Birmingham LGBT school row: Protests 'won't stop lessons'

  • Published
Media caption,

Birmingham LGBT row school shuts early ahead of protest

A school head embroiled in a row with parents over LGBT issues has vowed to "never stop" teaching pupils about equality.

Hundreds of protesters have gathered once more outside Anderton Park Primary School in Birmingham as demonstrations reached their eighth week.

Pupils were sent home early before the biggest crowd yet arrived at the gates.

The protests' organiser, Shakeel Afsar, said action would continue after next week's half-term break.

Those against the inclusion of LGBT issues in classes have said the content contradicts their Islamic beliefs, and have accused the school of not listening to parents' concerns.

Head teacher Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson described the protests as "horrific" and said that learning about equality was "crucial".

"That's not my opinion, that is the law," she said.

"That is the thin end of a very sinister wedge and our country will fall apart if that happens."

'Sour and sinister'

Mrs Hewitt-Clarkson said she felt "real despair" over the demonstrations that have been held outside her school for two months.

"It's not peaceful, it's aggressive, it's rude, it shouts accusations at me, at the governors.

"They use a megaphone - this is a cul-de-sac, there's no traffic noise to get over. It's really unpleasant, it's really aggressive, it's sour and it's sinister."

Image caption,
Hundreds of protestors have joined the latest action at Anderton park Primary School

She also condemned Birmingham Hall Green MP Roger Godsiff, who agreed with protesters that five was too young for children to hear about LGBT issues.

"It's the fabric of British society is at stake here, because the equality laws hold us together," she said.

"The law is there as a mark in the sand that we all have to promote, and understand and aspire to."

She said the action was bringing "hatred and division to a beautiful primary school's pavement".

'Our children, our choice'

The row over the inclusion of LGBT and transgender issues at primary schools in Birmingham began earlier this year.

Protests started outside Parkfield Community School in Alum Rock before spreading to Anderton.

Friday's protest is thought to be the largest yet, with those from the local Muslim community as well as LGBT campaigners arriving to have their say.

Outside the school, protesters chanted "our children, our choice", "let kids be kids", and "head teacher, step down". Parents waved banners, including one that said "don't class us as homophobic".

Parents complained books that demonstrated homosexual relationships should not be shown to children as young as five.

Ansar Ashraf, who has three children at the school aged between five and nine, said the school was not listening to parents' concerns.

"We are protesting for them to hear us, that we have a right about what should be taught," he said.

"We are not homophobic or discriminating in any way, we just think there should be an age category."

Image caption,
Shakeel Afsar, who has no children at the school, has been leading the protests outside Anderton Park

Businessman Zafar Majid said: "The issue we have is the education being given, the indoctrination of the young children... they are expected to affirm, to celebrate, to embrace LGBT ideology, which is against the moral ethics of the many Abrahamic religions and faiths.

"We can co-exist, live peacefully together, but what we cannot do is force each other's ideology on one another."

Nazakat Hussein collected his children from school on Friday and said he felt the situation was getting "out of hand".

"It shouldn't be like this," he said. "The kids are getting scared. They are losing out on precious studying time here."

'Not what Birmingham is about'

Ferhan Khan, from Glasgow, came to the school to oppose the protesters.

Image caption,
Ferhan Khan said it wasn't up to protesters to "define who is homophobic"

"I'm a queer Muslim campaigner and I'm very worried about the homophobia," he said.

"Muslims are not compelled to be homophobic and they are being homophobic - they don't get to define who is homophobic or not because they are not members of the LGBT community."

Olivia Everett, who lives nearby, said she was "frustrated" by the protests.

"Why do it outside a school where people are coming to get an education?" she said.

"I just think 'when is it going to stop?' because it's been weeks now and there's no resolution.

"I'm so over this, having to listen to homophobia every day. You can say it's not homophobic but it is.

"This is not what Birmingham is about, Birmingham is about multicultural values, accepting people. Think of the children having to go through this every day."