they know the benefits this has for the whole school community.
Not only do children feel able to talk about who they are and who their families are, this approach also teaches children the invaluable lesson of acceptance, reducing the likelihood of bullying in the long run.
Parkfield school’s No Outsiders programme simply makes young people aware of different families. People who are angered that their kids are learning the fact that LGBT people exist should not be appeased and it is a disgrace that a Labour MP should show any such sympathy
— Adrian Tippetts #FBPE (@AdrianTippetts) March 4, 2019
Adults who spout this same sort of damaging nonsense as the Parkfield parents are condemning yet more children, like the girl I knew in high school, to an education shaped by shame and humiliation.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues, and want to speak to someone in confidence contact the LGBT Foundation on 0345 3 30 30 30, 9am until 9pm Monday to Friday, and 10am until 6pm Saturday, Or email [email protected]
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.