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Letter from the Editor-in-Chief: Religion has no place in the education system

Schools in Birmingham have been faced with parents protesting against anti-LGBT lessons

By Steve Brown

This year has been an interesting one to say the least.

First, Brunei introduced capital punishment for gay sex which created international uproar with many protesting outside Brunei-owned hotels across the world, including at the Dorchester in London.

However, after just a month after announcing the archaic punishment, the Sultan of Brunei backtracked and said gay sex will no longer be punishable by death – a huge victory for the LGBTQ community despite homosexuality still being illegal in the Asian country.

Religious doctrine is at the root of this anti-gay sentiment, even though these religions also profess showing love to fellow men and speak against the use of violence.

Closer to home, anti-LGBTQ protests outside primary schools in Birmingham continue and have recently escalated. In March, around 600 students were pulled out of school after their parents learnt they were being taught LGBTQ-inclusive lessons.

Parkfield School was one of the first schools to have parents protesting against the school’s No Outsiders classes.

Designed to celebrate diversity and encourage inclusivity of different races, ethnicities, religions and sexualities, they said including LGBTQ went against their religious beliefs.

Anderton Park Primary School has seen LGBTQ allies being pelted with eggs outside the school gates and even more recently, children have become involved and begged and pleaded with parents to not ‘lie’ to them or even to ‘disturb’ them while they are being taught. 

Thankfully, these protests didn’t affect a government bill to introduce statutory age-appropriate relationship education in schools when MPs overwhelmingly voted in favour of the changes on 27 March.

Before you crack open the champagne, it should be noted that the finer print is disappointingly vague. Primary schools will not have to include discussion of LGBTQ families.

In faith-led schools, LGBTQ lives can be taught from a faith-perspective with debate allowed.

Excuse me — debate?

This implies that a conservative head of a faith school — be it Christian, Muslim or other — can promote the message that “gay relationships exist, but we believe they are wrong.”

This is not progress, it’s fuelling prejudice. Where Section 28 silenced all LGBTQ discussion, this new policy tacitly enables homophobia.

Yet again, people who are born gay, bi or trans are having to debate and justify their existence against people who choose to follow a particular faith.

It wasn’t long ago that our community in the Republic of Ireland was fighting for marriage equality against extremist Catholic stalwarts in a referendum, or the Church of England was campaigning against similar legislation in the UK.

Let’s be clear about one thing: religion has no place in the education system. Faith schools are an outdated concept; religious studies should be extra-curricular lessons not the foundation of schools.

Of course, there are many faiths that practise welcoming outlooks towards LGBTQ identity. There is no reason why they cannot offer their support outside the education system, or in addition to it.

Similarly, there are many religious queer people who find comfort in their faith, through which they have found balance alongside their gender and sexual identity. I am sure they would not want their belief foisted upon others.

Religion is a choice. Sexuality is not – and sexuality isn’t just about sex, it’s about love.

Religions endless, contradictory interpretation should not be allowed to harm the mental health and well-being of young people, especially LGBTQ children who look to adults for acceptance and guidance.