Wednesday’s revelation by PinkNews.co.uk that the Catholic Education Service has asked more than 359 state funded Catholic secondary schools to promote anti-gay petitions to children as young as 11 has clearly demonstrated that there is the need for a root and branch review of the way that state funded schools tackle homosexuality and transgender identities.
The incident in London was not, unfortunately, an isolated one. In January, it emerged that JFS, a state funded Jewish comprehensive school in North London taught sixth formers about ‘gay cure’ group JONAH while not telling them about positive Jewish responses to homosexuality.
PinkNews.co.uk respects the rights of people of faith and none. We recognise that there are many liberal Christian, Jewish and other movements that actively embrace LGBT people. But there are far too many faith groups that take a decidedly un-Christian approach in their actions.
The issue of faith schools is a difficult one. They are popular with many parents for their moral ethos and regularly high level of academic attainment among students. But almost no parent deciding to send their child to a school like this will have any idea of their son or daughter’s sexuality or whether they may be transgender.
It appears outrageous that in the 21st century, in a country where LGBT people enjoy among the greatest legal protections against discrimination in the world, that these would not be honoured in the teaching at some of our schools.
Religious schools appear to believe that they have exemptions which allow them to teach (or rather preach) traditional, negative responses to sexuality without an obligation to demonstrate the positive approaches that many faith groups now have towards LGBT issues. We struggle to see how this approach can be compatible with either the spirit or the letter of the Education and Equality Acts.
Imagine the following scenario, and consider whether Catholics would be happy with its conclusions.
A group of LGBT parents and their allies start their own free school and in the process, they have a divine experience.
God talks to them directly. And God tells them that, among others, the way the Catholic Church is approaching issues of sexuality and gender identity offends her presence.
God commands these parents to teach the children who attend their school that because of the ‘wickedness’ of the Catholic Church’s actions, its members must no longer be allowed to marry.
Catholics must instead have a separate form of union, albeit with almost all of the same legal protections and benefits as marriage.
Consensus subsequently settles on a system of Papal Partnerships.
And so the teachers encourage pupils to petition Prime Minister David Cameron and ask him to repeal the Catholic Relief Act of 1829 and return Catholics to the status of second class citizens.
They form a coalition to protect marriage and they baulk at the opposition by Catholics, who, they are at pains to point out, would still enjoy almost all of the same legal protections and benefits as marriage.
Teaching this to children would be abhorrent, but one could argue that it is in some ways more logical than the lesson given to children today at some religious schools. Nobody chooses to be LGBT, just like nobody chooses to be born into a Catholic family. But unlike changing sexuality or trans status, people can and do change their religion.
PinkNews.co.uk welcomes the investigation begun by the Welsh Government into the practices of the Catholic Education Service, and we call on the Education Secretary Michael Gove to launch a similar investigation into the English schools system.
But Michael Gove must go further and wider. There are nearly two million children in religious schools in England and Wales. He must consider how allowing them to be taught LGBT issues in anything other than a fair and even-handed way can be conducive to a cohesive society.
This Government is planning a historic change to the status of same sex relationships; it cannot allow the outdated and discriminatory teachings of some faiths, nor the power those faiths hold, to jeopardise such progress.