Anti-LGBT views should be no more acceptable in schools than racist views are. However, some faith schools and religious leaders are continuing to publically air anti-LGBT views, particularly with regard to Relationships and Sex Education (RSE). The lack of criticism they are receiving and the willingness shown by the Government to cooperate with them is unacceptable.
Earlier this month, Charedi leaders refused to allow the teaching of LGBT-inclusive Relationships and Sex Education in schools, telling Lord Theodore Agnew, Minister of State at the Department for Education, that there would be ‘no compromise’. One member of the Orthodox Union of Hebrew Congregations (UOHC), whose organisation attended the meeting, said the requirement to teach pupils about same-sex relationships was ‘a form of religious discrimination’.
This begs the question, why is it still acceptable in 2018 for religious leaders to openly get away with refusing to accept the existence of LGBT people and to educate their pupils about them? Or worse still, why are they given the opportunity to air their hateful views to a Government minister?
It’s hard to imagine anyone accommodating this kind of intolerance if the issue under discussion was race. Clearly it would not be considered acceptable for religious leaders to refuse to promote racial equality because it ‘could not be accommodated within any orthodox educational framework’ and was ‘inconsistent with freedom of educational choice’, which is how they labelled the prospect of teaching LGBT-inclusive RSE.
Far from condemning their views, Lord Agnew apparently promised to facilitate a meeting between the Charedi leaders and Ofsted and, according to those attending, ‘appeared very sympathetic to the concerns expressed’, even agreeing ‘that it made no sense to expect Orthodox schools to teach concepts totally beyond the comprehension of children raised in a protective religious environment’.
This meeting makes a mockery of the attempts that have been made by the Government and Ofsted to crack down on faith schools that refuse to teach LGBT perspectives. In June, Vishnitz Girls School failed an Ofsted inspection for neglecting to educate its pupils on sexual orientation or any other LGBT related issues. And yet, months later, this kind of discrimination is seemingly acceptable enough to warrant an Education minister’s sympathy and the chance for a meeting with Ofsted.
It’s hard to imagine anyone accommodating this kind of intolerance if the issue under discussion was race.
The Charedi leaders’ stance on LGBT-inclusive teaching is far from unique. Discriminatory public statements by faith schools concerning LGBT relationships such as this one, found until recently on the website of a state-funded Catholic school, Bishop Challoner Catholic school in Basingstoke, have no place in modern society but are all too common. It stated that,
‘a homosexual partnership and a heterosexual marriage can never be equated. This is the case in English law. The Church seeks to affirm the homosexual as a person, but cannot approve of homosexual genital acts.’
That this could be the open policy of a school where around 800 UK pupils are educated, some of them likely to be LGBT, is shocking. Had the statement concerned race and suggested that black or interracial partnerships were unequal to marriage between white people then it’s not hard to imagine the school might have been shut down. At the very least, its teaching would be investigated by the DfE. As it was, the school was allowed to claim the policy was ‘an administrative error’. This excuse was not questioned by the Hampshire County Council whose statement that ‘the school has responded appropriately and confirmed that the policy referred to was out of date. The county council has no further comment to make’, fails to address the vile content of the policy, the number of years that it was allowed to remain on the school’s website, and the strong possibility that it reflects the teaching at that school. The DfE, rather than take action, simply refused to comment on the case.
Faith based discrimination against LGBT people is, of course, sadly a broader issue which extends outside of faith schools. Tim Farron, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, remained as leader for nearly two years until his resignation in June despite being clearly uncomfortable about the idea of non-heterosexual relationships. His recent statement of regret that he had said gay sex was not sinful was criticised to an extent, but one can only imagine the uproar had the question been focused on interracial relationships, for instance. Equally, his narrative of continual persecution on the basis of his Christian beliefs, the focus of his resignation speech, would not be considered acceptable if he had been lamenting the criticism he had received for holding racist views.
In this day and age, in a country whose most important values are meant to be respect and mutual understanding, it is hard to believe that religious leaders and faith schools can continue to openly discriminate and teach hateful values to their pupils. And yet, the evidence that they can is all too clear. Whatever the tenets of their faith and their own personal beliefs, those who provide relationships and sex education should ensure that it is inclusive for all gender identities and sexualities, just as all schools in the UK are expected to be inclusive of all races and ethnicities.
No form of discrimination in education should be considered more acceptable than any other.