Opinion: The British LGBTQ schools crisis is riven with both homophobia and Islamophobia
As the Parkfield Community School protests in Britain’s second city, Birmingham, end this week with the governors agreeing to parents’ demands that lessons about sexuality be suspended indefinitely, four more schools in the city have stopped teaching children about LGBTQ people.
Further schools around Britain with Muslim-majority pupils are likely to follow suit, with reports that parents at seven primary schools in Manchester have also recently lodged complaints.
Islam does not accept homosexuality is the message. “It is morally wrong,” Muslim religious and community leaders repeat in unison, imaginary worry beads in hand.
Yet good mental health depends on having a strong sense of identity, an aim of the No Outsiders school project that was the cause for inflamed passions in the schools of two of Britain’s biggest cities.
The initiative was launched to challenge the idea that heterosexuality is normal – so therefore anything else is abnormal – and to ensure that all sexualities are treated equally.
But where does that leave the British-Muslim children at Parkfield?
According to the 2017 Henry Jackson Society Report Foreign Funded Islamist Extremism in the UK, 25 people from Sparkbrook, a Birmingham inner-city suburb just several miles south of the school, and its surrounding area have been convicted of terror-related offences.
There is a clear problem concerning the integration of the local Muslim community and the wider society.
Local communities themselves feel they have failed. They worry about their children being indoctrinated by extreme Islamic ideas, and whether a community-led initiative might be the best solution – rather than the imposition of a solution through the national schools curriculum.
Yet it is understandable that young Muslims are growing up with a confused and conflicted identity particularly with Islamophobia on the rise in Britain and around the world.
One needs to look no further than the terror attacks in New Zealand last week for a shocking reminder of its impact.
The Parkfield school protests must be placed within this wider global context. It is too simplistic to pit Muslims against everyone else.
Many Muslim voices have supported the No Outsiders project in recent weeks, asking for a new conversation and dialogue with those who struggle to accept equality for all, regardless of their sexuality or religion.
And this must not become a religious issue. It is fair that children learn about the different types of relationships that exist in society today.
My right to live in safety and to be accepted equally by everyone in Britain, regardless of colour, class or creed must take precedence over religious and cultural dictates. Growing up in an extremely homophobic society severely affected my mental health.
But by dehumanising the “other” – here meant to represent Muslims – in the language we use as LGBTQ people, we in turn do ourselves a disservice in terms of seeking equality for all.
Friends of mine have been writing on social media about the events at Parkfield. They write of “those people”, or that “they need to learn”, and “if they don’t like it they don’t need to live here”. These comments reveal both the depth of prejudice from within our community and that the wider debate around racism and Islamophobia is at a stalemate.
Everyone feels under attack.
Let’s not forget that many other non-Muslim parents, whether black, brown or white, feel exactly the same way as those of pupils at Parkfield. When I first wrote about this on social media, people from all communities and religions joined in, some voices in favour, others against.
Certainly, homophobia remains a challenge we must fight within society as a whole, but so is Islamophobia, and the Parkfield school protests offer a warning of how the two clash and overlap. Scapegoats are being hunted by both sides, giving ammunition to detractors to further attack both minorities.
Meanwhile, the children are forgotten about; left confused and isolated by both parents and a society at war with itself.
Everyone loses for now but there is cause for optimism – at least we are starting to have the conversation about what it means to be an LGBTQ Muslim in 2019.