Homophobia At School Taught Me That My Friends, Teachers And Family Wouldn’t Understand Me

Queer children, especially at Parkfield School, where essential LGBTQ+ education is being protested, need to know they are normal, naturally-occurring and worthy of love, says Sophie Wilkinson

Parkfield School Birmingham

by Sophie Wilkinson |

‘What do people do all day?’ asks the title of Richard Scarry’s classic 1968 children’s book.

According to dozens of parents at one Birmingham primary school, who’ve chosen to spend their days protesting Ofsted-approved equalities education, the answer is: shagging. We're all going for it on the crowded train to work, having it off next to the bread aisle in Tesco, relentlessly copulating in the Sodom and Gomorrah of inner cities’ Pret a Mangers.

This realm is what homophobic parents, and their supporters, conjure up the moment they are presented with the concept of letting children know that same-sex relationships exist.

The No Outsiders lessons address, in an age-appropriate way, issues including ‘gender and gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, disability and age.’ And the parents at Parkfield School have taken umbrage, a spokesman said, to it ‘changing our children's moral position on family values on sexuality.’

He added, ‘We are a traditional community. Morally we do not accept homosexuality as a valid sexual relationship to have.’

As a result, five schools in Birmingham have suspended their No Outsiders programme and parents in Manchester have lodged similar complaints.

These people might be outliers, but they’ve been tacitly condoned. A nearby Labour MP, Shabana Mahmood, was wilfully ignorant to passionately that her constituents were merely upset over a lack of consultation.

Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom also, clumsily, said parents should be able to choose when their children are ‘exposed to that information’. She later clarified her comment referred to sex education of secondary school pupils rather than relationships education of primary school pupils, but why, when asked about LGBT education for children, did her mind drift to the same lurid world of blister-inducing rutting that the Parkfield protestors are so preoccupied with?

My nieces and nephews, all under ten, know that sometimes men and women marry, sometimes men and men marry, and sometimes women and women marry. It’s a cookie-cutter version of messy adult relationships, but that’s all they need to know for now. That’s all the No Outsiders class teaches about homosexuality.

Implying that pre-teen children are at all receptive to learning the machinations of same-sex bedtime routines, though, as the Parkfield protestors have done, is to also imply that they’d have already learned the straight equivalent. Are Parkfield parents happy with that?

Life isn’t always great for us queers. For starters one in six of us are at risk of hate crimes, three in five gay men can’t hold their own partner’s hand in the street out of fear of repercussions and two thirds of lesbians and bisexual women experience discrimination at work. That could be undone with more acceptance of who we are.

I was four when I realised I fancied girls, and knew that it made me different, yet I thought I lived that difference alone. Growing up, I caught flickers of queerness, seeing mummies and mummies at family friends’ houses, watching Belgian gays on near-muted, clandestine late-night viewings of Eurotrash, or when walking past the blue boards on Dean Street in Soho, where, days before, a neo-Nazi had set off a nail bomb outside a gay pub, killing three people. Flickers of queer life burst through, but I felt isolated.

In the absence of awareness programmes like No Outsiders, homophobia taught me that my friends, teachers and family wouldn’t understand me. So I visited websites of varying authenticity, reliability and appropriateness. I chatted with girls who were just as confused as I was, or, on some occasions, older men pretending to be. Eventually, frustrated that my life was playing out in the late-night blue-light of a laptop, I retreated into absolute darkness. I learned, the hardest of ways, that there is no malleability like a 14-year-old girl desperate to prove her own straightness. I’m not the only one.

We landed in these murky depths because I’d never been told, growing up, that same-sex relationships existed. Stigma taught us to hide and shame kept use trapped. We knew we’d never be the mummy to the daddy in books like Scarry’s, in all the educational materials, in the cereal adverts, in the countless depictions of heterosexuality kids are saturated with. We had no clue of what we were meant to do all day. With increasing acceptance, and time, I’ve discovered it, but it’s taken too much time and trauma, and there’s still more work to do, to make sure no child must endure what I did.

Like at Parkfield, where, odds are, queer children exist, despite homophobia’s best efforts. They need to know they are normal, naturally-occurring, worthy of love and, when that time comes, sexual autonomy. Protesting against this enlightenment, under the guise of some so-called moral position, is textbook hypocrisy.

Richard Scarry’s book, originally published in 1968, has since been updated. New editions feature women pilots, dad Bunnies cooking, ‘police officers’ in place of ‘policemen’, and so on. There are no gay, bisexual or lesbian characters yet, but I have a hunch about Sergeant Murphy and his YMCA-adjacent uniform. The Parkfield protestors and the many like them have shown, in the vilest way possible, they are long overdue their own update.

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