This past week, I’ve decided to get involved in something that I strongly believe in: the implementation of LGBT+ inclusive education. I decided to speak up about it because a group of people are demanding that it be taken away.
No Outsiders is a programme set up by the MBE-awarded teacher, Andrew Moffatt, who just so happens to be the Assistant Headteacher at Parkfield School where the majority of these protests are taking place. The programme uses books, lessons, and interactive workshops to teach school children about the 2010 Equality Act and highlight the importance of equality and diversity in today's society. These lessons involve an array of minority groups, including those of different racial backgrounds, religions, ages, gender identities, abilities, and sexual orientations. Despite its positive approach to teaching kids about acceptance and respect, some parents - mainly from the muslim community - have decided to speak out against what the programme is teaching their children about LGBT+ people.
One of the main misconceptions surrounding the whole ‘debate’ is what the kids are actually learning about. These are not ‘sex education’ lessons. Nothing about them is asking the children to question their sexuality, and they’re definitely not age-inappropriate. The majority of the learning surrounding LGBT+ people in this programme focuses on families and how they can be different: two-mum or two-dad families, for example. We should also remember that these kids are going to learn about LGBT+ people at some point in their lives anyway, but allowing them to learn about them in a classroom environment gives them a safe space to ask questions and make mistakes without judgement.
Coming from a religious background myself, I can see how these parents may at first be wary - given what a lot of religious texts say about LGBT+ people - but if they only went and looked at what the No Outsiders programme is really teaching, they’d see that there’s no need to worry. My main takeaway from my time in mosques when I was younger was that we should ‘respect those in our communities.’ To me, that meant not only the muslim community, but our local community - which undoubtedly includes those LGBT+ people whose voices are being silenced.
These protests are homophobic and shouldn’t be veiled under the guise of Islam. In my eyes, Islam does not promote what these parents are saying. This isn’t about Islam vs LGBT+ people, this is about homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia, and if it were the other way around - with parents protesting the teaching of acceptance towards muslims - this simply would not be tolerated. Regardless of whether you agree with it or not, No Outsiders isn’t about your personal beliefs, it's about respecting people in spite of our differences. We don’t always have to agree with, or even understand something in order to recognise its validity and significance.
When I was at school, I know that I would have without-a-doubt benefited from a programme like No Outsiders. It wouldn’t have made me gay - sexuality can’t be changed as much as it can’t be chosen - but it would’ve helped me to realise that if I was, I wasn’t alone. The programme won’t only help the few LGBT+ kids in the room, but also the others who’ll learn the importance of respecting one another, and show them that bullying has no place in our schools.
The main thing that these parents are missing is that it could be one of their kids that they’re actively protesting against. Can you imagine hearing and seeing your parents fight against you and your friends being taught that your existence is valid and that you should be respected?
Young LGBT+ people (especially young trans people) are much more likely to suffer with mental health issues - 1 in 2 self harm, and 2 in 5 contemplate suicide - because of things like bullying, rejection, and discrimination. They are also more likely to be the victims of hate crime than heterosexual people. This ‘debate’ is only amplifying this idea that we don’t matter, and is contributing to those feelings of isolation and rejection. It’s disappointing that these parents don’t stand with us and empathise with us. As part of a minority group themselves, they know what it’s like to be treated differently because of who they are.
It’s not all bad though, LGBT+ kids from a muslim background should know that they’re not alone in this. They can speak to Switchboard who are specifically for LGBT+ people, as well as Childline, which they can access over the phone and online. There are also plenty of role models for these kids too if their parents aren’t on their side. Hafsa Qureshi is Stonewall’s Bi Role Model of the year, but not only that - she’s muslim; Tan France is a muslim fashion designer and TV personality from Netflix’s Queer Eye; Asifa Lahore is a trans woman and made herself known as Britain's first muslim drag queen; the list could go on. If these children so wish, they can also write to Just Like Us - the LGBT+ anti-bullying charity I volunteer for - and ask them to contact their own school to arrange a visit from LGBT+ ambassadors.
One of the most amazing things I’ve learned through volunteering with Just Like Us is that the kids are the ones with the level heads: they are so on the ball in terms of knowing about our community, and are also eager to learn more. This is something that should be nurtured and built upon, and programmes like No Outsiders can most definitely do that. It’s the parents that have the problem, and if they took just one of these classes, they’d see there’s nothing to fear.
As an LGBT+ person from a muslim background, these protests have hurt me and I feel for the children involved. Religion should not be used as a reason to justify the exclusion of others.
If you feel like you need help or this has affected you, please consider contacting these helplines:
Childline (National - Up to 19 y/o): 0800 1111 / childline.org.uk Mermaids (National - Up to 20 y/o): 0344 334 0550 / mermaidsuk.org.uk Samaritans (National): 116 123 / samaritans.org Stonewall (National): stonewall.org.uk Switchboard (National): 0300 330 0630 / switchboard.lgbt
Malik is a Just Like Us ambassador in Manchester. He visits secondary schools and colleges around Manchester, speaking powerfully about his experiences as an LGBT+ young person.