Labour MP Shabana Mahmood has responded to backlash after she raised concerns about LGBT-inclusive lessons in primary schools in a parliament meeting last month.
In a blog post published on Tuesday (March 5), the MP for Birmingham Ladywood denied siding with predominantly-Muslim parents at a Birmingham primary school who have staged weeks of protests opposing LGBT-inclusive relationships education, and some of whom accused the school of “promoting homosexuality.”
In the blog, Mahmood insisted: “Nowhere have I said that LGBT relationships should not be taught – because that’s not my position.
“Nowhere have I backed the terrible homophobic banners and hostile protests at Parkfield school in Birmingham – because they are wrong, defeatist and feed the very prejudices I want to help eradicate.”
The MP has faced significant backlash over a speech in Westminster on February 25 in which she relayed purported concerns from constituents about the “age appropriateness” of primary-level relationships education.
She said: “Most of my constituents have been contacting me about the specifics of mandatory relationships education at primary school.
“None of my constituents is seeking particular or differential opt outs at secondary school level.
“It is all about the age appropriateness of conversations with young children in the context of religious backgrounds.”
It’s vital that schools follow the guidance for teaching #RSE, with parental engagement and proper consideration for pupils’ religion and background. Yesterday, I made this clear to Education ministers in response to a petition signed by 1,763 #Birmingham #Ladywood constituents. pic.twitter.com/M3Whe4SgDs
— Shabana Mahmood (@ShabanaMahmood) February 26, 2019
The lawmaker, who voted in favour of same-sex marriage in 2013, said parents had complained that they were not consulted over the content of the lessons, per government guidance on the issue, and were not convinced the lessons would be appropriate for their primary school-aged children.
Shabana Mahmood told Labour MPs ‘should not protect bigotry’
Mahmood’s comments did not face any significant pushback during the debate, but a number of Labour Party figures and social media users condemned the MP for appearing to defend the parents’ “bigotry” after the clip circulated on Twitter.
In a statement, LGBT Labour co-chairs Melantha Chittenden and Robbie Young said they had asked for a meeting with Mahmood over the comments.
“We will fail the next generation of LGBT people in this country if we allow schools and parents to pretend they don’t exist.”
— LGBT Labour co-chairs Melantha Chittenden and Robbie Young
The campaigners said: “It is the role of any Labour MP to fight to make legislation more progressive, not to use it to help protect bigotry.
“Protecting religious beliefs and giving young people the LGBT inclusive relationships education they need and deserve are not mutually exclusive, and to suggest that they are is wrong.”
Chittenden and Young added: “We will fail the next generation of LGBT people in this country if we allow schools and parents to pretend they don’t exist.
“This erasure will not stop children from being gay, bi or trans but it will again make them feel the shame and stigma that Section 28 forced upon our community. “
Columnist Owen Jones also weighed in, tweeting: “This, from a Labour MP, is absolutely shocking. The parents at this Birmingham school are trying to stop lessons educating pupils about the existence of gay people.
“To suggest that isn’t ‘age appropriate’ is the same argument used to justify Section 28. [Mahmood] should apologise.”
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Mahmood’s blog post on Tuesday failed to quell the criticism.
One response said: “This says absolutely nothing about YOUR position on the conflict between teaching young people to respect LGBT relationships, and the angry homophobia of some people of assorted faiths. You must make this clear. What are you for?”
Another added: “People use process as a way to disguise their prejudice. I guarantee that come the consultation these parents will object to even the scant amount of LGBT information that is available in schools.”
Petition claimed LGBT-inclusive relationships education ‘will cause more harm than good’
Mahmood’s initial comments in February were made in response to a public petition calling for parental opt-outs from relationships education, and in the wake of protests by predominantly Muslim parents at Parkfield Community School in Birmingham, which has incorporated LGBT-inclusive lessons in its teaching of the Equality Act.
The petition claimed that “many of the RSE resources being produced by lobby groups and external organisations will actually cause more harm than good” and asserted that “certain concepts… have no place within a mandatory school curriculum.”
Protests at Parkfield school have been ongoing for weeks in opposition of the school’s No Outsiders programme, introduced by assistant headteacher Andrew Moffat, who was awarded an MBE for services to equality and diversity in education in 2017.
Conservative Muslim parents have accused the teacher and the school of “promoting homosexuality” and “confusing children.”
Protesting parents claimed that up to 80 percent of students were pulled out of school last Friday (March 1) because of the growing dissent.
Parkfield school has stopped its LGBT-inclusive lessons for the remainder of the school term.