It’s a question that has gripped the country for weeks, after parents staged protests outside a Birmingham primary school: should children be taught about LGBT+ relationships in lessons?
To most, the answer is glaringly obvious. Yes.
But as the debate continues to rage weeks after the story broke, concerns have been raised about the way in which the issue is being presented to the public, after politicians and the media repeatedly framed the issue as one of “morality”, or “age appropriateness” in their scramble to cover the topic.
But many people feel that the voices of the LGBT community have been lost, with prominence given to high profile figures who have helped to spread harmful narratives.
Among them is Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the House of Commons, who appeared on LBC to suggest that, while she agrees with passing legislation that promotes better relationship education in primary schools, parents should be the ones to decide “the moment to which their children become exposed to that information”.
The issue was stoked also stoked on Thursday’s BBC Question Time, when it asked its audience: “Is it morally right for five-year-old children to learn about LGBT lessons in school?”
The programme was quickly accused of adopting a ‘dogwhistle’ tone. “Is it morally right for a publicly funded national broadcaster to ask leading, deliberately phrased, dogwhistle questions that normalise homophobia?,” one Twitter user asked.
Actor David Ames called the question “insulting”.
Here, four people shared their views with HuffPost UK on the way they feel the story should be covered by media outlets.
Lucy Knight, freelance journalist
“I think that there needs to be more of a voice given to the LGBT community and their experiences of not being taught this in school,” said Knight, who recently won an award for writing about her experience as a gay Christian woman.
She told HuffPost UK that a while straight person learning about LGBT rights and relationships might not be life-changing, it could help a young person who feels excluded from the conversation because their sexual identity is not taught in school.
“If you’re an LGBT person who doesn’t learn about that, you might not ever find out about it until you’re older, and you just think that you’re this outsider who doesn’t fit into what you’ve been taught. And there’s so much homophobia historically, which doesn’t actually take its form through people saying stuff.
“So much more of it is about people just brushing stuff under the carpet or not really talking about it, or just using gender neutral pronouns rather than actually naming the fact that you have a same-sex partner. In a way, it’s even more damaging because it makes you feel like you don’t even exist, because you don’t exist in the dialogue.
“So what I wish media outlets were doing, is focusing on why it is so important that it does happen, rather than just talking about the reasons why people don’t want it to happen.”
Caspar Salmon, freelance journalist
Salmon is concerned with the way media outlets treat LGBT education as a “theoretical topic” which ignores lived experience.
He said: “In actuality, we have clear legislation in place to offer sex and relationship teaching in schools, so the validity of the topic is not up for debate. On top of this, there are educators, parents and children who are LGBT, to whom this is not a woolly subject matter, but lived experience.
“It’s preposterous to say that children should wait to find out about queer people when there are children who have queer parents, and who may well be queer themselves.”
He added that, in a discussion which can “scapegoat or tar the Muslim community”, there should be more input from queer Muslim people.
“We must also have much less pandering to extreme views, and there shouldn’t be bet-hedging on the subject by outlets making out this is an either/or situation. Finding out that two men or two women can be in a relationship does not go against any religious teachings.
“On top of this, media should be vigilant not to reinforce ‘lesser’ hate speech, such as the phrase “gay lifestyle”, and should challenge the idea that protesting LGBT education isn’t homophobic.”
He added: “Our media is ignorant of systemic racism, systemic misogyny and systemic homophobia, and seems to believe that only overt hate speech or physical abuse constitute acts of hate - in reality, these attitudes are homophobia 101, and not a valid ‘other’ side of a makes-u-think debate.”
Ezra, press officer at Hidayah, an organisation supporting LGBTQI+ Muslims
“The most frustrating thing about the way this is being framed is that it’s being framed as LGBT people versus Muslims. That implies heavily that there’s no one caught in the crossfire like we are,” Ezra told HuffPost UK.
“There are plenty of people who are Muslim and LGBT and both the LGBT community and the Muslim community are pretending that there aren’t.”
Like Salmon, Ezra feels that queer Muslims are having their input “trampled” by dominant commentators or “homophobic” religious leaders.
“I think the debate should be putting queer Muslims front and centre – we’re being left out of discussions that directly impact us and would have impacted us as children. Right now, what we need from allies is to have our voices uplifted.
“Most news programmes get the most homophobic imam they can find and sit him opposite a media personality who is normally a white gay man, and pit them against each other. Personally, I think that allowing people to voice prejudiced opinions on a national platform is wrong. There are plenty of Muslims who are willing to talk about the nuances without being homophobic.”
A bisexual man, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “It feels as though the media are handling this with kid gloves compared to how you would if, for example, American Christians were saying such things. All I wish to see is the same application of attitude to them as you would to anyone else.
“It also shows that this isn’t a small problem in that community, to ignore it or try to minimise it won’t help the situation. This has to be confronted head-on, call out the bigotry and where it comes from. Be brave, you would if it was any other religious group and I would praise you for it.”