As a 27-year-old gay man who was once an 11-year-old gay boy, the current discussion around whether LGBTQ+ issues should be taught in schools is a particularly frustrating and exhausting one.
The current discourse – for those lucky enough to have avoided it – centres around a handful of schools in Birmingham, which have been the subject of protests over lessons relating to LGBTQ+ inclusion and relationships.
As sure as night follows day, this controversy was met with yet another fiery debate on Good Morning Britain, the ITV breakfast show which has repeatedly come under fire for the insensitive way certain issues have been discussed on the show in the past, from racism to non-binary and gender non-confirming identities.
Good Morning Britain’s gradual shift from light-hearted morning entertainment show to a programme showcasing near-daily heated debates is a curious one, which was presumably driven by the arrival of presenter Piers Morgan in 2015, who is largely credited with ‘saving’ the show by generating plenty of publicity after a shaky first year.
The fact that much of the media coverage and headlines Piers generates are about his insensitivity and the harmful way in which GMB tackles issues that are important to a lot of people seems not to matter; apparently as long as headlines are being generated, and ratings are on the up, it doesn’t matter which communities have their feelings trampled along the way.
And so we arrive at Thursday morning’s debate, which wasn’t actually chaired by Piers or his regular co-host Susanna Reid, but Kate Garraway and Ben Shephard. They led a discussion between a gay father, Tom Cox, and a Christian mother, Izzy Montague, who objects to subjects relating to the LGBTQ+ community being taught in schools.
Herein lies the first problem with Good Morning Britain’s debates, quite often the emphasis is on the completely polarised opinions being put forward, rather than the expertise of those being interviewed. Regrettably, these discussions are usually driven by fury and emotion, and carried out by people who are very closely affected by them, rather than experts in the relevant fields.
Tom Cox, of course, is a gay father, so he has a wealth of lived experience of how to speak to children about subjects relating to the LGBTQ+ community. But as for Izzy, what exactly makes her qualified to pass judgement on something so sensitive, and that has the potential to affect a lot of people, on a platform that hundreds of thousands of us have on in the background as they get ready for the day ahead?
The closest thing I could find to pinpoint her as an expert is this video on Christian Concern’s website, which at the time of writing has accrued just over 300 views in two months. Christian Concern themselves have just over 9,000 followers on Twitter and less than 10% of that on Instagram, so why would Good Morning Britain hand-pick one of their spokespeople over, say, a child psychologist, someone from an actual LGBTQ+ organisation, somebody with a background in education or even one of the pupils who has been through one of these lessons?
The answer, of course, is obvious. Good Morning Britain wants drama, they want fireworks, and, potentially above all, they want headlines, and that’s exactly what they got on Thursday. Because sure enough, the discussion didn’t stay on education relating to LGBTQ+ issues for long, with Izzy soon venturing out into other areas, namely her belief that being gay is a choice.
“Of course I believe it’s a choice,” when pressed on the subject. “I’ve made a choice on what I think is right or wrong. I don’t remember ever thinking to myself, ‘Am I gay, am I straight?’ It’s something that I have done based on how I believe.
“Even if I was gay, I do personally believe, based on my belief, that a heterosexual relationship is the right course of action for me. No one has forced you to be in a gay relationship, this is a decision you’ve made.”
Another recurring problem with these Good Morning Britain debates is the way they’re moderated. In the absence of Piers, who usually involves himself in the discourse any way he can, Kate and Ben pretty much left it to their guest to challenge Izzy on her statements about being gay, which were barely related to the topic he’d been invited to debate in the first place.
Instead, Kate allowed Izzy to venture even further down the rabbit hole, asking her: “What would you do if one of your children said they were gay?”
And so, after five minutes, Good Morning Britain ventured from a debate about LGBTQ+ topics being taught in schools to a Christian mum declaring on live national television: “It’s not about being gay, there’s two things to this.
“There’s the feelings of being gay, where you say ‘well I have an attraction to the same sex’ and there’s the actual having a homosexual lifestyle… I have a heterosexual lifestyle… I made that decision, I could also make a decision tomorrow if I want to be with the same sex. You can’t tell me I can’t. It’s a preference. It’s my choice.”
This is exactly my worry. Presenting topics that really don’t need to be debated as something that can be picked apart and discussed opens the door to even further scrutiny, as we saw here, and on multiple occasions on Good Morning Britain in recent times.
For example, a debate around Kanye West’s “slavery” comments was cut short last year, when a guest decided this was the time to brand the Black Lives Matter a “far-left, liberal, radical agitated organisation founded by a bunch of lesbians and homosexuals”. A year earlier, a guest complained that Piers Morgan had derailed a debate completely by ”grilling them” with “incredibly provocative” questions about their non-binary identity, rather than the subject they’d actually been invited on to discuss.
What’s more, this is a story to which we all know the ending. In 2013, Katie Hopkins went viral for a silly debate on This Morning about how she judges the children she allows her own brood to be friends with based on their names. Less than two years later, she penned a column for The Sun comparing migrants to cockroaches, and saying she wishes she could “use gunships” to stop them coming to our country, which was eventually condemned by the UN’s human rights chief. Another two years on, she was dropped by both LBC and the Daily Mail, after she tweeted about the need for a “final solution” in the wake of the Manchester terror attack in 2017.
We’ve seen time and time again what can happen when extreme viewpoints are given a platform, and people’s rights and identities are considered ‘up for debate’, and yet these shows still seem to be learning nothing, and are apparently more than happy to throw segments like this together. People’s concerns on social media are then reported as ‘outrage’ and the publicity machine keeps on chugging.
What I find even more alarming is that this is a story we don’t really know the outcome of. I naively thought that the likes of Katie Hopkins’ relative disappearance from our media might have meant an end to this sort of deliberate fire-stoking, but instead it looks like TV producers are simply on the hunt for her replacement, so we can repeat the cycle all over again.
Eventually, I hope that this is something shows like Good Morning Britain will rethink, but what concerns me is just how much lower they’re willing to sink before those conversations are had.