I read yesterday that a certain Labour MP from Birmingham has waded into the ongoing debate about the nefarious education plans visited upon our innocent youth. MP Roger Godsiff was commenting on the controversial decision to teach reception-aged children (that’s four and five year olds) about LGBT relationships. In his corner, a group of parents at Anderton Park Primary school, who feel that such teaching amounts to indoctrination contrary to strongly-held religious beliefs. In the opposite corner, a catholic selection of The Gays, taking time out from poncing down Canal Street to stick their noses into the entirely unrelated business of child-rearing. Yet even here, there were notes of dissent. I went to find out more, as reported below:
Paul, a burly fifty-something wearing a feather boa, told me: “Naturally, teaching children about LGBT relationships is going to mean some awkward questions about men holding hands with men, and teachers will just have to deal with that. But I do wonder how a non-specialist teacher could be qualified to talk about the finer details of our shagging without making it sound like we’re defined by where we put our cocks.”
“It’s fine if it’s just about bumsex,” agreed Dave from Brighton, “But I don’t hold with them being taught about butt plugs yet. That’s more of a seven, seven-and-a-half-year-old conversation.”
[The UK’s lesbian population was contacted for comment on this post, but neither of them replied.]
Ok, I admit. Authentic as it sounds, this is in fact entirely made up, though I suspect it’s a fair representation of what Godsiff imagines when he thinks about the issue.
My daughter is two. She doesn’t have that many words, and her understanding of gender is shaky at best. Most of her world is female: she attends a nursery staffed (as it happens) solely by women; she has twice as many aunties as uncles; she has godmothers but no godfathers. One of the men she sees most frequently is usually to be seen wearing a skirt (and a dog collar). She could be forgiven for making all sorts of assumptions about normative relationships. However, she has begun to show an interest in alternative lifestyles. She understands, dimly, that some children do not have two mummies. Some have just one mummy; some have something called a ‘daddy’. Daddies also appear in books.
I am in no hurry to teach her about the heterosexual lifestyle. I can see she’s sometimes curious. I can generally tell her that daddies are a special kind of mummy, or that that man and that woman over there are just a bit tired, and that’s why they look as if they’re hugging each other. But at some point, she will become more curious about the relationships she sees around her. At some point, I will have to tell her that the majority of women are married to men. That this is what those ‘other’ people mostly do. That the alternative lifestyle she has been curiously watching is, in fact, the norm. And where this gets serious is that, at some point – some point I hope is much, much later than the age of 5 – I will also have to tell her that this alternative lifestyle results in around half of the recorded murders of women by men, year by year. I will have to warn her that this alternative lifestyle has its roots in the legal fact of women’s fundamental disenfranchisement, and that rape of a woman by her male partner was only criminalised (in England and Wales) in 1991.
In face of these facts, I cannot help thinking that teaching four- and five-year-olds that some people have two mummies is not quite the horrifying scenario we are invited to imagine. Small children who have never before come across the idea of LGBT relationships are, I would submit, vanishingly unlikely to be corrupted into a later lifestyle of rampant sexual deviancy by the mere acknowledgement of the fact that some of their peers have two dads. However, for children who do have LGBT parents, or for children who will later be LGBT parents, these lessons may be crucial. My schooling took place during the tenure of Section 28, that clause notoriously supported by our dear prime minister Mrs May, which proscribed the teaching in state schools of ‘the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’. During this period – the clause was repealed in 2003, the year I started university – it was illegal for teachers in State schools to imply that children of same-sex parents were in any way loved, supported, or nurtured. Many independent schools, taking their lead from this, kept to a similar programme. At the time, I did not realise how radical it was that my school – in other ways an entirely quiet, quite conservative girls’ school – entirely ignored Section 28. When we studied safe sex, we studied lesbian safe sex. When we talked about Nazi Germany during GCSE History, we talked about pink triangles and the murders of homosexuals. I was dimly aware that some of our (female) teachers happened to live together. It was entirely normalised.
This is the best possible thing that can be done in the teaching of children about LGBT relationships. I hope many schools will take inspiration from Anderton Park Primary School.