It’s wrong to protest about the teaching of gay relationships – Nick Gibb

It’s wrong to protest about the teaching of gay relationships

Nick Gibb

The Times June 6 2019

Knowing when to intervene can be one of the most difficult decisions for any minister. When an issue is sensitive or a debate is heated, taking sides can just add to feelings of grievance or to allegations of interference. In education especially, it is much better to delegate power as locally as possible and allow head teachers and governors to run schools – they know their parents, their communities, and most
importantly their pupils.

Until now, keeping politics out of the dispute in Birmingham between a group of parents and local activists and the leadership of their children’s primary school over teaching about LGBT equality has been a key objective. The education secretary, Damian Hinds, and I have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to defuse the issues that lie behind the protests. Department for Education officials have been engaging with Birmingham city council almost daily to help navigate a way to a resolution, and
with local MPs, organised at our request.

While progress has been made to limit the protests on the ground, this unfortunate set of circumstances has led to such a bitter national political debate that it is now time for me to speak out. I was shocked by Ann Widdecombe’s interview on Sky on Sunday in which she defended an article she’d written in 2012 supporting the concept of gay conversion therapy by the even more incendiary “answer” that science may find a way to change sexuality as it has gender. As a happily married gay man, I found her statement deeply offensive – my sexuality is not a problem that needs an answer. But my real anger is over the impact such remarks could have on those who are less confident about who they are. I fear for any adolescent coming to terms with their own sexuality hearing such opinions in a television interview.
Politicians have a responsibility to speak with sensitivity on such important matters and not to fan the flames of hate and prejudice. As the Conservative Party starts the process of electing our new leader, I very much doubt that party members or the wider public (a much larger number) will be impressed by any candidate or their supporters siding with those who object to pupils being taught that same-sex
relationships are normal and lawful.

My own experience, as a member of the Conservative Party for over 40 years is that our membership is made up of people from all backgrounds, some of whom are gay themselves or are parents or grandparents of gay men, women and children. We are not a party of bigots. It was the Conservative Party, under the leadership of David Cameron, that brought forward legislation to give same-sex couples the right to marry and recent polling shows that most Conservative members support and are
comfortable with this important and liberating change.

We live in a tolerant, liberal-minded society where the majority of people support gay marriage and are perfectly at ease with homosexuality. Thankfully our country has moved on from the institutionalised bigotry of the past. It has taken time – more time than many of us had hoped – but we now have equalities law on the statute book that protects us all; regardless of our colour, ethnicity, gender, religion and sexuality.

The protests outside a primary school in Birmingham which teaches the fact that same-sex relationships are normal and are as loving and supportive as any heterosexual relationship are in my view wrong. I support the city council’s decision to secure an injunction against those protests taking place near the school. It is bizarre and horrific that we allow protesters outside primary schools with placards to
target those who teach what is legal and wholly appropriate in today’s society. Since 2002, it has been legal for gay couples to adopt children and many have decided to start their own families. There is an increasing number of children who have two mothers or two fathers. A few weeks ago I went to a lovely wedding of two female friends attended by their nearest and dearest including a number of primary
school age children. So, of course, children growing up in modern Britain need to be taught about the diverse society that they live in and the different types of loving, healthy relationships that exist.
This is what lies at the heart of the new relationship education subject that will be compulsory in schools from September next year. Schools will be required to consult parents on the content of what is taught and what is taught must be age appropriate, taking into account the religious background of their pupils, but ultimately it is for the head teacher and the school to decide on the curriculum.

We have worked hard over the last few weeks, patiently, quietly and behind the scenes, to defuse local tensions in Birmingham. We hoped we could resolve this dispute and find a way to bring both sides together. We will always support head teachers and schools who are doing the right thing and ensuring that children leave school well educated and properly equipped to live and prosper in a modern society
and a modern economy. And that includes having a full and proper understanding of British values and the way we live our lives today.

Nick Gibb is minister for schools


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