IT’S home time, and wide-eyed children streaming through the primary school gates are met by a wall of noise from placard-holding protesters.
As two police officers look on, demo orchestrator Shakeel Afsar bellows into his megaphone: “Our children!” A throng of around 50 Muslim demonstrators, some in black niqabs, chant back: “Our choice.”
One home-made banner reads: “Say no to the sexualisation of children.” Another, scrawled in black marker pen, says: “Let kids be kids.”
For the past two weeks, protesters have gathered at Birmingham’s Anderton Park Primary School’s gates demanding an end to LGBT lessons for children as young as four.
Ringleader Mr Afsar, 31, whose niece and nephew attend the school, told The Sun: “Parents feel the school is forcing a different moral way of thinking on the children.”
A tinderbox cause for some religious communities, opposition to the lessons in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues, has spread through WhatsApp and social media and seen parents raising concerns in Manchester, Croydon, Oldham, Blackburn and Bradford.
‘PARENTS HAVE BEEN TOLD THEY WILL GO TO HELL’
Nor is the issue going away. On Wednesday this week, MPs voted by 538 in favour and just 21 against to make relationships and sex education (RSE) compulsory in English schools from September next year. The curriculum guidance, updated for the first time in nearly 20 years, encourages schools to teach about different families, including ones with same-sex parents.
Protests are so heated — with children leaving school in tears and non-protesting parents abused — that the headteacher has pleaded with Government ministers to intervene.
School staff say some parents not joining the demos have been called “bitch” or been told are “not a proper Muslim”. Local Labour councillor Kerry Jenkins tweeted that parents were being “harassed” and told they will “go to hell”.
A leaflet handed out this week by protesters calling themselves the Anderton Park Parents’ Community Group said: “We do NOT believe in homosexuality. Parents do NOT want their children’s belief changed.”
Headteacher Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson told The Sun: “In the past couple of weeks people have been sworn at. It’s really horrible, intimidating. We’ve had very upset children and parents.”
Gay Muslim campaigner Khakhan Qureshi, 49, said a visit to an Anderton protest this week had left him “scared”.
The founder of Birmingham South Asians LGBT tweeted: “It’s not nice to hear children encouraged, nay indoctrinated, against homosexuals.”
But protest kingpin Mr Afsar, who is banned from the school premises, denied protests had been abusive or were homophobic. Other protesters insist same-sex lessons for four-year-olds are wrong. Mum Khadija Kubra, who has a four-year-old girl, said: “Our kids are too young for this.” Mum of an eight-year-old, Shida Rashid, in her 30s, said: “We’re not against LGBT people. They’re humans too.”
But single mum Imarah Forrester, 23, said her tearful five-year-old son was “scared” by the protests. The sales assistant added of the lessons: “They’re not teaching the kids anything sexual. They teach them to love and appreciate everyone.
“I went to an all-girls school where there was bullying of anyone they thought might be gay. Here they’re just teaching that some kids have same-sex parents, so there is no anger or hatred. I’m glad my son is being taught this.”
Yet some children streaming out of the school at final bell join their parents chanting in the demo.
CONTROVERSY SPLITTING SCHOOLS
Looking on, councillor Jenkins said: “I find it disappointing that children are pulled into this.”
Protests spread from Parkfield Primary School, in the Alum Rock area of Birmingham, where some parents were angry over teaching of the No Outsiders programme.
Award-winning No Outsiders — devised by teacher Andrew Moffat MBE — uses picture books to foster tolerance regardless of race, age, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation. Books include And Tango Makes Three, a tale of two male penguins who rear a chick, which helps children understand there are different sorts of families.
Parkfield, and five other Birmingham schools, have temporarily suspended teaching of No Outsiders to allow discussions with parents.
A leading figure of the Parkfield demos, Amir Ahmed, was at an Anderton protest this week. The IT consultant, 54, said parents were ready to pull children out of class. He added: “As Muslims, most of the community believe it’s not permissible to have a homosexual relationship. Why should schools be teaching something different?”
Anderton, in Moseley, has 680 pupils, 88 per cent of whom are Muslim. It is rated good by Ofsted.
‘MUSLIM TEACHERS FEAR IT WILL ADD TO ISLAMOPHOBIA’
In her office, away from the protest, head Ms Hewitt-Clarkson, 48, said: “We must respect people’s religious beliefs but they don’t override British law.”
She added that her school does not use the No Outsiders programme or have separate classes on same-sex relationships. She said: “We may talk about this for two or three minutes a week. If you equate that to how many hours we’re in school, 32 a week, about one per cent of the time we say, ‘Some people might have two dads’. Some of her Muslim teachers now fear repercussions from the protests. She said: “Staff — and over half are Muslim — worry that it adds to Islamophobia.”
Ms Hewitt-Clarkson has met with protesters and posted a video about the lessons on the school website. But she said: “Mr Afsar is banned from the school site. He and his team bully and intimidate. The first time I met him, he described himself as a general in an army ready for battle.” Mr Afsar denies using that phrase — or bullying.
Ms Hewitt-Clarkson has pleaded with Education Secretary Damian Hinds to intervene.
But this week he appeared to dodge the question, seemingly for fear of angering either camp, while leaving it to ex-Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw to back teachers.
Mr Hinds was asked on a BBC Question Time panel: “Is it morally right that five-year-old children learn about LGBT issues in school?” Instead of directly answering, he said he would trust teachers to make right decisions. When the BBC1 show’s Twitter account posted the question, it caused fury. BBC presenter Sue Perkins tweeted that it harked back to the dark days of homophobic legislation, posting: “Are we really here again, nearly two decades after Section 28 was repealed?”
Comedian Joe Lycett tweeted: “Let me know what you guys decide so I can pack bags for jail.”
In contrast to Mr Hinds, Mr Wilshaw defended the Birmingham schools. He said “Conservative religious people” were free to their views but “must understand they live in a pluralistic society that believes people should be treated fairly and equally”.
The ex-headteacher added: “There have been problems in Birmingham for a long time and it’s important there is political backing for this issue, from the local authority, local MPs and the Department of Education, to make clear they will not tolerate this sort of behaviour.”
Under new legislation coming into force next year parents WILL be able to withdraw primary school pupils from any sex education. But the relationships education that has angered some parents at Anderton Park Primary will be compulsory.
Parents will be able to take kids out of sex education at secondary school until age 15. A pupil can then opt into lessons regardless of parents’ views.
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A Department for Education spokesman said: “No school or teacher should face undue pressure from outside the school community. The Department will do all it can to support headteachers to do their jobs. We want children to know there are many types of relationships, which is why we are making relationships education compulsory.”
Meanwhile, as protesters pack up their placards for another day, Ms Hewitt-Clarkson vows to continue same-sex lessons.
She said: “If we stop, it will mean some children will be well prepared for life in modern Britain and some won’t — and that’s not acceptable.”
Muslim parents’ protests spread from Parkfield Primary School, in the Alum Rock area of Birmingham[/caption]
Some Parkfield Community School parents were angry over teaching of the No Outsiders programme[/caption]
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