Labour’s Angela Eagle became visibly emotional as she implored MPs to take action over the Birmingham LGBTQ+ schools protest.
A fierce row over whether children should be taught about LGBTQ+ rights erupted in Birmingham earlier this year.
The award-winning ‘No Outsiders’ programme, which teaches children about children about the Equality Act, British values, and diversity using storybooks, led to some members of the Muslim community to protest outside schools.
During a debate in the commons about the issue, Eagle said teaching sex and relationship education in schools was something that “we should have been doing in this country generations ago”.
She said it would have resulted in “an awful lot of much happier and well adjusted people than those that have been monstered” by the effects of section 28, the controversial – and now repealed – clause which banned the “promotion” of homosexuality by local authorities and in Britain’s schools.
Eagle became visibly upset and appeared close to tears as she spoke in the chamber.
She said: “And yet here we are in the middle of a similar kind of moral scare which is being whipped up by people who have a different agenda to the well being of children and their adjustment to the facts and experience of 21st century life in the UK.”
Her voice breaking with emotion, she added: “We know that the motivations of some of those involved in this are reactionary and they are to return us to an era where LGBT people should get back in the closet and hide and be ashamed of the way they are.
“We aren’t going to get back in the closet or hide or be ashamed of the way we are and nor are we going to allow a generation of pupils that are now in school to go through what the pupils in the 80s had to go through because this chamber let them down and nor are we going to allow this to happen in the name of religion.”
Prompting some controversy, Birmingham Labour MP Roger Godsiff defended parental involvement in teaching the Equality Act.
He said: “Children, some as young as four or five, were telling parents about what they allegedly had been taught in lessons. This had caused parents concern.”
Some aspects specific to teaching of sexuality were not popular with more socially “conservative” parents, he said.
He added: “There was no consultation with the parents, and the headteacher made it plain that no consultation was going to take place and no collective meetings with parents were held.”
Godsiff caused unrest on the Labour benches by refusing repeated calls for him to give way and allow interventions on the topic.
He said parents were “excluded entirely from the process” of how protected characteristics under the Equality Act were taught.
Godsiff, who was urged to “stick up for” the headteacher by another Labour colleague, said meetings had taken place at other primary schools in Birmingham and said meetings with parents could have been organised – with police, councillors or MPs asked to be present if necessary.
He described the protesters as “mostly young mothers”, adding they have “done nothing wrong, other than be good mothers who want to express concerns about what their children are telling them”.
He concluded his speech with an apology, telling the commons he apologised for any offence caused to any person of whatever sexual orientation by anything he had said or written.
“In particular, I apologise unreservedly to members of the LGBT community in Birmingham and throughout the country for anything I may have said or written which has caused offence to them,” he said. “I can assure you it most certainly was not intended.”
Labour MP Tracy Brabin, a shadow education minister but speaking from the backbenches, said that having spent couple of hours with the headteachers of the schools at the centre of the row, she thought the reason why the headteacher didn’t have a public meeting was probably because she has been called a paedophile and worse.
However, DUP MP Jim Shannon (Strangford) said: “I recently read a post which said it is not about homosexuality, heterosexuality, or trans sexuality.
“Stop promoting sexuality to our kids full stop. Let kids be kids. We need to protect the innocence of our children at all costs.”
He said “enforced teaching” against the will of a parent is “not acceptable in any way, shape or form”.
The ‘No Outsiders’ programme is devised by award-winning teacher Andrew Moffat, who was awarded an MBE for his work in equality education.
Moffat, who is shortlisted for a world’s best teacher award, resigned from another primary school also in Birmingham after a similar dispute with Muslim and Christian parents.