Friday, April 4, 2008

Anti-homophobic Bullying Books Banned in Bristol Schools

The potential conflict of interest between religious groups and the LGBT community has come to a head once again this week when Bristol Council temporarily withdrew books and teaching materials designed to fight homophobic bullying with 5 to 10 year old children after complaints from Muslim parents.

Muslim at Easton Primary School and Bannerman Road Community School, supported by Members of Bristol Muslim Cultural Society said that they had not been consulted about the use of the books and found it problematic to have to explain homosexual relationships to their children.

Tony Fenwick, spokes person for LGBT History Month, sent the letter, reproduced below, to the BBC, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail who all covered the story.

Re-the Bristol book ban. It’s very disappointing to see books being banned from classrooms and it is the first time in my teaching career that I recall it being done as a result of parental action. I sincerely hope we are not going to return to the lies, hyperbole and subsequent hysteria that led to Section 28.

It is mandatory for schools to be safe spaces for our children as a result of the Equality Act, The Every Child Matters outcomes and the National Curriculum. It is also mandatory under the National Curriculum to teach children to respect minorities. An ATL survey found that 98% of children knew of homophobic bullying in their school, so schools are clearly not safe and homophobia is the elephant in the room. Moreover, you don’t have to be a gay or a lesbian to be homophobically bullied. You don’t have to have gender dysphoria to be transphobically bullied.

The purpose of education is to prepare people for the world in which they are growing up and you do that by opening doors; not by slamming them shut. The No Outsiders project provides books that help to do this, just as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History Month, celebrated every February, exists to put LGBT people into the curriculum and provide role models for our youth.

Any parent or guardian who does not want his or her child to be bullied must surely support these initiatives. There is no need for consultation before they are introduced into schools because they meet the criteria - and indeed the letter – of the National Curriculum. It’s no more controversial than teaching Shakespeare, percentages or photosynthesis.

Good citizens come into this world through understanding each other and you cannot make people understand what you don’t tell them. We forget that at our peril.
* Anti-gay bullying books withdrawn - BBC News
* Anti-homophobia books removed from schools - Telegraph
* Muslims' fury forces schools to shelve anti-homophobia storybooks for 5-year-olds - Daily Mail


David Kinnen said...

A copy of an e-mail sent to Bristol City Council

To whom it may concern,

I write to express my disappointment with the way in which the Council has handled the issue of books which deal with challenging homophobia and making our schools a safer place. As a Religious Education teacher, a Christian and a committed advocate of equality and diversity I find the prioritisation of one minority over another to be reprehensible. To summarily withdraw these books is exactly what happened with the invidious Section 28 which saw children and young people suffer miserably for 20 years.

Even as the Muslim leader says that some young people may be able to understand homosexuality or heterosexuality they can understand the damage that using the word "gay" as an insult can have, and they can do this without any regard for the young person, or the young person's family. Indeed, the message this sends to staff is worrying. There could well be LGB staff in those schools.

I hope you will reverse your decision and make it a requirement of the Children's Plan that all schools in Bristol must engage with this brilliant and essential work. If you allow any bigotry to exist then you fail everyone in your schools.

Yours faithfully,

David M Kinnen

Christine Burns said...

I find this kind of panic reaction by Bristol City Council utterly disappointing. Indeed I'm reminded of an incident back in 1996 when a City Councillor punched the BBC's local Political Correspondent just for asking about a transsexual colleague who had come out. It was clear then that, in Bristol, violence comes as second nature, whereas inclusion lags a long way behind.

There are no 'difficult' concepts for parents to explain to their children here. Children can understand hate. They can understand bullying. They learn these things from virtually their first day in school.

The only problem I can see is if the parents don't themselves understand that hate and bullying are wrong. And then, yes, I would concede that educating their children differently might be awkward.

But I cannot believe that muslim parents living in Bristol are really, truly, unable to relate to the idea that bullying and discrimination is wrong.

An important part of qualifying for acceptance is to be able to give it twice over in return.