Education For Choice (EFC) recently published a report on how the subject of abortion is being taught in UK schools. Their findings were worrying, with tactics such as misinformation, scare-mongering, and emotional manipulation found to be widespread. The report also uncovered a disturbing trend which this piece will focus on; external speakers from homophobic organisations are being consistently invited to speak in schools.
These speakers are members of anti-choice organisations which include the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), Lovewise, and Christian Action Research and Education (CARE). These organisations offer free speakers to schools on the topic of abortion which teachers are often glad to accept, relieved to not have to address this "controversial" subject themselves. While their main priority in schools is to spread lies to young people about abortion, these organisations condemn sexual activity outside of "traditional marriage" and refuse to acknowledge the "legitimacy" of non-heterosexual relationships. The promotional material that Lovewise sends to schools states that "marriage will be promoted as the only context in which honouring, fulfilling, secure and healthy sexual activity may take place...all other contexts including homosexual activity are damaging to the mind, body and spirit." The Scottish arm of CARE has produced a guide to Sex and Relationships Education which states "teachers should be aware that [...] a homosexual lifestyle would not be considered as equivalent, morally or otherwise, to a heterosexual one." CARE claim to have delivered their education programme to over 18,000 young people and Lovewise has teams delivering presentations in ten different areas across the UK.
Alongside peddling their bigotry within schools, these same organisations run campaigns against same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights in general. SPUC is currently spear-heading a campaign against comprehensive sex education. One of the supporters of this campaign, 'Core Issues,' funds "reparative therapy for gay Christians who believe that they have homosexual feelings but want to become straight." SPUC also runs an independent campaign against same-sex marriage, making a bizarre connection between it and abortion: "same-sex marriage represents an attempt to redefine marriage. This undermining lessens the protection for unborn children which true marriage provides." John Smeaton, the Director of SPUC, goes further in his official blog:
"The fundamental argument against gay marriage is that homosexuality is disordered, as it is radically at variance with the truth and meaning of human sexuality ... Catholics must proclaim loud and clear that it is impossible for any homosexual relationship to be a marriage because genuine personal, sexual and spiritual union between persons of the same-sex is impossible."
We have to consider the impact that allowing these organisations to speak in schools has on children. While these speakers don't necessarily express homophobia in their presentations, it would be very easy for students to come across the materials of their organisations which argue against same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights on the internet, radio, TV, etc. SPUC for example regularly appears in mainstream media. Just recently their spokesperson Anthony Ozimic appeared on This Morning to argue against same-sex marriage being taught in schools, making statements such as "I don't think homosexuality is innate...I think something may have gone wrong in a person's development or experiences to lead them towards a homosexual orientation" and "the heterosexual model is the correct model for the human race." Young people are more likely to assume that an organisation is trustworthy knowing that they were allowed to speak in their school. An external speaker is legitimised in the eyes of students, the invitation to speak an implicit endorsement from their teacher. Furthermore, many of the guides and resources for teachers from examination bodies such as the AQA reference SPUC, making it likely that many students will visit their website for study/homework. Under the 'Education' section of their website they have a host of graphic, disturbing images of aborted foetuses.
These pupils are at a very impressionable age, and exposing them to such oppressive ideas within the classroom is a failure on the behalf of educators. For LGBTQ students it is materially dangerous. Stonewall's 'School Report' found that homophobic bullying is rife in British schools, with over half of lesbian, gay and bisexual respondents saying that they feel unable to be themselves at school. Teachers and school staff have a duty to protect these students. Likewise for straight students, these speakers reinforce rather than challenge prejudices which they see in many other arenas. Allowing these messages to be sent in the classroom can only replicate the same old intolerances, when we should be trying to eradicate them in future generations.
It is not a coincidence that these same organisations want to roll back women's rights with restrictions on abortion, or that they believe "fornication" is wrong and that "promoting condoms" is encouraging sinful activity. Nor that they have been quoted as saying in schools; "for some people who've been raped and had the baby [...] something positive comes out of that whole rape experience" (SPUC) or "wives should submit in everything to their husbands" (Lovewise). Their anti-abortion and homophobic stances are intimately connected; they are key elements of an inherently bigoted ideology. An ideology which at its core, wants to see women and all minorities remain firmly in their subordinated positions. Their conservative moralism is all part of a dogmatic message of social control, a policing of people's bodies, sexuality and actions to maintain a social order in which white straight cis-men remain firmly at the top.
EFC's report raises great concerns about the standards currently employed in UK schools. Despite the Equality Act guaranteeing students who are female and/or LGBT protection from discrimination in school, these organisations are being allowed to push clearly discriminatory messages. It is vital that educators familiarise themselves with the ethos of an organisation and the content of their presentations before inviting them to speak. Awareness-raising of this issue is urgently needed so that teachers may shield their students from attitudes which put their safety and well-being at risk.