why the uk is in the midst a toxic lgbtq debate

In the UK, decades old arguments conflating sexual identity and sexual acts has lead to a nationwide debate about whether LGBTQ rights should even be mentioned in schools.

by Alim Kheraj
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28 March 2019, 11:27am

In the 1977, Anita Bryant, a former orange juice brand ambassador and singer, helped launch the Save Our Children campaign in Florida. It was a conservative Christian initiative that sprung up as a response to an ordinance that prevented against the discrimination of gay men and lesbians regarding housing, employment or public accommodation, and it slowly spread out across America. Their belief was that the homosexuals, particularly teachers, were “trying to recruit our children into homosexuality”, a lifestyle they suggested promoted amoral, promiscuous and dangerous behaviours that threatened traditional gender roles, the concept of the family and infringed upon religious freedom. The answer: strip the LGBTQ community of their rights.

Since then, the rights of LGBTQ people, while not perfect or equal, have improved exponentially. Although, if you’d picked up a British newspaper or turned on the news in the past four weeks, you might not believe it. It seems in 2019 the suitability of LGBTQ lives and the promotion of equal rights are still up for debate.

Beginning in January, parents from a school in Birmingham began to withdraw their children and start staging protests against sex and relationship education (SRE) lessons that dealt with same-sex relationships and marriages. As The Guardian reported, the lessons, known as the No Outsiders programme, were being taught to children from reception age to 11, and covered topics that set out in the Equality Act. Nevertheless, some parents too umbrage with the lessons, opting to withdraw their children from the school amid claims that the lessons were “inappropriate” and “totally wrong”. The parents said that lessons about same-sex relationships that “promoted” gay and transgender lives infringed on their religious beliefs and freedoms, and that the school, which is in a predominately Muslim area, contradicted their faith.

On the cesspit that is Good Morning Britain, a Christian woman appeared alongside a gay parent to argue that it should be a parent’s decision whether their children are taught about the LGBTQ community in schools. In a now deleted tweet, BBC Radio 4 asked its audience whether LGBT rights should be taught in school.

The furore became headline news when, in March, around 600 students were pulled out of lessons and parents (and some students) protested outside of the school gates. They argued that the lessons were not age appropriate. The school pulled the plug on their same-sex SRE lessons.

Nevertheless, their actions started a wave of debates and protests around the country. While media bias and inherent Islamophobia positioned the debate as one of Muslims vs the LGBTQ community, it appears that those protesting and fighting against the inclusion of same-sex relationship education in schools are not limited to one religion. On the cesspit that is Good Morning Britain, a Christian woman appeared alongside a gay parent to argue that it should be a parent’s decision whether their children are taught about the LGBTQ community in schools, and suggested that being gay is a choice. In a now deleted tweet, BBC Radio 4 asked its audience whether LGBT rights should be taught in school. The protests turned sour with homophobic chants and placards and even members of our government suggesting that parents should get to decide “when children are exposed to that information”.

Those of us in the LGBTQ community have been disappointed, although perhaps not surprised, by the backlash and escalation to full blown homophobia. If you grew up under the tyranny of section 28, a piece of legislation enacted in 1988 that banned the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools that was only repealed in 2003, there’s an understanding that the silence surrounding LGBTQ issues fostered an environment of shame and stigmatisation. In fact, according to LGBT charity Stonewall, despite changes in legislation and attitudes many teachers are still unsure about whether they’re even allowed to talk about LGBTQ issues in classrooms. It’s hard not to feel anger and fear for those young queer kids who are not only being exposed to homophobic rhetoric but who are also seeing debates about whether their identities qualify as appropriate.

It’s hard not to feel anger and fear for those young queer kids who are not only being exposed to homophobic rhetoric but who are also seeing debates about whether their identities qualify as appropriate.

It’s that word — appropriate — that gives of a stink of bigotry and oppression. Queer people understand that our identities are more than sex acts, but it seems to be something that certain heterosexual individuals seem unable separate. Yes, sex is a big part of life, but when you’re five years old and you understand that you feel different, it’s not sex that you’re preoccupied with. It’s probably dinosaurs and a worry that you’ll be excluded. So, to be told that certain identities are inappropriate is to oppress those identities, stifling any chance that young people have at avoiding the mental and physical damage that we now know that shame and stigmatisation can cause.

The waters get murky due to religious freedoms. Of course people should be able to practice whatever religion they believe in. However, those beliefs — for that is what they are — should not infringe on the lives of others. There are LGBTQ people in all faiths who need support rather than oversight or condemnation. It’s why we need LGBTQ inclusivity taught in schools and help to debunk the myths surrounding queerness — that it is a choice or something for grown ups. Queer adults were, after all, once queer kids.

Instead our glance should be elsewhere. Perhaps we should be questioning how time and time again bigotry, hatred and oppression still gets away with hiding behind religious freedom.