Melanie McDonagh Melanie McDonagh

Should Muslim parents be allowed to challenge LGBT lessons?

The Birmingham school protests have turned into one of those totemic issues: tolerant Britain vs backward religious people

We saw two different worlds, or at least two different value systems, collide in the High Court in Birmingham this week. On one side there was Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, the headmistress of Anderton Park, a little primary school in Sparkhill, a largely Pakistani bit of the city; on the other, two men who represent Muslim parents there. You may well have heard about the case. It has turned into one of those totemic issues: tolerant Britain vs backward religious people.

At issue is the question of whether and how children should be taught about gay relationships — and whether and how parents who don’t like it should be allowed to protest about it. Birmingham City Council wants to set up a permanent exclusion zone banning protests around the school; the High Court is hearing its case.

One of the mildly amusing moments on the first day was when counsel for the protesters brought up Roy and Silo, heroes of a little book called And Tango Makes Three, one of the books used in the school’s ‘Educate and Celebrate’ diversity programme. Roy and Silo, you see, are just like other penguin couples at the zoo: they bow to each other, walk together and swim together. But they are, ahem, boy penguins. So when the keeper finds them trying to hatch a stone, he realises it’s time to give them an actual egg — and bingo, Tango makes three. Mrs Hewitt-Clarkson was asked about this book in court: would it cause tension, given the religion of the pupils (mostly Muslim)? ‘There is a tension, of course, when some people believe homosexuality is sinful,’ she replied. ‘It is not sinful in British law.’

The protestors include Shakeel Afsar, who has a nephew at the school, and Amir Ahmed, a spokesman for the demonstrators.

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